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INTERVIEW: Renee Mathews

Toronto based multidisciplinary artist Renee Mathews shares how language and imagery can help explain difficult ideas and thought to those who otherwise might not understand.

How would you describe your creative practice in 100 words?

My practice is a constant exploration of my own mind and perception of reality. Concepts around spirituality and identity tend to come up frequently. I'm in the habit of alternating between labor intensive and emotionally intensive projects in order to give my body and heart a break when they need it. Drawing, sculpture, collage, writing, photography, and movement serve a role in almost everything I do. Recently I've found joy and purpose in creating images that explain concepts people may have a hard time wrapping their heads around in other ways. Using art as a language to communicate the unimaginable. 

From drawing, collage, photography and sculpture, can you share what draws you to each medium you work in? Do you have a favourite discipline?

Collage was my first love so it will always have a special place in my life whether it's a final piece or a means to an end. It feels like solving a puzzle where I get to use my intuition and logic simultaneously. One of my earliest and favourite childhood memories was making tissue paper collages with my aunt whenever we had a family get together. I'm not super close with that side and was a really shy kid, so her giving me that chance to feel included was a reason to look forward to those dinners. I spent all of 2019 travelling so my attraction to each medium has shifted a lot in the last while. Ironically I drifted away from photography. The reason for that being somewhere between not wanting to do what every other tourist around me was doing and the impracticality of carrying a camera around. I started drawing a lot cause I always have a pen and paper on me and it made the most sense to document my travels by what I was feeling instead of seeing. Sculpture still feels relatively new but I think it's the most exciting because it's the most tactile. 

How do you negotiate working among each medium and what do they offer?

Depending on the project, the medium will usually offer itself to me instead of me having to make a decision. The more I try to think and make analytical decisions about my art, especially the medium, the more it escapes me. So I've learned not to force anything that doesn't want to happen. 

What does the relationship between text and imagery mean to you? 

I think it started as a way for me to start putting my writing out into the world without having to call myself a writer. I've never fully identified with the label but writing is an essential practice for me at the same time. If I stop writing I've lost the plot so to speak. The writing in my work is a mix of personal journal entries, poems, and word vomit-like captions. I enjoy the latter the most. There are concepts in my head that I don't yet have the capacity to realize visually so words are my friend in that way. As my practice evolves I still think text will still be a part of it though cause it really is it's own medium. 

Which artist has had the greatest impact on your work and practice?

Basquiat I think was the first artist I saw that made art the way I wanted it to be made. It was engaging and chaotic and looked like the inside of my head. I know that there's no one way anything should be done but it was the first time I got really excited about what art could be. Growing up, my mom always kept art in the house. She has a mask collection, paintings from several of her friends, textiles and other stuff. She made our home feel like a piece of art in itself. We had a print of Jacob Lawrence's Dreams No. 2. When I was little it used to scare the crap out of me but now I love it. A lot of the art I'm drawn to usually incites initial shock or fear and then curiosity and admiration take over.

To see more of Renee's work, check out her website and follow her on Instagram.


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