Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Artillery, mon Amour: Q&A with army-guy-turned-artist Scott Waters

Over the past few years, I've enjoyed taking in the work of Scott Waters at galleries around town. The paintings I'd seen that caught my eye were largely based on snapshots that Waters took as a member of the Canadian infantry back in the late 80s and early 90s. There's not too many contemporary artists with a history in the army—let alone ones who use it as a basis for intriguing work—so when I saw Waters had a show of new work coming up, I tried to snag him for an interview. He obliged, and the condensed results were published in today's National Post. An excerpt:

Q You were in the Canadian infantry from 1989 to 1992 and then became an artist. How did that unusual transition happen?

A When I graduated [from] high school, my two possibilities were the military, because I had an interest in it, and art school, because I had some ability. So I tried one and then tried the other. If I had gone to art school first, I probably would have hated it, dropped out and joined the army -- and maybe be a soldier to this day. I didn't respond well at the age of 19 to any kind of power structure; it was only in my mid-twenties that I started to settle down. Because the commitment was so much about timing, I can see that as an alternate universe.

Q Your previous shows looked at soldiers in training, but this show focuses on weapons. Why?

A A lot of my motivation for joining the forces was based on watching late-1980s Vietnam War movies when I was a teenager. Even though those movies were supposedly antiwar, they weren't anti-war for me! Anthony Swofford writes about that in Jarhead, too. So I wanted to look at these films and think about how they might've influenced others. The weapons are ones used in those movies; I focused on them hoping they could act as totems, icons that stand in for the idea of a heroic quest. Joseph Campbell talks about the mythic hero--be it Jesus or Luke Skywalker--finding themselves through trauma, an idea that comes through in the movies, too. It's appealing and flawed at the same time.

You can read on here about Waters' self-confessed love of painting weaponry, and his awareness of that practice's problems. More images from the show can be seen here.

Interestingly, I recently came across the work of another contemporary Canadian artist with a history in the military—Clint Neufeld, who is showing at Harbourfront Centre. His work is worth a look too, and also (like Waters' past work) touches on some ideas about masculinity, if not the military per se.

Image of Scott Waters' Willard from Le Gallery


m hills said...

Great interview, thanks. I can appreciate Scott's ambivalence about violence and conflict.

War and animals are really prevalent themes in can art at the moment.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey M,

Thanks for your comment. I can see the animals theme, but if you can suggest other artists on the war theme that would be great. It's probably a blank spot in my knowledge. I can think of Garry Neill Kennedy's medal paintings at the moment, but not much else (my brain may still be on vacation, though!)

Also, it seems to me like a few institutions are building up to shows about food - I was wondering if this counted as a trend, maybe.

m hills said...

I can totally see food. But I feel like food, domesticity and the kitchen with a little dash of abjection/uncanny for seasoning have been brewing for a while, although that is maybe just in my mind or in the practice of some artist friends. What institutions are building up to a food show?

In terms of war, on reflection it's a fairly self centered observation: the Artist Run Centre I'm involved with has a show with Todd Tremeer, who focuses on history painting and war, coming up; I saw Tobey C Anderson's New American Century Project recently; and, the gallery I work at is hosting a touring exhibition entitled MyWar - Identity and Appropriation under War Condition in the fall.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey M,

I think the Art Gallery of Mississauga and maybe Latitude 53 in Edmonton are building up to food shows. I think MOCCA had one a few years back too, eh?
I guess that's all I got... maybe I just see those notices a lot or something.

Thanks for the tips on the war related content! Good to keep an eye on.