Andy DeCola is a vastly inspiring and innovative artist. His work explores a range of abstract ideas and employs a stunning mix of materials and themes. Andy grew up in the small town of Dundas, Ontario and has been studying and working as an artist for many years. He’s exhibited in southern Ontario, NYC, Vancouver, and Kelowna, BC and is a big hit online, which comes as no surprise to us. Currently represented by Neubacher Shor Contemporary in Toronto, Framesite Art and Project Outpost in Burlington, Ontario, and showing work at the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s Design Annex, we were keen to find out more about Andy’s exceptional images, and his thoughts on the importance of location, education, fitting in all that work, and making it as a creative.
What originally drew you to the creative industries? Did you feel that being an artist was your calling?
I would have to say without a doubt that being an artist was my calling. It’s something that naturally progressed as I grew up as a kid. I’ve always been drawing, coloring and making collages as far back as I can remember. If I go a long period of time where I don’t get into the studio, or get some time to work on my ideas and prep new work, I start to get grumpy and antsy that I’m not producing. My wife can attest to that!
Tell us about your distinctive style and what your work explores.
Well as for my distinctive style I’d have to say my paintings probably come across as paintings that look similar to screen-prints. My style over the last two years has evolved into this very flat style of painting that I can’t stop. I’ve always loved screenprinting but not all the planning and lining things up needed to make a perfect print. I naturally got cleaner and tighter as a painter and I’ve almost eliminated the hint of brushstrokes in my work. It wasn’t planned or done on purpose it’s just where the work has to taken me.
I’ve always been interested in architecture, fashion, photography and film which are all subjects I use in all my paintings. I use a mix of found images taken from magazines, books, the internet and film, combined with images of my own and friend’s photographs. I never produce work with the intention of making the viewer figure out my meaning behind it. I want them to experience it for themselves and come up with their own ideas and feelings. I love the idea that everyone will look and experience my work in a different way, depending on their knowledge of popular culture and the titles and images I use. I find that most people are intimidated by art that talks down to them or makes them feel stupid. I’m a very approachable person; I can talk to anyone and I want my paintings to do the same.
Your pieces are stunning and appeal on a variety of levels. Tell us about your chosen mediums and processes; how do you like to work and what goes into creating a single piece of work?
Thanks so much. Once I’m ready to start creating my compositions I scan in all my found images, fabric swatches, or my own images and start using Photoshop to create digital collages which become my sketches for new work. I feel the work has a better unified thread if I get a bunch done at once and never just do one design at a time. After creating my rough, I project the image onto a wood panel which I then outline the image in pencil and from there I paint the composition in acrylic paint.
What inspires you?
I truly believe what inspires me is being able to create a visual language of my own and have it viewed. I love the idea of mixing found and appropriated images with my own to create something new while recontextualizing the original source image. Now, with things like Instagram, I also find it inspiring to see what other artists, galleries and everyone else are up to creatively. Knowing that my work can now be viewed in such a huge arena and for free is amazing; you never know who’s gonna see it. When someone you admire and love starts following you, I find that pretty inspiring and flattering, knowing they like what I’m doing and are interested in seeing more. A few weeks ago Artist Team Assume Vivid Astro Focus started following me and I was shocked that artists that show on such a huge scale liked my work. Personally I don’t need validation from people liking me on Instagram but its inspiring to know who’s looking at my work and that possible friendships and working relationships can be started just by connecting through social media.
Who or what are you chiefly influenced by; in terms of your work and your life as a creative?
I’d have to say the basic core of my influence comes from popular culture and the images created within its parameters, such as magazines, films, books, and social media. I’m a collector of images and I’m always saving things I rip out of magazines, and taking notes for ideas for pieces and titles. My life as a creative is influenced by looking at a much art as possible and more importantly, listening to other artists talk about their work. Most of the work that I enjoy doesn’t really have any correlation to or connection with my work aesthetically but does in terms of ideas. I think as you try and find yourself as a painter you go through phases where your work looks like something you’re looking at. I feel I’ve finally broken free and have my own visual language. The ideas are still there but I’ve found my own way of expressing them.
