By Rachel Kahn
A few weeks ago, Mathew Borrett answered some of my questions regarding his work – so many questions, in fact, that you’ll have to click here to read the first half of the interview.
MONDO: So you said your day job includes 3-D imaging; have you made art with 3-D imaging as well?
MB: Yeah, actually, it’s a whole other side of the coin. At times it’s totally taken over from the drawing. I worked in graphic design and illustration and only kind of dabbled in 3-D, but recently I started working for a special effects company doing matte painting, which involves some 3-D. Using the computer to make art is something I’ve done since I had my Commodore 64, where you couldn’t just make graphics, you had to program them. I have looked for ways to integrate the two more, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get quite there.
MONDO: Do you find it affects how you think when you sit down and draw?
MB: Yes. In fact, my girlfriend and I bought a house and totally gutted it, and I’ve been really absorbed in renovating it and only recently took a break. So I hadn’t done any drawing in a long time, but I had done a lot of computer stuff at work, so when it came time to actually sit down and do drawings, I had to shake off the urge to begin the process on the computer and just let the drawing do its thing. So maybe it’s not a good idea to integrate the two, but one certainly informs the other.
MB: Uh, not really. I don’t put on a particular hat or a particular pair of shoes. I do have to kind of get myself feeling at home and surround myself with familiar objects and things. Often I’ll look through my old sketchbooks because there are hundreds of ideas there. I do need a certain amount of isolation and quiet, and music is a big factor, too. I’ll listen to a very specific kind of really ambient techno music or something to get me into the right headspace.
MONDO: Is having a studio space away from home important to your process?
MB: I’ve tried a lot of different arrangements. I think it works better for me, partially because my house right now is a small house, and, renovations aside, I don’t really have my own room. I kind of need my own little den.
MONDO: Why did you take a break from having a studio?
MB: I guess, I don’t know, certain twists and turns in my life. I had a studio here for a few years, and I lived down the road and had a solo show at AWOL. But then I had been working the same job for a long time and got really sick of it, and on a whim I bought an old van and went on a road trip. A lot of people were disappointed because I’d had that solo show, and people were kind of watching me. I’d even had a little spread in Mix magazine, but I took off and left. I do find it a little uncomfortable feeling any expectations, but I think I needed inspiration, so I went off and got some. I guess I’m on my own timetable with drawing. And with the house, that totally took over our lives for a couple years. It was virtually impossible to do any drawing.
MB: I guess so, yeah. I think, for the room drawings in particular, part of the inspiration for those was my memories of the old farm house I grew up in being slowly renovated over the years that we lived there. I remember being – and this kind of ties into the whole Poetics of Space and the psychology of space – I remember being fascinated when my dad would rip a hole in a wall, and you could see from one room into another where before they had been completely discrete spaces, both physically and psychologically. I would always have dreams after that about finding different versions of my house that were at some level of deconstruction or in a different location, like my house in a desert or half-destroyed by a tornado. I had lots of dreams about finding rooms that didn’t really exist, and in those rooms, usually what I would find is some Lego set that I wanted – I was obsessed with Lego as a kid – or some manifestation of fear would live there. They were often really dilapidated, scary and uncomfortable; like, I’d find this horrible shaft beside my room that went down to the basement, where there would be a black pool of water that was really deep.
MONDO: Were you a big sci-fi and fantasy reader?
MB: Oh yeah, totally. Sometimes I have an urge to indulge myself by putting a bit more of a sci-fi/fantasy slant on my work, and sometimes I do. Sometimes with the art that I do on the computer – which is sort of in its own world, I don’t really show it, it just tends to be my tinkering away – tends to be more sci-fi. One specific thing that fascinates me, and one thing I’m starting to explore more of in my work, is time travel. The whole idea of time, the whole notion of Time, is fascinating. I used to have this weird fantasy where I would show people from the past around; like I would take someone from Toronto circa 1899 and show them Toronto now.
