TK: The illustrations in the books I read as a child were always really important to me. If I didn't feel a connection to the artwork then it was hard for me to absorb the words that went along with it. Somewhere along the way, I became interested in the idea of making images that looked as though they had been ripped from a story book, the idea being that the characters would seem to be a part of an ongoing narrative, and that people would have to interpret their own story. I thought it would be pretty interesting to put together a whole collection of images along this same theme, that come together to form one narrative. That way, viewers would have to move through the images in sequence to form a complete story using only snippets of her journey to draw from.
ME: What do you hope the viewers will take away from this exhibition?
TK: The idea behind the work is for people to slow down and use their imaginations to tell the story behind this young girl's journey. I think that the scale and detail of the paintings creates an added intimacy for viewers to get in close the way one would while reading a storybook. When I was a child, we didn't have the internet yet, and there was a glorious period of time between wondering something and finding out the answer where your mind could explore all the possibilities. Nowadays, information is so accessible to us that we crave immediate satisfaction to our questions. I want people to spend time in the realm I'm presenting them, to exercise their sense of wonder, and to ultimately feel the satisfaction that comes with developing your own story. Everyone's narrative will be different, depending on all the variables of their life experiences. It's been really fun to hear people's interpretations of the work who have visited my studio while I was working on this project (especially children - they always have the best ideas!).
ME: A Perilous Journey is laid out like a storybook. Do you have a favorite childhood story that helped shape your imagination and the outline of this story?
TK: I really liked The Secret Garden when I was a kid. I loved the idea of this little girl being healed, body and soul, just through the cultivation of her beautiful garden. I could really place myself in that world, because nature and gardening and spending time with animals has always been very important to me. My sisters also used to read to me the poems of Shel Silverstein before I went to bed. I liked that they could take me, as a child, to this surreal place, without talking down to me. I think I spent more time making my own stories as a kid than reading, though. I used to draw for hours, alone in my room, drawing these flipbooks with no words, like little graphic novels, but the characters were moving in my head. I think that's where a lot of this comes from - the idea that a great story doesn't need words.
ME: What is your art process?
TK: Usually I'll get an idea out of the blue when I'm riding the streetcar or having dinner or something like that, and I'll jot down a very rough sketch on whatever paper I can find. Then I'll try to form that idea a little more fully before I start to paint it. I don't like my preliminary work to be too detailed, because then I find painting the final version a little redundant, and it isn't as fun (because I feel like I've already been there). I also like to leave some elements open, and sort of discover them as I go (adding in little characters as I imagine them, etc). But I'm starting to really force myself to create more complete preliminary sketches, because it saves a lot of time later on when you've planned everything out ahead of time.
My work is full of intricate little details, so I like to use Masonite boards and paper as a painting surface because they're nice and smooth and don't have that bumpy texture of a piece of canvas, for example. I predominantly paint in acrylics, layering thing glazes of paint on top of each other, but recently I've been exploring with oils and other media, which has been fun (and sometimes maddening, haha).
ME: What role did the Toronto Arts Council play in this series?
TK: When I was in the early stages of planning this project, I was awarded a grant from the Toronto Arts Council to help create these paintings. It meant a lot to me to be recognized by the council, and that they believed in my work. A Perilous Journey was something I was already dedicated to completing, but I think that being chosen to receive the grant gave me that extra push to put this whole thing together and create a firm deadline for myself. I am so, so grateful and honoured to have their support.
ME: What’s your daily life like? What are some things you do when you’re not painting / making art?
TK: I really love adventuring. I would probably go everywhere if I could, but the more different a place is from my home, the more intrigued I am to get there at some point. It isn't hard to convince me to go on an adventure. I have a really hard time turning down fun. That being said, on a recent Friday night, I was sitting on my couch in sweatpants eating poutine with my phone off, and I was like, "I think this is my dream Friday now." I like to hang out with animals pretty much whenever I can. I like being outside, and wandering Toronto streets I've never explored. Eating things made out of potatoes is also a pretty big part of my life.
ME: What artists inspire you (alive or dead)?
TK: Oh man, I don't know where to begin. I am constantly inspired by a lot of things. I think there was a point in my teenage years where all of a sudden, all this art came rushing into my life. Before that, I didn't know much about art, other than that it was something I just couldn't stop doing. I was always really inspired by world history and pop culture, and looking back at some of my childhood drawings, I can see that I was also trying to navigate a lot of the themes I found in the "grown-up movies" I probably shouldn't have been watching, but my parents couldn't really stop because they had too many children, haha.
I think it was the day I heard the term Pre-Raphaelites for the first time that a switch went off in my head. I was particularly enchanted by the works of Waterhouse, and the soft-haired mermaids and delicate fauna of his worlds. More recent artists like Arthur Rackham and Brian Froud followed. I loved the detail, magic, and mystery behind the work. Those are my earliest memories of being influenced by other artists.
In the present day, I'm kind of all over the place. People often tell me that they see Hayao Miyazaki's influence in my work. I'm also really into what's happening in the new contemporary/new-surrealism/pop surrealism scene right now, especially on the West Coast. I can't get enough of James Jean, Erik Jones, Casey Weldon, Tom Bagshaw...really, there are too many to name.
A Perilous Journey opens August 16 at Modern Eden Gallery.
More info about the exhibition can be found HERE.