Toronto based artist David Woodward creates beautiful collages that explore the connection between the individual, communal and the natural world.
Can you describe your studio routine?
I always begin with coffee and CBC Radio. If I have a full day in the studio I try to get any emails, applications, research etc done first thing in the morning so they’re out of the way. Depending on what stage I’m at with a collage, the rest of the day can involve any combination of sketching (I generally have a rough idea mapped out of what each work will look like in advance), making paper stencils (to see how a found image would look once it’s cut out into a shape or form), cutting things out and then arranging them. I try to have more than one collage on the go at any time so that if something’s not working, I can pivot to another piece and come back to the others later. Gluing things down is the most monotonous part of the process, so I’ll usually wait until I have a couple collages ready to go and then spend a few days just gluing - this way I can really get into the right headspace for that tedious sort of work. Things can get pretty scattered in my studio with so many bits of paper moving around, so I spend the end of each work day reorganizing and restoring a sense of calm.
Collage has the wonderful way of allowing for re-interpretation of imagery and ideas. What is it about collage as a medium that excites you?
For me it has to do with the capacity of collage to contain a kind of subtext or elusive storyline that runs parallel to the broader idea of a piece. When I first started with collage, I was cutting things out just as they appeared so that they maintained the integrity of whatever their original form was - a leaf, an arm, an insect, a bird. Nowadays I mostly cut things out for their texture or palette and repurpose them into forms completely unrelated to their original incarnations. I find this process of matching form with found image to be more expansive and surprising - there are so many associations or connections that I, or a viewer, might draw between a form or shape and the subject matter it’s made out of - a bowl cut out of the side of a mountain, a hand made of the night sky, a knife made from the sunset, the sun made out of a fossil. There’s also something about the process of collage and mining through old books and magazines that appeals to my childlike fascination with archaeology and the unknowable aspects of the past.
What is a studio tool you can't live without and why?
Painter’s tape - while I’m arranging and laying out all the pieces of a collage, I use hundred of little bits of tape (has to be painter’s so that it’s repositionable) to hold everything together on the back so that things can’t move around too much before they’re glued down. I can’t imagine making collages of the size I’ve been working on without using painter’s tape, it would be a nightmare.
Your latest body of work has a unique perspective, contrasting bold colour with greyscale and atmospheric backgrounds with patterns and imagery. Are there artists you draw inspiration from?
Definitely! I approach collage from what feels like a painterly perspective, so I find I look at a lot of paintings, both contemporary and historic. I’m very inspired by Early Netherlandish painting and its incredible iconography - Jan van Eyck, Dürer and Heironymous Bosch in particular; a few years ago I saw the Garden of Earthly Delights in person and it blew my mind. Lately I’m really enjoying paintings by Naudline Pierre, Paul Wackers, Audrey Helen Weber and Kyle Dunn, the wall hangings that Niki Livingston and Yusuke Tsukamoto create under the name Look Out and Wonderland, ceramic works by Kendra Yee, Colleen Heslin’s dyed canvases and Jennifer Murphy’s paper collages. I’m also very inspired by the makers of zines and artist’s books, and the way these formats of art making and sharing can challenge barriers in the art world - some favourites include so far from
the water and thirsty by Brooke Manning and Alicia Nauta, To Shape a Sword by Geetha Thurairajah,
Steven Beckly's Still Life series, and Adam Zeek’s affirmation booklets.
Where does your interest in the natural world come from?
I’ve always been interested in nature, as a subject matter in art and otherwise. I grew up in a small town surrounded by forests and farms with a river going through the center and Lake Ontario on one side, so I really spent a lot of my time outdoors - collecting bugs, leaves and rocks. I still love going camping and hiking, and I usually feel like the best version of myself when I’m surrounded by nature. In terms of art, my interest in nature relates to the way the environment is so rich with metaphor when considering the relationship of cause and effect between individual and shared experience. Especially in this era of climate emergency, that tedious interconnectedness amongst living things is so visually apparent in the natural world - it’s endless and unpredictable feedback loops constantly forging new states of dependency between humans and our environments. I’m also really interested in different systems of symbology that have been projected onto aspects of the natural world - from things as simple as the way we interpret the four seasons to more complex fields of study like astrology.
Your titles use intentional, almost poetic language, for example "As Glass Returns to Sand." How do your titles speak to the meaning you hope to give to your viewers in your work?
Naming the work is a really important and often cathartic final step in my process, it doesn’t feel like a piece is really finished until I’ve figured out what to call it. I like for a title to express some essence of the idea or problem I was thinking through while I made the work, most of them are lifted from chaotic journal entries. Sometimes I feel like titles can be a helpful structure for understanding what’s going on in a work that’s otherwise fairly undecipherable - like in Bowl for Stray Intentions, but ultimately I don’t mean for them to be prescriptive or to overshadow someone’s personal reading.
What's next for your artistic practice?
Right now I’m really trying to make the most of how much additional time I have to spend in the studio as a result of the pandemic. I’m in the early stages of developing a series of large collages that reconsider historic personifications of virtue, ethics and morality - more generally looking at the role of allegory in visual storytelling. In the long term, I’m also working on my second artist’s book with the intention that it will be complete by the end of 2021.