Art lovers take note. Of 800-plus regional artists who submitted their work to the Vancouver leg of the North American-wide Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series, Vanessa Lam emerged triumphant. Now, this part-time health worker part-time mixed-media artist is headed to exhibit in Miami at the SCOPE Art Fair, where she could win artistic glory (and a $10,000 stipend to complete a public art installation in New York City). Our chat with Vanessa revealed she took many cues from our very own local landscape (the rain, the beach) in creating her work—and that "not fitting in" as a kid was key to developing her unique personal style. —Noa Nichol
Tell us a bit about yourself, your art, your style:
I rediscovered fine art after a decade working in health care. I still work part time and try to juggle my art practice while balancing life and my love of the outdoors. Even though I took art classes up until early university, my upbringing instilled in me a strong sense of pragmatism and a career in health care won over fine art. Seven years ago, I made the step to explore art again through a mixed media course at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. This was a turning point for me. It revived my passion in art making and showed me a path toward abstract art. I love mixed-media painting because I have the option using so many different materials and it lends itself to experimentation. I also make a lot of collages as it encourages me to play with form and composition which then informs my painting. My art has evolved over the years to rely more on an action-oriented process using gestural painting. Although my mark making may appear random, I loosely direct paint through the immediacy of brushwork and the use of non-traditional painting tools. I’m interested in the idea of tapping in the unconscious and how the splashing, exploding and imploding of free-floating forms interacts with space. Like my art, my style also has evolved over time and I like to have lots of choices depending on how I feel. I love mixing things together like modern with vintage items but overall, I want a sense of ease underlying everything.
How did you learn about Bombay Artisan Series?
I am always looking for opportunities to get more exposure for my work. I came across the posting online from Art Rubicon, an online visual arts magazine which regularly shares artist calls and competitions. The lure of the grand prize was too tempting not to apply!
How does it feel to be advancing to the next stage?
I barely slept the night I won because I was so excited. It also feels surreal that I won for the Vancouver region with so many great entries. I am ecstatic to be able to go to Miami! It’s a huge win for me already just getting this far.
Your piece, Uncloaked, is simply stunning, Tell us about it?
This painting is part of a series of work that explores the dynamics of space, form and the unconscious. During the series, there were times when the heavy rain clouds cleared in the early evening leaving a warm ombré glow overhead. I chose the dark grey edges of the sky as the background. On another day, I looked at a photo of that had a piece of rusted metal on the beach, which gave me the idea to contrast rusty red and amber against the grey. It triggered a new colour palette. At the beginning of each painting, I try to take a slightly different approach to vary my response and ultimately the direction of the piece. This time, I started with a blind continuous line drawing of a seated figure. Most of the this is obscured with the layering of paint but I see it as a metaphor that the depth of the unconscious is more vast and ambiguous than we realize. It also speaks to my interest in creating the expansiveness of movement while using space in a way to contain it at the same time.
How does your artistic style extend into your personal style?
Over the years my personal style has become another way for me to express myself, as I do in my art. Mixed-media painting involves so many materials and layering in the process. This translates into my eclectic mix of layering of different textures and accessories. I didn’t really fit in growing up and eventually I came to the realization that it was much easier to be different than fit in. So from then on, I deliberately sought out things that were particularly unique which garnered a love of thrift shopping. It’s likely why I like collage. I find the search for collage materials thrilling and enjoy the surprise of finding something unexpected. I work hard to ensure my art is well made and polished. I’m always pushing to see if I can get it to a place where it feels sophisticated. I like to own things that are I consider to be well-made and are the best quality that I can reasonably afford. Whenever I can, I try to support local artists. These are the things that I use and love the most. Everything I choose I have a strong emotional reaction to and this is what I try to do with my own art as well.