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A Place of Silence

Mike Gough is a painter currently based in St. John's. His minimal, mixed media work explores the ephemerality of love and relationships and the consistency of landscape and the natural world.

What does an average day in the studio look like? Do you have a set routine, a preferred time to work, or anything that helps you get in the zone?

I’ve always been an artist who works at night. It’s a time when I feel most focused; it’s quiet and I am undisturbed. Often I’ll begin with drawing because it’s delicate and intimate. From there I introduce paint and pastel. I guess I’m a physical painter, and by that I mean I’ll sometimes use my fingers to apply paint and create smudges with graphite. I like to see evidence of my hand and I’ll sometimes leave fingerprints on the surface. Painting has always been therapeutic. As soon as I enter the studio I know this is my time alone to think, to paint and to work through my ideas.

How did you select your colour choices for this series? You've created a focused palette of cool, deep blues and punchy warm tones that almost glow.

I knew I wanted to work with a different palette for this series. The last exhibition had a lot of heavy colors and I was ready to move on. I recognized that many of the paintings, especially those with lone figures, might suggest feelings of loneliness or sadness, but there was more to the narrative than that. To combat those emotions I began with a brighter palette. Eventually the palette shifted and I found myself using deep blues and reds. Sometimes the painting calls for that and I try not to force colors in my work. Color plays such an important role in memory painting and when you adjust colors for consistency it affects how the painting should feel. I also blame David Hockney for this drastic color shift. I went to see his retrospective at the Tate last year and it, without a doubt, had a profound effect on my art practice.

The titles you've chosen, including the title of the exhibition, poetically reveal a personal relationship to both people and a place. What is the inspiration behind them?

The series began last fall when I was hoping to build a body of work inspired by family stories about my grandfather, uncle, grandmother and so on, most of whom had passed away before I was born. While much of my research was relying on word of mouth and photographs, I turned to an online database to search my family history. In the search I had uprooted truths and secrets that lead me to find new family members. Not all of my family are aware of this yet, so I won’t divulge the details, but what I will say is the series of events I uncovered was something I was certainly not expecting and I did not think it would affect me that way it did.

The work took a new direction as I was thinking about how people come and go from our lives but we find ways to survive. The paintings took inspiration from my research but explored two major questions – 1. How do we adapt to change? and 2. How do we separate fact from fiction in our memory? By unraveling personal memories I attempt to find truth in the impressions and perceptions of the mind. In deciphering facts and feelings the ‘truth’ becomes a blend of reality and idealism.

The titles then came from both new family narratives and my own personal experiences and memories. Many of the paintings revealed a ‘longing’ and ‘solitude.’ The names suggested a trust and knowingness in the landscape (certainty of tides, waves always leaving, compass), but change and uncertainty in human relationships (waiting for your return, wondered where you were, time travelers)

Why do you keep your figures anonymous, with their faces turned towards a distance horizon?

I like to leave room for viewers to bring their own history, memories and experience to my paintings. The landscapes are undefined, the architecture is simple and the figures are anonymous. Using figures can sometimes alienate people. When figures become too specific, or landscapes become too defined the audience is given a direction to follow instead of finding their own way. I like to use the figure as a point of access. By placing the figure back on, I hope the viewer places themselves in that position or finds a loosely defined figure as symbolic.

Can you tell us about the experience of creating "A Place of Silence," the diptych centerpiece of this exhibition? How did the process differ from working within a single canvas?

I always like to challenge myself with scale, whether it be small or large. Both appeal to me for different reasons. Working small is always an intimate experience. There is something really satisfying about beginning and finishing a painting in one sitting. It becomes a more spontaneous endeavour that sometimes works out and sometimes doesn’t. There’s a sense of freedom when working that scale because if the painting takes a wrong turn I can simple begin again. With a large scale piece or the diptych in this case there is much more planning involved. While there is freedom in the marks I can make, it has to be thought out. The water in the painting alone took 10 hours to complete because of the small marks involved. In fact it is the largest painting I’ve ever made. I think what I like most about the scale is how it engulfs you as you approach it. While the diptych was my most challenge piece, I think it was necessary to have something of that scale in the exhibition. It has great impact and it sets a tone when you enter the show.

If you could collaborate with any other artist in the world, who would it be?

What a great question! I’d have to go with Nan Goldin. The way she sees the world is simply incredible. I have always been interested in work about experience and the human condition. Nan Goldin, Sophie Calle, Tracey Emin are among some of my favourite artists along with David Hockney and Cy Twombly who’s mark making inspired a confidence in my own drawing.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I wish I had an interesting answer for this. I’m a terrible singer, I cannot play an instrument (one exception – hot cross buns on the recorder), acting skills – zero (unless you count the one line I had in my grade 6 christmas play) – so painting it is….oh and bowling. I can bowl. I bowled for 15 years. I was never really great but it just demonstrates how committed I am to things.

If you had to summarize "The Impression of Something Real" in 25 words, what should people expect from this exhibition? What does is say about your practice at this point in time?

‘The Impression of Something Real’ presents narrative paintings that investigate love, distance and adaptation to change.

I think being able to summarize a body of work in one sentence perhaps shows a growing confidence in my work. I’ve always been one to second guess myself (hence using the word perhaps in the sentence previous). People have often remarked that my work has really shifted over the last several years and I think that as I get older my intentions become clearer. I know what it is I want to express and I’m gaining the confidence to express it.

What's next for you?

Next on my calendar is Art Toronto (Toronto International Art Fair). I’ll be working on a small series of paintings for Christina Parker Gallery that will be shown at Art Toronto this fall.

"The Impression of Something Real" is currently on display at Christina Parker Gallery until June 16, 2018

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