Interview with Jay Dart

Line Gallery: Your art practice is very firmly situated in drawing, but you didn’t focus on drawing during your studies at University, so what would you say drawing offers you that other practices don’t?  

Jay Dart: In art school, I was doing a lot of photo and video work that played on the conventions of filmmaking. When I graduated, I was sure that I wanted to get into filmmaking. I wrote scripts and made a couple of short films. I got a certain distance down that path before it just didn’t seem quite right. Then I rekindled my love with drawing, which I did a lot growing up, and there I found an outlet for my stories. I’ve always had a story in the works in my head. For some time now, it’s been the Wanderer of Yawnder tale, which keeps on going and going, providing me with endless material to draw from. I enjoy hunkering down to my sketchbook or sheet of paper and drawing whatever I want, as opposed to filmmaking where there’s a team involved in the creation of the film and more butt’s on the line, as they say. Drawing has also worked for me as a medium since I’ve had small workspaces and small amounts of time to work, whereas painting wouldn’t have been so convenient. Recently, however, I’ve found a desire to paint and I have a bigger workspace…


LG:  Your drawings are quite playful. Can you tell us about your working process? How do you develop your drawings? How spontaneously do you work?

JD: If you’ve read my book, Wanderer of Yawnder, it’s all explained in there… sort of.

In the real world, I live about an hour outside of Toronto but I have to commute to and fro for my job there three days a week, so that leaves me with lots of time to think. Some days, I’m too preoccupied thinking about whoknowswhat. Other days, my mind just wanders over Yawnder and ideas come my way in flocks. It’s a challenge remembering them when I arrive; sometimes I have to scribble words down in my Field Notes or on a sticky note while I’m driving, but very, very carefully (always keepin’ m’eyes on the road). At some point, I’ll do a sketch from that idea that I jotted down. Oftentimes, I’ll apply that idea to an old photo that I had previously found online or in a book. While some of my drawings are made directly from an existing photo that I will alter to suit my needs, others have no reference material because, well, there is no reference material for, say, someone standing at the top of a 30-storey ladder using a stick with a string tied to a light bulb to fish for magical lights in the sky.

I’m not a bigger sketcher. I’ve never really liked my sketches; I prefer to get right to the final drawing where I can spend the time to hone the lines and work on the fine details. I like to work on a few drawings at a time, going back and forth to each one during the process of completion, which is always the same: first the 2H pencil to get the composition just the way I like it; then maybe a 3H or an H pencil to darken the lines up; then I’ll draw with the watercolour pencils to fill in the coloured areas before going over it with a brush and water; then I’ll finish it off with my mechanical pencil to do the fine details and usually a B pencil to make the lines pop.

I don’t get a lot of time to draw between my day job, doing freelance illustration or design gigs, and being a father/husband. Artmaking time is precious so I have to make the most of it. I have a backlog of ideas for drawings thus, when it’s time to make a new piece, I get right down to business.


LG:  What sorts of things inspired the making of the Wanderer series?

JD: Old photos provide the most inspiration for the Wanderer series; specifically images from the 19th century of people living on the edge of new frontiers. For this series, I wanted to elucidate the nature of inspiration and the creative process, and those images from the past seemed like the perfect way to bring these otherwise abstract subjects to life. Music has also been an important inspiration for this series. I listen to a lot of music while I’m working or commuting. Everything from Dylan, Young and The Band to Radiohead, Caribou and Timber Timbre have inspired me to stay musical with my drawings, to leave room for mystery and not be too didactic, and to go where the tune takes me rather than force it down an existing path.


LG: During your artist talk in North Bay, you showed an image of a piece of paper where you test blot your brush when working on your watercolours. It looked like a sheet filled with colourful dabs of paint. You mentioned how this by-product of your work inspired the look of the geists that are present in many of your drawings from the Wanderer series. Considering that this series is an allegory for the creative process and the geists act as a visual metaphor for inspiration, I am interested in how your process has impacted the work and how in turn the work reflects your process.  What do you think about these dabs of colour? Is there inspiration to be found in the by-products and in-between moments in the studio when work is not being made?

JD: I’ve actually been interested in using the by-products and in-between moments in my work as far back as the videos I did in art school. Back then, I was interviewing my classmates and editing together the parts where they touched their face or said ‘uhhh’. I did this type of dissection with a few projects. Everything has pieces that make up the whole; some pieces are more inconspicuous than others but still worthy of attention. The colour swatches were the starting point for my Wanderer series, for sure. However, the series itself is about dissecting the creative process and examining all the moments and by-products that go into making something.

Just about every step of my creative process and my experience as a drawist finds its way into my drawings. Be it the pondering times when ideas come my way, or the labouring times when I have to roll up my sleeves and put the time into finishing a piece, or the presenting times when I’m showing my weird creations to others and explaining what they’re about, or the social networking times when I post something online and feel like I whispered in a hurricane, and so on and so forth; it’s all providing material for this series which is a subjective tale that I hope will connect with other creators. I really don’t know for sure how many books or how many drawings are yet to come in this particular series because there’s so much left to experience.


LG: You’ve just touched on an interesting aspect of your work – although your imagery often suggest a historical time period or suggests that the imagery is only something that exists in a storybook, your imagery also quietly points to the contemporary moment – clouds seem to reference the web or remote computer servers, loggers seem to playfully engage the idea of blogging, etc. Could you tell us a bit more about this?

JD: Whether it’s researching or working or posting, computers are an integral part of most artists’ creative process of going from inspiration to creation to communication. I’m interested in drawing allegories for these themes as well as for the challenges and opportunities that new technology, such as cloud computing, social networking, and the global community of the internet, presents to contemporary creators. While the worldwide web can help creators share their ideas like never before, it’s also very overwhelming: there is an inundation of information to be navigated, there aren’t enough hours in the day to respond to emails and update networks while still finding time to create or live your life, and the competition for an audience to spend any worthwhile time with your images or ideas is fierce. At each stage of the creative process, there are people who help with the load. The cast of characters in my work, including the Foredad clouds and the Amalgamators in the hot air balloons and the Loggers, each represent people, be them real or virtual, who I feel play a part in the creative process.


LG: In your exhibition, Wanderer of Yawnder (Revisited), we are also showing the work of Granduncle Jiggs. Could you say a little bit about Jiggs and how you collaborate?

JD: I’ll let Jiggs answer this one for himself.
Jiggs: G’day. Well, Jay has been wanderin’ out to m’place over in Elsewheres for a few years now. I’ve been tellin’ him my stories about what I found over Yawnder. And I guess he’s been drawin’ m’tales; even made a book about em’. Now I’ve got all kinds of ramblers venturin’ out to these parts to see fer themselfs. I don’t mind. At least I’ve got some folks to show m’drawings to and some help to move m’logs. I’d like to thank yuz fer showing my drawings in yer gallery. It’s a real pleasure.


LG: Are there any drawing artists whose work interests you? Are there any Canadian drawing artists we should check out?

JD: I’m constantly seeing the work of amazing artists; it’s hard to remember them all. There are definitely a few that I keep coming back to. In terms of drawing based artists (aka. drawists), I’m a big fan of Robyn O’Neil’s work; I would really like to see her large scale pieces in person someday, but so far I’ve only seen them online. I learned about the labyrinth approach to narrative drawing from an interview of hers that I read online.

Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey are two of my all-time favourites. I also love the work of Travis Louie; his detailed portraits of freaks are something to see. And I’m always excited to see what Winnie Truong and Tom Ngo have created, both Toronto-based drawists. Winnie’s exhibition at Line Gallery this Spring is not to be missed!!!

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