Interview with Luke Siemens

Line Gallery: For your MFA you focused in drawing. At what point did you realize that drawing was something that you would pursue and why drawing as opposed to another way of working?

Luke Siemens: Post high school I studied classical animation, where the focus was specifically on drawing and line. I was one of the least skilled students and had to work really hard to catch up. That challenge and output of energy invested me heavily in drawing as a medium. The program also reinforced activities I had done since childhood, creating characters and worlds, which further solidified drawing as something viable to me.

I eventually left animation to do a BFA, where I thought I’d tackle painting. I painted for three years until it was time for my BFA show. I realized I didn’t have an affinity for paint and pulled a hard switch back to drawing. When I look back at that switch and where I am now, it is apparent that my drawings don’t take much advantage of the spontaneity of the medium, so perhaps it’s the preparatory association, the structural focus of drawing that continues to make it work for me.

Since then I’ve dabbled in other media. The laser cut building in “You Could Live Here Too” for example. I have yet to build up the same affinity for it as drawing. While the laser cut building is reliant on drawing as much as my works on paper, it was a slog to get through. I am a digital person, I spend a LOT of time online, but making that piece in Adobe Illustrator doubled the time I spend in front of my laptop. It changed the speed of the project and the type of focus. It was a different kind of thinking. It didn’t give my physical meat the same workout. For that reason drawing will likely remain a key focus in my practice.

 

LG: In your recent series You Could Live Here Soon, you have allowed activities from your daily life to infiltrate the work. Can you speak a little about how you’ve done this and why embedding these activities was important?

LS: The works in “You Could Live Here Too” come from my investigations into Toronto’s numerous condo developments (there are two condo construction sites a block away from my house).I became interested in condo presentation centres, the showrooms where you go to buy a condo in a future development. They are generally small spaces that look a lot like art galleries – white cubes that fit themselves into the urban landscape, but seek to project you beyond the everyday through an aesthetic experience.

Every presentation centre has at least these three things in common:

1) A model of the proposed building

2) Lifestyle images of the neighbourhood and the condos.

3) Floor Plans

*( a bigger presentation centre might have a fake room, representing the average unit)

In my trips to condo presentation centres, the consistency of the floor plan image was striking. No matter what type of condo presentation centre, glamourous or run-of-the-mill, the architectural drawing style is there. It weirdly connects all of the different developments into one single proposition. It is the “fact” of the building’s intent, mixing with whatever loose branding the development has constructed. This drew the majority of my focus.

In working with this imagery, it was humorous to me to “accept” the condo’s proposal in a literal way, by bringing the floor plans themselves into my life in much the same way a teenager will take a discarded coke-a-cola poster or street sign and use it as bedroom decoration. The act has some veneration to it, but it also becomes a hybrid of the individual and the product; a push and pull of identity creation and destruction.

I printed out condo floor plans and put them everywhere. They were on my bed, in my studio, on my dog, in my fridge, bending and folding, taking the stresses of my daily life. I drew the results, putting the crumpled plans forward as things to build from. The idea was that anything built off these plans would accommodate my life, instead of me passively submitting to someone else’s future plans.

As I progressed, the plans themselves became less inactive and more tool-like. I used one for packing material, I folded another into a fan on a day with no AC, another plan served as a pencil holder. The final plan drawing was a mask made out of a floor plan. In that drawing the plan started to become a cultural object, part of an identity. The gesture in that drawing is small, I’m not sure if it’s more condo or more me. Something to explore in future drawings perhaps.

LG: During your visit to Line you spoke about your interest in building materials and you showed me snap-shot images that you have been collecting of construction in progress – piles of bricks and such. Where you do you think this interest stems from?

LS: Those piles of bricks are similar to my plan drawings. They are rigid, ordered construction materials, given an individuality by the way they have been stacked, arranged, or modified mid-job. I respond to the mix of control and disorder: the clean lines of the bricks verses the little flower pots placed on top; the 2×4 bracing the pile; the people that covered their pile in a blanket when it started to get cold.

Culturally I am responding to the gesture of building something because it stands in opposition to the narratives of collapse or stasis that we’re getting a lot of right now. I see this in fictitious televisions shows like Breaking Bad or Mad Men. Well-made shows, whose corrupt anti-heroes are high in drama but offer no new ways of developing culture. I see it in non-fiction catastrophes like global warming, financial austerity, and political strife.

I am also envious of people who can build, engineers, constructions workers, handy men, it’s not a skill that I have. It makes sense to me now that I would look at the most visible, concrete, construction happening around me and then focus on the abstract visuals around it.

 

LG: Your newest pieces it seems you are becoming more interested in building layers into your drawings. InAd #3 for example, you have built up layers of different drawing materials, but also imagery as well. The influence of the digital is definitely present in this work. How are you thinking about the digital realm in relationship to your drawing practice?

LS: In “Ad#3″ I was riffing off tropes in condo ads, bad photoshop, stock photos, and vapid brand identity, but it started to become something else. I like the different imagery working to create some sense of a whole but I’m not sure how I am going to employ it. I have ideas to approach it in drawing and sculpture, but recently I’ve been making PSD files of isometric rooms that reveal themselves as you click through the layers. One click takes the walls down to reveal the framing, then the drywall, then bricks etc. However these are still in the messing around stages.

 

LG: That is interesting… I see these explorations really resonating with what you said earlier about your interest in the structural force of drawing.  This project, in my mind, is in keeping with practice of drawing because it seems the viewer gets to follow your progression of building the rooms through the exploration of the layers, so it functions very much like a drawing in revealing its own making.  Drawings on paper, of course, often reveal the progression of their own making by allowing the viewer to visually retrace the marks applied by the artist’s hand, but drawings produced in the digital realm often conceal this. 

I realize that this project is still a work in progress, but do you think that this work will be about making things visible or laying things bare? Is it about building structure or undoing it?

LS: That project is still in its infancy, but it feels like it’s going to be about getting in between the walls, and looking at the structure by following a loose narrative.

 

LG: You have incorporated emoticons into a number of the works in the exhibition. What is that all about?

LS: The emoticons came into the drawings while thinking about condo advertisements. Condo ads rely on stock photos, images which are open and generic enough that they can fit multiple different uses. Emoticons work in a similar way. I know if a face is happy or sad, but that meaning can change drastically in its use.  I liked the idea of emoticons endorsing my images. That worked for a drawing or two, until I found the poop emoji. I had encountered the emoji in different forms, but didn’t think much about it until I encountered the iOS version. It was enthusiastic, but with a certain amount of deniability. It could be mistaken for a blob of ice cream. I become enamoured with it, drawing it many times. It’s a great way to say you don’t like something with a softer touch. As this show opened an article about the poop emoji was posted on Fast Company which I found on BoingBoing.

 

LG: Have there been any influential individuals or experiences that have contributed to the development of your practice

LS: Bruce Montcombroux was finishing his MFA at the University of Saskatchewan while I was finishing my BFA. He was instrumental in giving art a structure and a background that was meaningful.

 

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

LS: I am excited by Charles Avery’s world building in his Onomatopoeia series. It looks like the world of Casablanca (film) was infused with modern art, crocs shoes and just a touch of fantasy creature creation.
Canadian drawers mmmmm… Shauna Born’s insanely light pencil crayon drawing series, Christopher Sunset, has incredible technique; Karla Griffin did a life size drawing of her truck that I love; and Echo Railton’s has these large plant related drawings.

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