Artist and photographer goes dark with her new exhibit at Autonomous Furniture.
What lengths would you go to for a little peace and quiet? Artist and photographer Jo-Ann Richards (whose interior photography you’ve likely seen over the years in the pages of Western Living) debuted her latest work at Autonomous Furniture in Victoria this past week: her series of large format, nearly all-black Emergence paintings now cover the store’s alabaster walls. Why the black? We caught up with the artist at her opening night of Emergence, on now until January 15.
Q: Looking back at your previous work, you painted in bright and energetic colour abstracts and then your most recent work has gone dark, with these large moody canvases that only hint at subtle colours beneath. Why are you working almost exclusively in black?
A: Quietude was my first black series, so this is actually my third show with the black. Before I was using charcoal, because I loved the deep dark black of it, but I couldn’t fix it (the surface). You couldn’t actually touch it. Then I learned this new Japanese process called nihonga. You cook the minerals and graphite in organic glue, and then you add water and paint. And I learned how to work with a mineral to get that similar texture and quietness. I’m always looking for quiet space.
Q: That’s interesting because the typical West Coast “quiet” palette in interiors would be white on white on white. What about the black is quiet to you?
A: Sometimes I sit in my living room in the dark at night. And we have a big wall of windows and there’s big oak trees out there, and there’s just something so still and deep in that. It’s like going out at night in the snow, or working in a film dark room. Hours can go by in a dark room. Time disappears because somehow when you’re isolating all the visual stimulation, you can sort of go a little more inward. You can feel your breathing kind of slow down, and for me as a photographer, I’m always picking apart images and studying images. It’s just the way we communicate these days—Instagram, Facebook, TV commercials—everything is in your face. So I discovered that I need this contrast of quietness in order to balance things out for myself.
Q: Why start your paintings with a layer of colour if you’re going to paint it black?
A: It’s kind of a physical release, like I throw the paint, and it starts with a lot of energy. There’s something about starting on a blank canvas as well. You ditch your brain out the door and just get to it. The colour also brings the texture, and the texture then comes through to the surface.
Q: What do you think is next for you? Are you still going to explore with the quiet, and the black?
A: Yeah, I’m not done. I might not have colour in my life until I stop being a commercial photographer, I don’t know. Every time I start a painting I give myself permission to keep the colour, but, it just happens. I can’t control it so much. It just worked when it got to that point, where other ones, they’re not working, you can’t resolve it, so you just keep going and going, until there’s hardly any colour. And that’s fine.
Q: What do you see in your paintings when you look at them and say, “Aha, that’s done”?
A: I feel like for me there’s kind of a breathing in it. There’s foreground/background that plays off each other. Some feel like they’re reaching and stretching, but I still think it’s all about breath. Also, I just get a feeling. I said to my friend, “I think I fall in love with them." I get a physical sensation where I just feel it. I think it’s a combination of that. I always know when it’s not working. So you just keep going, keep going, you don’t know why, it’s just not finished. You do one thing and then something shifts, and then you feel it.
Q: So for you the process is all about starting with that noisy energy and colour, and then resolving it with the black?
A: Yeah, and I think some day I won’t need to cover it in black. Some day, I would love to work with colour.
What: Emergence Exhibition feat. Artist Jo-Ann Richards
Where: Autonomous Furniture, 2101 Government St., Victoria
November 29 - January 15, 2019