Today I have invited visual artist and writer Eric Keast of the Bingorage blog to speak with us about his craft.
Hello Eric, thanks for joining us for this interview. I’ve been a fan of your work and Bingorage for over a year now, and it’s a pleasure to have a chance to ask you more about your art.
Thanx, Jade. I’ve really appreciated your feedback and appreciate the opportunity to write to you about my work. I had taken a hard copy of your questions with me to the studio and deer camp.
I’m a regular visitor at Bingorage, but you spread the wealth across a few different blogs. Care to tell us a little about your different blogging avenues?
When I first started blogging; I kinda went nuts with setting up blogs. I was convinced that I was going to have a separate website for different places that I lived, different websites for different interests, media, etc. It was out of hand and unnecessary.
Since I’ve learned about ways to “tag”/categorise my written postings and externally-hosted materials (pics, vid clips, audiocasts, photo galleries, etc.), I’ve been reducing the number of blogs that I choose to run and write for, myself.
My main site is the Bingorage blog, but I’ve tried to maintain a couple blogs for creative writing (Drip and Spew, The Shitbag Opera), a blog for fishing, camping and hunting stuff (Newly renamed: Deer, Fish, Cards… Cheap Cigars, Bullets and Beer) plus a couple things I’ve set up for other people – like my bronze-foundry guys (Anurag Art Online).
By trimming the number of online projects that I contribute to and focus on, I hope to increase the regularity of my blog contributions, improve the appearance/useability/utility of my pages and work on the discipline of writing; with fewer options to procrastinate about.
Your blog often includes articles and news about events affecting First Nations / Native American peoples. What change would you most like to see in the lives of First Nations / Native American peoples?
Successfull businesses, consistent long-term employment and a wealth of cultural activities on and within First Nation/Native American communities. All too often, businesses start up and fizzle out after seed money gets used up, even with significant financial backing. Reasons for failure range from the banal to the suspicious; from gradual neglect to missing resources.
The so-called “Urban Indians” have access to so much more cultural stimuli and job opportunities than the average rez; especially the most isolated ones. In Northern Ontario, First Nation communities that ‘hug the highway’ have more businesses than the ones just off the beaten path, but, often, business is limited to smokes, gas and munchies.
Similarly, you often include news affecting artists locally and regionally. What would you most like to see change for independent artists in Canada and elsewhere around the world?
I would love to see more societal recognition that artists and “art-for-art’s-sake” has real world application in society and people’s lives. We create, educate, criticise, inspire and expand the greater society through our work. It deserves community support, but we often scrape by on shavings, 3’rd rate paint and used lint. I have an artist friend in Finland who has just moved into a studio space, specifically subsidised for practising artists. How civilised and cool is that?
When I was going to university, my Philosophy and Anthropology studies overlapped around the idea of “leisure as the basis of culture” (Josef Pieper). Northwest Coast cultures like the Haida encouraged and developed an artisan resource for their society, because they gained a measure of food and settlement security. Current North-American society is in an infinitely more enriched condition, but chooses to spend its resources on guns, enriching the wealthy and oil. I think that there is room for changing our priorities and “ways of finding the future”.
As it is; arts funding in Canada and the States is set up as a competition for favour and a piece of shrinking pies. I’m not sure if favouritism and “old-boy” networks really dominate grant funding, but it doesn’t hurt to have friends in high, far-off places.
What first inspired you to start sharing your art at your Bingorage blog?
I wanted my work to be seen, to be heard, with as wide a reach as possible. Traditional art venues like galleries, exhibitions, art-crawls, craft shows and retail outlets have relatively small traffic and are geographically-limited.
I know that you like to work across a variety of media, and that you also enjoy mixing media. Could you tell about some of your favorites?
My current favourite areas of work and exporation are papier-mache sculpture and acrylic on canvas painting. Both media continue to yield new possibilities in size, multiple media inclusion and subject matter. I am self-taught, so, continue to learn with each piece. I do not feel that I am constantly reinventing the wheel, though, I’m trying to see things in ways which haven’t been seen, before.
Are there any media that you have yet to try, waiting on your “wish list?”
I’ve started talking to people who work with fibreglass, to start considering “cheaper than metal”, easily-copyable large public art placement.
There are some common themes and influences I find in your work such as animals, nature, and story-telling. What are some of your favorite themes to play with?
I think that every piece that I do has a basis in Conflict. The act of exploring and finding the visual image is a series of problem-solvings, between dualities: light and shadow, complementary colours, character motivations, cause and effect, motion and stillness, man and nature, foreground and background, spirit and matter, up and down, male and female. The number of visual and idealistic dualities that can be found in a related set of images is almost unlimited.