In reverse, I recently became totally obsessed with looking at the Toronto Archives online; they have 30,000 photographs of the city as it used to be, and I’ve studied all these pictures, so I basically have an overlay of Victorian Toronto in my mind everywhere I go. It’s informing a lot of the work that I’m planning or thinking of doing. I have this idea where I want to show some future version of the city with a 500-year-old CN Tower that’s been repurposed or something like that. And in the work that I just did for the Outdoor, it’s starting to creep in there as well. I’m trying to show buildings that might be reminiscent of modern buildings but aren’t, or they’ve been changed or remodeled or something like that. So walking around the city, I love to just observe and see how things have changed over time. And how history, the great depression, and all these things have had this huge effect on the city.
MONDO: In ten years people will be perfectly okay with the fact that Maple Leaf Gardens houses a grocery store.
MB: Sad but true.
MONDO: As you become more interested in drawing future Toronto, are you using photo reference or just relying on your visual memory?
MB: That’s part of the problem, why I have yet to take any of these ideas and do any finished work with them. I don’t like drawing from observation – it bores me. I understand the skill – it definitely improves your drawing – but I would never consider drawing the CN Tower as it is now because it’s boring. It would have to be a science fiction CN Tower or a ruined CN Tower. However, I am very interested in plausibility, believe it or not, and when it comes to this idea, I really want to know how concrete decays over a long period of time. What actually happens to old buildings? If I use any reference, it’s just photoed ruins in general; when I went on a backpacking trip to Europe, I took pictures of ruined abbeys and decaying buildings and that kind of thing. I think the other side of this idea is that I actually have 3-D computer models of the CN Tower and the Skydome that are accurate, and one thing I want to try is taking computer generated images and projecting them and drawing with that as a starting point. But there’s a danger in that, too, because then it might be too realistic or might lose something.
MONDO: So, do you have any advice for people who are looking to start kicking themselves into making their own art?
MB: Start out by just forgetting everything that you think you should do that may be stemming more from trying to please a client or your teachers. Try to quiet the voice of the critic in your head a little bit, and just try to start with what comes naturally. Like I said, I had stopped drawing, and I even wondered if “well maybe I’m just not going to do any art anymore.” So I just went back to basics and started scribbling in the sketchbook – literally doing scribbly five-second drawings. Try to find what comes naturally and use that as your starting place.
MONDO: Do you participate in the art network that exists in Toronto? Is it a support system for you, or do you exist outside of it?
MB: For the most part I feel I exist outside of it, but I have a fair number of connections, and that’s part of the reason why having a studio here is good. You feel more connected; I can take a short walk to go see some galleries, and being in the shared studio environment like this is also really great. The AWOL folks are great. The sense of community is definitely an important thing that I do want to immerse myself in more at times.
MB: I think I was much less social when I was at school. I wasn’t even a small-town kid, I was a country kid, and when I first moved to the city, I was pretty overwhelmed; I think I was intimidated by the “scene.” And now I see that certain aspects of it kind of turn me off. But doing things like the Toronto Outdoor show is fantastic because you get such a cross-section of people who wouldn’t normally go gallery hopping, and I get a lot of nourishment from that kind of experience, as exhausting as it is. Also, in terms of community, I’m more involved or associate more with people who are activist types; you know Spacing Magazine? All the people who are involved in Spacing are friends of mine, and people who are involved in the community of the city, that’s sort of more interesting to me than the art scene, whatever the art scene is.
MONDO: Do you have any shows coming up?
MB: There’s the award winners from the Toronto Outdoor show’s group show at the First Canadian Place in January. All the winners get to have one piece in the show, and it’s up for six weeks. Oh, and I intend to do a piece or two for the Square Foot show. Other than that, though, no, and I’m at that dangerous point now where I have to keep drawing. There was a lot of interest generated from the Toronto Outdoor show, though – I sold as many pieces after the show as I did during the show and sold out of most of the little drawings that I did.
You can further explore Mathew Borrett’s art here.