A few Sundays ago I had the opportunity to meet up with local artist, Bobbie Burgers in her new gorgeous, chic industrial “all-white” studio located on the north shore here in Vancouver. We had an inspiring chat about her work, the new studio and her world of fine art. We were also lucky enough to have Vancouver photographer Kyrani Kanavaros along for the visit who photographed while we chatted. Here’s our interview.
Q. It’s always interesting to get a little background and how people begin in their field. For those that may be just starting out, where did you both train or study or how did your career as an artist begin? And did you always know you wanted to paint?
A. I am often asked about if I always wanted to paint, and it seems so odd looking back, but I don’t ever remember a divide between creating as a child to an adult- it is just what I always did, all those small steps along the way equal one big step. One thing I do know, is that I have a deep need to create, it is not a feeling of obligation that I should get back in the studio, it is almost like a hunger that has to be fed. My mother always would tease me when we traveled as a bigger family to France, and I wouldn’t be able to relax or be at ease until I went out and had a few hours of painting or sketching—its very much like an internal gnawing. I have to release that energy or that demon. I created throughout my childhood, no television or anything electronic except story records leads to a lot of free time to let your mind wander, which is still my favourite feeling. Of letting your mind drift into different unintentional dimensions, almost like meditation, it’s very relaxing as little glimpses of images start to morph, come into focus and disappear in your mind’s eye. All this daydreaming combined with being very shy during high school led me to spending a lot of time in the art rooms, and to taking courses at Emily Carr University and Arts Umbrella. Still, all these years later, I remember those lessons and projects I created more vividly than anything from my adult years. I went on to University to study visual arts, and after my first year moved over to study art history- which mostly taught me how to create long rambling free association style sentences—this being case in point. I continued to paint in all my spare time in whatever environment I was in. I rowed with the Canadian National Rowing team, and remember running around taking photos before a race was to begin on distance lake shores throughout Canada and the US, or coming home exhausted after the third workout of the day but feeling totally alive and energetic if I could find some time in my tiny bedroom boarding house filled with other young women, to paint and dissolve into that meditative escapism that I mentioned before. This all led me to eventually having my first exhibit in my home town of West Vancouver, and with that success at the municipal gallery, I could tumble earnings into more supplies. At 23 when I graduated, I collaborated with a friend and held my own first exhibit in his framing shop, and I was feeling cheeky, so sent invitations to Vancouver’s top galleries. Barry Mowatt Gallery and Diane Ferris Gallery both called me expressing interest, and within weeks, I had my first exhibit with Diane Ferris. It was so loose and fluid and instinctual in a way back then.
Q. Your art has evolved through the years from flowers in vases, to the vases slowly disappearing, and now almost close-ups or snapshots of your older works blown up. I get the feeling, this new stage is only the beginning of what’s to come with Bobbie Burgers. Can you explain a bit how you got to where you are, finding your style?
A. Being self taught, I feel that the last 18-20 years have been about earning the tools and techniques that make up my creative toolbox. By the time one has painted a tulip 100, 1000 times, it becomes second nature, and when it has become second nature I could start riffing on it. I don’t know how I ended up becoming quite a realist over the years, it happened so gradually. One day I looked back and realized that now that I had the skills, I had to start breaking the rules and bringing florals or landscapes to a more instinctual place. I came to see that still lifes and florals are anything but still. They actually change a lot more than a person would if doing a study: within days flowers go from closed and perfect soldiers of similarity, their youth being all about clean assimilation, to meeting middle age where their character really starts to show, and in their last days, they seem to lay it all out, showing their true colours. I like to think of flowers as portraits of people. Not only will the flowers change over the week or two of painting them, but light will move and change in the studio, and my emotions of that time will be layered in as well—so I came to look at my painting as a layering of past, present and future. When I had played with that splintering effect for a couple of years, I came to see flowers as real independents, not needing to be rooted in time or space at all. And then other ways of capturing time passing came into play. Like leaving in unintentional drips to show a moment in time, or bigger more immediate brushwork that really showed an arm movement or a feeling, like impatience, impermanence, aggression of lightheartedness, freedom.
