Q: When did you know that art was going to be a major focus in your life?
A: In some ways it was writing and theatre before it was visual art. I certainly did art all throughout high school, so it was an important part of my life early on. In terms of a career, I didn’tknow what I wanted to do; I was throwing darts quite blindly. I applied to one university for linguistics, another for creative writing, and a third for visual art. I went to Concordia University for creative writing for two years but ended up moving back to Peterborough and graduating with Honours from Trent University with a degree in Mathematics and English Literature. Although I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, I could teach math, and certainly English, anywhere in the world. As well, an academic advisor at Concordia had looked at my high school transcript and told me he would spank me if I didn’t take mathsand sciences at university. I figure threats of spanking aren’tused so often in academic advising anymore!
During my final year at Trent, I was taking Mathematical Logic, 4th Year Abstract Algebra, Milton Studies, Old English and a storytelling based cultural studies course. Painting and drawing came and found me, because I needed them I guess. I would be working on these very difficult assignments and I throw myself across the room and draw in oil pastels on pieces of cardboard that I got from the grocery store. Interesting – I still use cardboard in my work (looking at the cardboard signs in the Dalton Trail Trail Gallery).
I like to say I was able to become an artist because I studied math at university. I tutored mathematics while going to school, allowing me to graduate debt free and giving me some breathing space to try other things. I received awards at university and was pressured to go to graduate school, but you can’t do graduate school in both math and English; you have to pick one, and I don’t really like either-or choices. I thought to myself, “Graduate school in math; graduate school in English…what’s the most challenging thing I could do? I could try to make my living as an artist! Everyone says that’s impossible. Maybe I should try THAT!” And that’s what I did.
Q: You are such a multi-faceted artist. You are a visual artist, poet, performing artist…how do you manage to keep all the balls in the air?
A: When you say ‘multi-faceted’, the edges aren’t as sharp as all that. I see it as being more ‘round’. For me, these things aren’t really separate. In terms of how I juggle things, I try to do things when I am doing them, and not do them when I am not doing them, if that makes sense. That doesn’t mean art doesn’t percolate in the back of my mind.
I also have a certain defiant streak, so if I am told I can’t do something, that becomes interesting to me. When COVID hit and the galleries were shutting down, we were told we couldn’t exhibit. So I created my own gallery in my back yard.
Eventually death will stop me from doing everything that I am doing, but until then I think I am fairly unstoppable.
Q: What inspires you when you are making art?
A: Your question reminds me of a story. When I worked in downtown Peterborough, a group of high school students had an assignment where they needed to visit a number of artists’ studios and interview the artists. “What inspires you” was on the list of interview questions. By the time I had been asked the same question 20 times, at a period when I had failed to provide myself with lunch, I was rather bad tempered. But bad temper can sometimes be an inspiring force. I looked at the 20th student who asked what inspired me and I said, “Lunch. Lunch inspires me. If you sit down to work, ideas will come. Lunch you have to go out to get.”
Q: How has COVID impacted you as an artist?
A: The spring and early summer of 2019 I had boarded an airplane four times to go to Ontario and Quebec to bring my work to a wider audience. In the spring of 2020, I was all ready to again make trips down south to share my work with audiences in Southern Canada. All of a sudden the plug got pulled on that.
But that wasn’t a bad thing. I got to stay here in the Yukon, which in my heart is where I really love to be. I started creating the Dalton Trail Trail Gallery and I realized that over the years I had invested quite a lot of time and money in the expensive process of getting out to a national or international audience, which is the recognized trajectory for success as an artist. The spring of 2020, the Dalton Trail Trail Gallery allowed me to reach new audiences right here in the Yukon; audiences that included people who would never visit a traditional art gallery. This changed my priorities about what audiences were important to reach and deepened my appreciation of my local audiences.
In a way, my spirit rose to the occasion through the Dalton Trail Trail Gallery and transformed me. I became the person who had made that happen. Who knows what I will become next.
Q: Is there something you would like people to know about you as an artist or a person?
A: I’d like to say that I am inspired and held up by the strength and resilience of many people, but especially the Indigenous woman with whom I have had the great privilege of learning, people like Mrs. Annie Smith and her daughters, especially Diane Smith. I feel very fortunate for the gifts of learning that they have shared with me. Knowing them has made me stronger.