By Kerry Wright Zentner
MONDO: You’re an artist who has worked in many media, including textiles, painting, sculpture, drawing, writing, and installation. How do you determine which form a given inspiration will take — or does the desire to work in a particular medium come first?
Richard Preston: I tend to work in series, often with several series crossing over each other’s timelines. [...] I think most of my desire to work in many media is just a very contemporaneous zeitgeist. It seems that after centuries of market-forced monocreativity, the community of makers has finally said, “we determine our own pathways.” Some of this multifaceted approach also stems from a pathological hatred of boredom, while some more influence is just a sheer fractured sensibility from doing a lot of self-teaching.
Ultimately, this multiplicity of media reflects on my basic life-long fascination with texture, which is a response to being an immigrant and moving around a bit growing up, that in turn lent itself to some feelings of rootlessness and disconnection. Then again, variety is the spice of life.
MONDO: Your beadwork jackets are very striking. How many decades does it take to make one, and who gets to wear them?
RP: Well, the jackets are unique in that they tend to take anywhere from 350-400 hours, although the last one, The Tree of Life, took somewhere between 600-700 hours. Each one has had its own creative history. West Coast Jacket (1980), Starry Night (2001), and Moonflow (2003) were all made without interruption; Dripping (1982-1987) was brought into being in several phases — each one dramatically modifying the previous vision. Blue Jay, Flower, and Verdant were all started in the late 80s then put aside until 2001-2002, when they were completed. Ideally, I prefer to work on a piece from start to finish. There is a generally a great deal of improvisation involved in their evolution, so a high degree of presence and responsiveness to a changing form, content and sensibility is vital. But hey, life interferes a great deal. God grant me financial independence and a place in the woods.
MONDO: Some of your works — for example, the “stratigraph” textiles and the outdoor Shoreline exhibit — seem to not just represent geological and topographic forms but to emerge organically, as if you’re in collaboration with nature. As an urban artist, what do you feel your role is with regards to nature?
RP: I have spent about 10 years living in small towns and on rural roads, plus several trips thumbing across Canada, so I have had a great deal of contact with the “natural” environment. I also grew up in the late 60s and early 70s (born 1957) so I was really influenced by all of the “back to the land” stuff, and the re-emergence of textiles and natural material as an art form and process in that period of time.
Another root of the natural influence in my work comes from the recognition that all things on this planet Earth must exist within certain parameters (such as gravity, emergence/decline, motion, etc.), so if you look closely, patterns can be seen that cross over from the underside of a cockroach, lobster or scorpion to the wave marks on the shore, seabed deposits, the mammalian ribcage, and the clouds that exist in the cirrus family, just to draw a few comparisons. A third explanation of the presence of landscape elements in my work is the basic tendency of human beings to modify their environment, in various ways, to make it more conducive to their happiness; being based in the downtown of Toronto elicits a type of wish fulfillment balancing that emerges in my work. I’m actually pretty split that way — I can either live right downtown in an urban centre or right out in the woods.
In summation, my work stems from a desire for interconnectness, a love of nature, a pathological distaste for boredom, and a rebellion against limitations — externally or internally imposed.
You can view more of Richard’s work on his website.