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INTERVIEW: April White

When you're not making art, what are three things you might be found doing?

Summer answer: swimming, watching tv/reading, taking my cat to the park

Do you have any secret talents?

I’m quite good at sleeping in, I know the script to all Hollywood romantic comedies, I can remember numbers and number combinations quite well, I can clean my bedroom and make it messy again in less than two hours, budgeting…

If you could choose any artist to collaborate on a project with - alive or dead - who would you choose?

I choose St. John's based artist Kailey Bryan! We have collaborated before on a project where Kailey filmed me in my bath tub while I smashed eggs on my body and we have more ideas and maybe more eggs to smash.

What are you looking forward to most about participating in HOLD FAST festival?

I am excited to see how people respond to my piece. I hope to have good conversations about it while it is happening. I am also looking forward to meeting the other participating artists. HOLD FAST always brings in the coolest people. I have made lifelong friends from my involvement in past festivals.

Could you describe your creative practice in 50 words or less?

Self-portraiture, facial contortions, intense emotions, sadness, silliness, involuntary actions, materiality, flesh, movement, time, time slowed down, memory, fear of forgetting, fear of death, the everyday, observation, isolation, control, loss of control, self-representation, performing/performance, the labour of artmaking, multiples, paintings/drawings as objects, post-internet, cell phone videos, the selfie, self-esteem, feminism.

What is it about self-portraiture that you are drawn to?

That is a hard question to answer. Sometimes I feel like I am making all these self-portraits just to figure out why I am drawn to self-portraiture. It is certainly not narcissism, although I can be found staring at myself in mirrors. It is also not just because I am an easy subject since I am right here all the time and there is no need to hire a model. Those would be two very easy answers to this question. Really there is something else that draws me to self-portraiture. I think it must do with looking at myself through the multiple lenses that affect me daily such as the male gaze, my own self-conscious gaze, or the pressured societal gaze that tells me how I am supposed to look. When I think of these things, then I have to paint myself, there is no other subject that will help me figure this out. My face has all the answers I am looking for.

Can you speak to us about capturing yourself in a vulnerable moment, like a yawn or a sneeze?

Yawns and sneezes are involuntary actions. They come upon you as a surprise and cause your face to contort in some way, manipulating your facial expression and muscles without asking for permission. These moments are vulnerable because you lose control. You make sounds you didn’t intend to make, often trying to stifle them. When I think of this loss of control, it makes me question control itself, or what control we really have over our bodies.

Our bodies do many things without asking, mainly to keep us alive. In the case of yawning and sneezing though, and in opposition to breathing or blinking, we experience a sense that we’ve lost control over our bodies in a different way. Perhaps it is because these actions affect our faces in such a violent manner compared to blinking and breathing. Certain cultures have come up with “polite” ways to acknowledge these moments and many of us have been taught to control the way we yawn or sneeze around other people. We hide our mouths and excuse ourselves, enacting control in the sudden, violent, involuntary bodily action. It can be for germ-control, but it can also just be so that others don’t see the inside of our mouths.

I want to show people the inside of my mouth. I want to fully display and explore these vulnerable actions. When I break these moments down through animation I am always amazed by the intensity and variety of facial contortions. Each frame has a new expression and new emotion it evokes.

How does humour play a role in your work?

I have always wanted to make people laugh with my work. The silly faces when you yawn or sneeze are the way to do it. Who would have thought that returning to silly-face-making, just like from childhood, would be the key to making adults in art galleries laugh at your work?

What is your process behind creating animations?

I start by recording myself sneezing or yawning. It’s surprisingly hard to make yourself sneeze on camera. Pepper does not work, nor do feathers. Yawns are a bit easier to bring on or even fake. The animation process that follows is extremely time consuming and labourious. I have made animations with thirteen frames all the way to one hundred and sixty frames.

Colour choice is based on the recording equipment I use to make my video. For example, cell phone cameras will distort colours in a different way than webcams or DSLR cameras. I push these colours to an extreme in my paintings. When I watercolour, I use an assembly line process whereby I paint an aspect of the composition such as the skin tone all in a row, then lips, then eyes, and so on. I appreciate the time-consuming nature of this process, it gives me time to think. The process comes full circle when I animate the paintings back into a video.

Can you give us a sneak peek of your HOLD FAST project?

Imagine you are walking around town during the HOLD FAST Art Crawl and maybe you are a bit tired or maybe you don’t even realize you’re tired and you see a sign on a big tent that says, “It’s okay to be tired.” You walk into the tent which is dimly lit by lamps and a small bright animation of a face. You see a place to make yourself a cup of tea, you see a few other people in the space sitting on couches with their heads on pillows, listening. The animation has a computer mouse in front of it. You move the mouse down and the face begins to yawn, you yawn. We all yawn.

Visit April's website here:

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