To what extent do you feel that your surroundings, specifically living in Canada, influences your work? Do you think location has an important effect on what you create?
I’ve never really thought about this and it’s a tough question. This year I was added to a local gallery in Burlington, Ontario’s roster and up until then it wasn’t something I had ever consciously thought about. My dealer, Karen Brouwers is amazing and she’s extremely proud and supportive of everything Canadian. She’s been a great mentor to me and huge help in pushing me to think more about my country, what’s happened in our past, and where we are heading locally, regionally and nationally. I didn’t think location had effect on myself and past paintings but I feel that is changing and I could see this influencing my work in the future.
In what ways do you feel that your courses of study significantly helped you to develop your style?
While at the Ontario College of Art and Design I took a wide variety of classes. I transferred in from the Dundas Valley School of Art which really wasn’t a fully recognized school so I had to make up a lot of academic classes. Dundas Valley was a studio based school and I had some amazing teachers there; it was pretty much run by graduates of The Royal Academy in London. They would bring in lots of practising artists to do workshops and classes. I didn’t do thesis in painting at OCAD because I had already had a year on my own in the studio with my work and felt I was on track with where I was going. At the time I felt this was the right path. I took a lot of studio and drawing classes, but I also took film studies, screen printing and art history. I feel these helped shape my painting and knowledge of subject matter, even though they didn’t have a direct link with my work.
What has been one of your best experiences as an artist?
I’ve had lots of great experiences but the one that stands out, though it might not seem like a huge moment, was at an opening for a group show at Angell Gallery in Toronto last year in September. My show “As the World Turns” was almost done at Neubacher Shor Contemporary and coming down in a few days. I used to run this Gourmet Butchershop in Toronto’s wealthy neighborhood Rosedale and I was there for 10 years and got to know a lot of great people, some who collect and buy some serious art. I ended up running into a customer at the opening. She always talked about her husband, his art collection, and what he was buying. In all my years of working there I never saw him in the store or had a chance to meet him. It was on this night that I was introduced to him. When I said my name was Andy he had a puzzled look on his face and asked, “wait, what’s your last name?” As I told him he said he’d heard about my show and that it was amazing. I was shocked that he knew who I was. It was a great feeling that I’ll never forget. He gave me his info so that we could talk about my work and career. I’ve never met a collector so interested in the artists behind the work. If I hadn’t gone to that opening I would have never made such a great connection and friend.
Kicking back from time-to-time is important. What do you like to do when you’re not creating work?
When I’m not painting or working my full-time job I’m spending time with my amazing wife Leanne and 2 boys. Being an artist is a struggle and hopefully I’ll get to a place one day where I can focus more time on that and less time working for someone else. My wife and I both have full-time jobs. I’m a manager with a major fashion retail store so my hours are all over the place; it’s hard sometimes to have consistent time together. Life is so busy so just hanging out and spending quality time with my family is all I need.
What advice would you offer to young people currently honing their skills at art school or creating in their own time?
I think the best advice for anyone creating work in art school or on their own is that they need to get out there, look, talk, and experience what’s going on. Nowadays it’s so easy to get your work online and have people instantly look at, so real interaction is a must. Things like Instagram and Twitter have been a great tool for me in the past few years, increasing how many people see my work; hence us connecting and doing this interview, but there’s more to be learnt offline. In terms of more advice, you’re gonna hear the word “no” a lot so you have to keep pushing along and moving forward. If you never ask you’ll never know what can happen. And the most important thing is this: most of your time should be spent creating and making your work.
Do you have anything exciting planned for the coming year that you’d like to share with us?
I don’t have any definite dates yet but I’ve connected with San Francisco Artist/Writer/Producer Kristin Farr and we are working on showing together next year, possibly in NYC or Toronto. Her work is super beautiful and fun and our creative worlds blend well together. She’s involved with some super cool projects such her video art series for KQED called Art School in San Francisco which you can find on YouTube, and also writes for Juxtapoz Magazine. I’m also finishing up a few more pieces for my dealer in Burlington, and in the new year will be having an opening/winter party at the gallery showing all of my new pieces, possibly in January or February.
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Words: Emily Beeson | @younggoldteeth