Interview with Robert Malinowski

Line Gallery: Why do you think you came to focus on drawing as opposed to another medium?

Robert Malinowski: I remember thinking about writers and their craft.  I envisioned them making notes, laying out a draft, all with a pencil and paper.  (Setting aside the thought that a computer might be the preferred tool of choice.)  I marveled at the though that it was so immediate.  Thought to paper, the idea materialized in quick and easy strokes.  I related drawing to the same immediacy. With a simple pencil and paper what could I accomplish? From there, my relationship with drawing, and its challenges, moved forward.


LG: Are there any artists or experiences that have shaped/influenced your practice?

RM: I was moved by Norval Morrisseau drawings that were exhibited at the Drawing Center in New York.  Not only was I moved by the work itself but also by the fact that they were works done while he was in prison during 1972/73.   Again I thought about the artist, the pencil and paper.   I enjoy the works of Parr, an Inuit artist born on Baffin Island in 1893.  He was a hunter turned artist; all I can simply say here is “so much with so little”.   This brings to mind some of the works of John Scott, which I guess you could consider drawings.  The particular works I think about were sometimes made on seemingly non-archival surfaces with Varsol and oil stick, simple bold gestures but the stories can go on forever even though the physical piece itself may not.

LG: Why do you think drawing is important in contemporary art or as a practice?

RM: From the drawn horses running across a cave in Chauvet to a dancing bear in a Dzama piece I think that drawing has held its place amongst the forms of expressions.  The act of drawing will always remain, just its placement may change.   A drawing may lay on the artists’ studio floor waiting to evolve into another medium or it may walk upright and stand on its own.   It seems like such an effective method for working out ideas, or helping to communicate one.


LG: How much does your own life experience contribute to or influence your work?

RM: The content for my pieces are all drawn from personal experience, if not from actual situations, they are drawn from imagined reactions to situations in my life.  I sometimes wish it were easy to trace the days events but sometimes I just can’t make out what I am seeing, and the process takes longer than hoped.


LG: Do you think growing up in the North impacted your practice or your development as an artist?

RM: Maybe. But I think it was the move from the North that impacted me the most.  When I moved to Toronto I was shocked that there was someplace bigger than where I came from.  I grew up thinking ‘this is all I need to know, this is all there is’.   I have a tendency to now think that there may always be something bigger around the corner.  I don’t want this to sound like I mean something better, but more so that there may be something more waiting to be understood.


LG: In all of your drawings the identity of the figures is obscured in some way, but the clothing and interactions of the figures seems very specific. How do you go about getting your imagery/source material?

RM: I began by using images I found in magazines; there were poses and postures that sparked my imagination and I thought that this was something I could build on.  Then I spent some time imagining scenarios and thought that these situations would be fun to depict, but I had trouble finding specific source materials so I thought why not set the situation myself.  Now almost all the images are drawn from pictures I posed for myself and when a female character is needed I ask my partner Erin.   Since these images are drawn from personal likenesses I didn’t necessarily want them to be my specific narrative.  This is where the obscuring of the figures comes into play.  The obscuring then becomes part of the character, like the Protagonist, the Seducer, and at times the Villain.


LG: In terms of materials, your work has really focused on pencil on paper. It appears like a pretty straightforward material use, but in speaking with you there seems to be greater complexity than what we might first assume. Can you speak a little to this?

RM: When I started working, I didn’t pay too much attention to the surface I was working on or the medium that I would use to apply my marks.  I had an idea and I wanted a quick result.   By chance one day, I picked up a different pencil and these marks were bolder, more pronounced.   I paid attention to the medium because I felt the mood of the piece was changing without me intentionally directing it.  This happened with the surface of the paper as well.  Each weight and press of differing papers accepted my marks differently.  I had ideas and soon realized that there was no quick approach.  I now realize that materials are as much a part of the piece as the concept, although I have to say that I feel like the perfect marriage of materials still eludes me.


LG: When you are in the studio do you work on one piece at a time, or do you have multiple pieces on the go? Do you think of the work in terms of “series” or as standalone pieces?

RM: It varies. Sometimes I feel I can fit everything I need to say into one piece, other times I want to build the story of one character and then this involves several pieces.  When several pieces are generated from one scene it is my intention that each be able to stand on its own.


LG: Are there any drawers you have been looking at recently? Are there any Canadian drawers we should check out?

RM: The best part of this question is that the answer can go on and on. There are so many contemporary drawers to look at that I feel I can be entertained for hours.  Artists approach this medium in such unique ways.  Closer to home, and I mean that literally, I enjoy the works of Mathew Borrett and Daphne Gerou.  Two completely different bodies of work but each capture my imagination in such different ways.   Instead of mentioning aspects of what I love about these drawings it may be best to have a look for yourself.

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