Q. Let’s talk about your tools a bit. We noticed some very large brushes in your studio and alongside painting on canvas, we see you are also working on a special paper for oil painting. And that water bottle! Do you mind explaining your process or the progression of? And how long does it take you to create one of your larger pieces
A. I find that every few years my process changes. For example, many years ago, I painted on unstretched canvas as I liked the lack of borders, and it allowed me to crop and choose which areas to focus on. Over time that disappeared and new challenges presented themselves: painting so large, it is sometimes easier to paint horizontal and then I put it back up on the wall, and it switches back and forth, wall/ground as the work develops. I think the most important change in the last year, is having the space to work on several large projects at once, which allows more time for reflection and not the need to conclude so quickly. To keep things constantly fresh in my mind, I like to reference older pieces, but see them in a new light, which is why I keep a few paintings every year. Living with them sparks new ideas. I am shamelessly self-referencing and insular in my process. Yes, my brushes have grown in size dramatically, and I use my drop cloth more and more like a palette. I have always enjoyed working on paper as it seems so ephemeral and light, whether it be by creating monotypes, charcoal drawings, or collage—they are all immediate mediums, and I am an impatient person, so they suit me well, but I would like to move into collaborating with print makers, as it would be interesting to spar ideas with another creator
Q. We also see you’re moving into new mediums such as your ceramic wall installation at Simons in Park Royal. What a cool opportunity. Will we be seeing more of that side of your artistry?
A. I love working with ceramics. I have been going to the ceramic studio for over 15 years, and before that in my youth. I would always be so curious how I could bring ceramics into my artistic practice, and would just play around with it, mostly with my kids and wonder how it would take form. I often start by creating things for ourselves, and wondered what a whole wall of expanding and contracting anemones would look like so made my first ten large scale pieces for our amorphous bathroom wall. When I created the piece for the Simons department store, I was making two or three pieces a week, over the span of a year. There were many failed attempts, or pieces that exploded, or were too thin. But just as with painting, the sheer repetition saw a gradual discovery and evolution; slowly the flowers became about the essence, or a feeling, almost unrecognizable but one could see its roots. Then it became about showing that it was actually a movement I was capturing, so a falling petal became a two foot long stretch, like a brush stroke, one couldn’t tell anymore if it was a piece of a flower, a brushstroke or just a large movement of body pushing clay. One medium and experiment always bleeds over into others. Two years ago I created a series of multimedia works on paper that were extremely three dimensional, some pieces floating on stainless steel pins Billy would secure through layers of support. That definitely influenced our wall installation, and my works on canvas. I had wanted to use all my favourite ingredients; pastel, pencil, inks, acrylic, fabric—into one piece—my painting learned from this freedom and also became more layered. I am now working on free standing sculptures, some like ceramic figures, melding and twisting flowers We bought a high powered chainsaw with a presision small blade in the summer who has yet to express herself, and then there are all these industrial materials near our studio. Every time I pass a pile, my scrappy, waste-not personality, imagines twisted metal sculptures in brilliant hues.
Q. What designers/makers/architects, etc do you look up to, are influenced by or inspire you?
A. I have huge respect for all these careers or creative pursuits—for a designer to be able to create a chair, for example, that can be at once current and timeless for 50, 60, 70 years is an incredible feat. Like the ever playful and brilliant Ray and Charles Eames. My favourite designer right now is Patricia Urquila—she creates works of art in the form of furniture- truly- we have one of her lounge chairs in our bedroom and it is so precious to me- it looks like floral origami, made of rich red and white wool felt. My favourite artists always ebb and flow- my all time favourite is Joan Mitchel– her colours are perfection, they leap and dance, her strong brush stroke and combative yet childlike personality only make her more intriguing. I recently discovered the painter elaine de Kooning, and that was another eye opener—her work is totally fresh, skilled and like no other form of portraiture I have seen, knowing how hard it is to create a style all ones own, and she did this in such competitive and tricky subject matter and all in the shadow of her husband Willem. We need to celebrate these amazing artists and make them household names as they often outshine their male counterparts. My favourite architect is Newell Jacobsen. I like repetition in shape, I like honest houses that are not trendy and deal with flow inside, their relationship to the land they sit on or in.
Q. How do you create best (e.g. do you listen to music while you create and if so what?)
A. Now that my studio space is so much larger than my previous, I enjoy listening to music. My last studio space was small and playing music added to the claustrophobia. I mostly like to listen to podcasts, as it lets my mind wander while I paint without the emotional commitment of being drawn into the music. I like solitude.
Q. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
A. Never getting tired
Q. What’s happening for you in the near future, any exhibits, shows coming up?
A. My next exhibit is at Caldwell Snyder Gallery in California- in April 2016, after that I have exhibits at Bau-Xi Gallery, Toronto, in June 2016 and in between my work will be shown with two of my galleries, Galerie be Bellefeuille, and Caldwell Synder Gallery in New York in May during Art Frieze New York.