What are some of your favorite artistic creations in your portfolio?
I think that the large papier-mache bass that I made for the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship is a hugely important piece for me. The size of the work, the process of creating the styrofoam form and its basis for a possible bronze sculpture have kept it in the forefront of project development. I have three blank paper copies of the bass that I will be working on this winter, as well.
I’ve heard you talk about Norval Morrisseau recently. What artists or other individuals do you feel have most influenced your work?
Before addressing other influnces, I would like to say a bit about Norval Morrisseau. Norval is the man. he spawned a great creative blossoming amongst the Cree, Ojibway, Chippewa, Menominee, Odawa, etc. The central North American Algonkian peoples (the Eastern Woodlands School of Art) and his influence was felt by the entire Native Art community. By breaking taboo that needed breaking, he may have rescued meaning and cultural heritage derived from transient birchbark scrolls, disappearing songs and barely-known ancient paintings on the rocks of the Canadian Shield. That being said; many artists continue to follow a narrow visual interpretation that he set down.
My “visual alphabet” has its basis in that tradition; but the surrealists, cubists and even pop artists have informed the direction of my visual exploration. The “beats”, magical-realists and ‘outsider’ writers -native and non-native- have been the voices which appealed to me. These people worked to break the tyrannies of single-perspective, linearity, fixed-time, “correct approach” and realistic representation.
Some names: Charles Bukowski, Dali, Ginsberg, Warhol, Picasso, W.S. Burroughs, Jean Arp, Hunter S. Thimpson.
A couple of contemporary Native artists who are playing with “traditional” motifs, materials and visual representation: Paul Yuxweluptun, Ed Archie Noisecat (whom I had a short apprenticeship with in MN, before he went back to NW Coast), Brian Jurgen and Sunny Assu.
Do you have any specific goals as an artist and craftsman?
To achieve the capabilities of tools, skills, materials and venues to produce and finish pieces in ways that I consider fully realised. Right now, I am making do and “jerry-rigging” my efforts; which is a valid way to learn the bones, but not to polish the work.
Tell us about some of your current projects.
First off; a painting is never done, while I can see and touch it. I have several large canvases in my studio that I tweak whenever possible. The Krustayn vs. Mecha-Sasquatch piece has undergone some particularly extensive tweaking, lately. I’m also writing some project proposals foe large bronze sculpture. That is where I would like to focus my energies for a couple years… getting some big public artwork installed.
Earlier this year you were involved with the Learning Through The Arts program, would you like to tell us a little about that experience?
LTTA has been both challenging and rewarding for me. The challenge arises from incorporating standardised provincial curriculum into an art lesson and transmitting ways for the teacher to use art in future teaching. It’s hard to see an art activity with kids as really being for the teacher’s benefit. The kids are the rewarding bit, of course. There’s nothing like seeing real brilliance coming from excited happy kids.
Any upcoming project ideas or sneak peeks you would like to share?
I have been doing a whole buncha writing for the past couple years. Stuff that sits in drafts on my computer, drafts in journals or online drafts. I hope to have some of these done, soon.
-I’m working on an illustrated essay about Larry Mitchell’s book, Potowatomi Tracks, which is his story of surviving the Vietnam War, only to continue batling it for the next 20+ years.
-I’m working on an interpretation of The Lampi Oracle; a set of crazed religious whiskey-babble that was posted in stencilled signs, painted handmade billboards and free form sculpture on a roadside property up near where we deerhunt. Apparently, the guy’s reltives had him sent to the loony-bin and they bulldozed his signs and logged the property. Not sure of the whole story, but the pictures I have are quite… interesting.
If you could visit any one museum in the world tomorrow, which would it be?
Smithsonian Museum of The American Indian. It’s brand new and I bet it’s got stuff that would make my head spin. On the same note, I recommend the Canadian Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa-Hull, for anyone who’s considering a trip to Eastern Canadia.
What advice would you give to other independent artists?
– Talent isn’t always enough. Persistence.
– Learn from everything you do and see. You (I) don’t know everything and we should be aware enough to seek the lessons and insights in every encounter, setback, conflict, etc.
– Become disciplined in what you do. I do not believe that anyone is born disciplined.
– Do something pertinent to your work, every day.
Eric, thank you again for joining us at Brainripples. It’s been a pleasure, and we wish you all the best with your projects!
All images used in this post are Copyright © 2006 Eric Keast.