Martin, you studied at OCAD from 2008 onwards, did you specialize in anything?
My major is actually in advertising and my minor is in communications, which is basically graphic design and illustration. I always grew up doing art, and granted I was doing design too, but design took over more after university. Art was my focus in highschool.
Has there always been an interest in collage?
Probably more interest in collage recently with my increased work in print. In highschool, I dabbled in everything. A lot of that was photography but I was also really into found object sculpture. So collage always been present but sometimes in a looser, indirect way.
What is it about that process, both in found object and collage, that attracts you? How do you identify those things you would like to combine?
I see a particular piece as interesting and wonder what happens if you combine something with something else, or turn it this way? I guess there are certain overarching interests that govern what I do. I have never really liked the word theme – it reminds me of really extroverted parties, or some kind of laborious performance. I do build around particular ideas. It really always has been collage in a very broad sense, since everything is always a combination of something else. In highschool my illustrations often played with themes – older technology vs. new technology, wood vs. metal. With the found object sculpture it often revolved around machinery. One of my teachers had a lot of grand ideas and that was encouraging. I always had this thing with machines and appliances. I had a thing about apocalyptic appliances and I built configurations from toasters and food processors. I have always liked the idea of not necessarily having a particular style. Well, maybe not exactly, but I do rather do the work based on the idea that comes to me rather than forcing a style on the work.
Do you find yourself compiling a lot of material first? A lot of the recent stuff is related to the city – how do you come across and record that material?
It comes back to encounters—taking stock of the things that stand out to me, usually in the form of countless pictures and/or writing out the concept. What I notice is important to me, and can feel even more important when I see it repeat. Repetition can feel like an alert to pay closer attention. What I see repeating, well I know there is something there for me, so I try to make the effort to record that more. I don’t feel like I’m consciously going out to look for ideas, something just catches my eye and I have to do something with it. With photography I am less interested in people as subjects, and more interested in architecture, landscapes or something abstract. When a person is the primary focus, I feel under (more) pressure. There is a greater pressure when presenting them with the work and in how they feel about the work and themselves in it. A building won’t have thoughts. I just love cities and living in one, so it feels like I’m being honest with my interests.
Where do you see your latest work going?
For the collage series, I missed being in fine art and wanted a less design/computer based art creative practice. I was trying to get back in touch with really hands on things. I don’t think of myself as a painter, drawer or illustrator.
Do you find it difficult coming back to it after being in a school environment? Often people who leave the studio environment of university find it difficult for the first while?
As much as OCAD is all about creativity, it is a university and I felt more critical of myself in that environment. So sometimes I actually felt less inclined to make things. I loved the lectures and sitting in the balcony and learning about things you may not have known in detail. The hands on classes were more difficult and I felt more pressure and competition from those who were more familiar with those programs. The lectures I just soaked up.
Did those lectures inform your practice? Does art history and art theory play a role in your practice?
They were a source of excitement. I love Futurism in general. I always try to keep doing something, and focus on all these pieces coming together. I look at reverse engineering and everything requires reassembly. I wanted to practice assembling things, so I do refer to works I’m interested in. I will do things like an adobe line drawing of the Umberto Boccioni sculpture, and then see what I can do with that. If you are just pulling images off google then they are not really yours, or do not feel like yours. I make my drawing and then question what I can do, working through colour and text. At the end of the day I still have something designed by me, but it references something I’m interested in. It feels more personal to me, and I feel territorial with my work. I would rather not share that sense of ownership.
I think for some people there might be an assumption that collage or photomontage functions more like a copy and paste exercise so the idea of translating images is interesting –
Collages also make references less direct. I fall into that trap of liking certain things that are too familiar and available and popular. I think about how I can make it less familiar.
We haven’t yet talked about that as an aspect of collage or photomontage – how they have an ability to defamiliarize a viewer and make them look twice –
Ultimately with my work I’m selfish. I don’t like the idea of making work for a general audience. What happens if it doesn’t work? You don’t feel that connection with it, but if you make it for yourself you don’t care if it succeeds or fails. If somebody is interested in my “selfish” viewpoint then maybe we have something in common and a legitimate connection. I do not want to imagine what my audience may like. There is satisfaction in getting that right. But then its less personal.
With your postcard work, is that intended to be used by people? Is there an interactive element built in and are you interested in pursuing that?
Well having made collages, I was definitely fueled by the desire for more money. I have seen so many simple images, and simple not being derrogetroy, that appeal to me on the design side. This aspect of design appeals to me vs. the fine art side. You see so many fine art pieces on loan from private collections that disappear afterwards. There is often some barrier to viewing the work in this way. In fine art you make one thing but when you add that design or reproduction element it makes it way into the world and can influence people. With the postcards it was putting something out there, generating revenue, and my stab at doing the designer thing… having a paper empire?
Do you think your work responds to mass and digital reproduction?
Yes. This reminds me of the TTC passes. I played this internal game with myself wondering what the next colour and station would be. These designs are out there, you’re not buying them for the design but you have this moment with your TTC pass where you’re excited by art and design without needing to go to a museum.
If you were given the opportunity to design the new presto passes would you take it? How do you feel that it will replace your monthly TTC designs?
Yes I would. Obviously I have a bias against presto. I’m not happy they’ll replace it. Presto is great for those living outside of the city but if you’re a resident you don’t have to have one magic card that takes you everywhere. There was still room in our lives for a metropass. Also functionally the starbucks card is easier to load than presto. The machine is always broken. You used to be able to just show your monthly pass.
We need more room for metropasses and design?
We always need more room for design and juxtaposition. We’re too much about the ‘or’ and not the ‘and’. We can look for things that have contrast. Speaking of transport, like Union Station. Union station is enjoyable because it is older and grand. In the GO train area they had all this lovely rusted iron work that created an open market feel. But when they tear down and make new they tear down and make awful. You had all this framework, which was not claustrophobic, and then they installed an open glass ceiling which juxtaposed wonderfully. Then they started painting over the framework in this boring grey and tearing some of it down. Why? You have this beautiful rust colour and raw concrete and glass – feel it. Throw a little more art and design in there.