A is for Art an Interview with Ray Fenwick

Wow you are one hard working fellow. Some would call you an illustrator, some an artist, some a writer and others a rock star. What would you call yourself?
I tend to go with artist, because all of the activities you mention are related to my art practice in some way. They either enrich it, expand it, or support it. Art is what they all have in common.

That being said, I do feel a bit hesitant calling myself an artist, despite the fact that I've had shows and definitely have an art practice. In my head there's a group of artists I think of as real artists, and I find it difficult to place myself in their ranks. Part of me feels like I haven't earned the title yet, even though I'm not sure what would happen to change that.

On my imaginary mental business card the word artist has a lowercase a, but perhaps one day Lawrence Weiner will show up and, after a long tearful ceremony, he'll give me the capital a, saying something along the lines of "it was there the whole time". Of course Lawrence Weiner would never participate in something like that. It would be Jeff Koons, which would cheapen the whole thing for me and so I'd just end up back at square one.

Do you like how your very first question threw me into an existential crisis? Why are you being so cruel to me?

You exemplify one who works for oneself. If someone goes to Java Blend for a coffee super early and tells a friend about it they refer to early as 'Ray-time'. Wait, what? Haha!
In a city where many artists are working for minimum wage and cursing the man, you are making a living making. How did that come to be?
In about 2005 I started making a comic called Hall of Best Knowledge, which is this heavily typographic comic about a character's desperate desire to be a genius. After that was going up online for a while, I started getting illustration work from people who liked it, and things grew from there. As I did more work, I got more work.

I've read your latest Pile/Newsletter in which you state your intentions for the year 2010. You'll be doing large scale paintings, more pattern design (!!!), a residency at the infamous Struts Gallery in Sackville, and vignette book called Mascots (temporary cover above right) which will be published by Fantagraphics late this year. The book consists of words and drawings on found book covers, where do you locate these covers and what is it about the found material that keeps you coming back?
I find them at Value Village or Salvation army. Most thrift stores have a rapidly replenished stock of old hardcover books, and more often than not they're ones I'm comfortable cannibalizing. I'm a book lover, so I would keep and read any guts that seemed interesting, but that hasn't happened yet. Mostly they're the biographies of people I've never heard of.

As for why I use them, there are lots of reasons. I was initially drawn to them by their colours, which are often quite unusual and intensely hued. They also made sense because they were the right size for the drawings I was doing, and were cheap. However, after I'd used them a few times I realized there was much more to it, that they weren't just a solution to a problem.

First, I love the process involved in finding them and preparing them for use. Instead of heading down to the art store I get to go and root through shelves in a thrift store, which takes a lot longer but is a much more pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Second, there's something nice about using a drawing surface that has a past. By the time I'm ready to start drawing on one of them I have a history with it, and that's in addition to it's already long history as a book. It serves as a strange base for what I end up doing, in that it kind of contrasts conceptually. The things I do are often fragmented, like short flashes of narrative, so I think it's funny to have that take place on something that has a long previous life.

Lastly, the fact that they're originally book covers makes a lot of sense. I often think of my work like titles for books that never manifest, and in this case the book has actually been removed entirely so you have no choice but to fill in the book yourself.

One thing I should acknowledge here is that much of this was thought of after the fact, but that's kind of how I work. I'm not trying to bullshit here. I try to trust instinct and improvisation when possible because the results are usually more surprising than when I try and plan something out in detail. In this case the book covers made a very simple kind of sense at first, so I went with it, but it became richer upon reflection. Same goes for most of what I do.

Kudos to having your year planned in advance! Do you agree with the following quote? :"Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail?" - Henry Weld Fuller
I agree with that, but I think for me it is just a way to achieve some kind of focus. If I don't plan out when I am working on what, I would probably just spin my wheels, working on a bunch of things at the same time and making little progress.

Now lets talk about the band Pastoralia. Which consists of demigod Mitchell Wiebe , ace of bass Rebecca Young, and you.
Is this your first band?
No, my first was a pop-punk band in high school, in WInnipeg. We started off doing Green Day covers! It's really embarrassing but look, Green Day used to be way less... whatever they are now.

Ach, I'm defending Green Day?

Where did the music making magic come from?
I've played guitar at a basic level since I was a teen, so there's that, but I also was a Drum and Bass DJ in the rave scene for about 5 years. Prairie rave scene, late nineties. Are you snickering?

While I was DJing I was also making electronic music, which I kept doing long after I stopped playing records.

How long were you sitting alone concocting beats before spilling the beans to Mitchell?
I'd been working on music for fun ever since those DJ days, but I never really did much with it. I got bored of making instrumental music. After I heard Mitch in the band City Field I started thinking how fun it would be to combine my music with his vocal and lyric approach. I think he's a genius. His voice is a great and strange instrument, one I instantly loved, and his lyrics really resonate with me on both a personal and artistic level. He approaches his lyrics like art, something different from poetry that hints at the more abstract and magical aspects of words. It's something I think about a lot, so it seemed natural to want to work with him.

It took us a while to find the sound we wanted, but once we found a process that worked it all started to click. Or, it clicked for us. Soon after that we asked Rebecca to join, which has been amazing. They're both so talented, and SO funny.

You've really established yourself on the internet, people that I don't know from places I've never been are some of your biggest fans. What are some tips you would give other artists for projecting their work online?
I just did something I was interested in at the time, put it up for viewing, and some people liked it. That's how it worked for me. Luck helps too, though.

The question is: is it good to have an internet presence? I know it's easy to be critical after it's worked okay for me, but it's easy to feel conflicted. There are some images and things I really would like stricken from public record, but the web holds on to them. I can't do anything but wait until they somehow digitally degrade. Also, when I'm looking up people I admire, I often find they have no presence on the web, which is interesting. It's like they're to busy being amazing to put things on the internet.

I think one former interviewer of yours referred to Nova Scotians as bears, remember? Anyway I think that's funny, funny and stupid because little did they know the neatness that is Halifax. A city where a illustrator published in PRINT can walk around like a free man. What is it about Halifax that has kept you around this long?
I have great friends here, first of all. It's also a beautiful city, and one whose cultural activity far exceeds it's size. I suppose those are the pat answers everyone gives. What I love most about Halifax is that it's where I've lived for the majority of my relationship with my wife. We have so many memories attached to this place, which will make it hard to leave this summer when we move back to Winnipeg this summer. After ten years here it'll be strange to leave.

It will be strange indeed when you're gone! Thanks so much Ray!

*all photos belong to Ray Fenwick. To see more work visit his website and flickr page or just put his name in google.
*and if you missed the link above click here to Download Pastoralia first EP!

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