Lorn Curry is a great artist who lives in Vancouver, Canada. I love his work www.lorncurry.com which is very elegant and painterly. He’s also a former journalist which also got my attention. He’s a warm and approachable guy and we had a great chat.
“… Once I pick up my paintbrush, everything else just seems to disappear from my peripheral vision ... basically what keeps me coming back is that it’s just a blast ...”
MICHAEL: Hey Lorn, I love your work. It's very placid and elegant. Could that be because you’re a former journalist who grew tired of daily deadlines and decided to focus on actual life rather than running around and focusing on what everyone else was doing? Trust me, I know. Haha.
LORN: Thanks Michael. Placid, eh? That will now be the word of the day in the studio. Mind you, if you heard some of the language in the studio when I’m struggling with a difficult passage, the word placid would probably not come to mind!
LORN: It may seem odd, but I still think of myself as working in the field of well, not journalism per se, but certainly 'communications.' I tend to think of painting primarily as another way of conversing with the world. So, much like a newspaper article or other form of journalism, a painting can be about getting across an idea. And, in fact, there are lots of paintings that say things that are far beyond the reach of words.
I can’t say I miss the constant tide of deadlines that go along with the daily grind of journalism. But between the entrepreneurial bootcamp that goes along with trying to make a living as an artist, plus the five or six hours a day creating in the studio, I’m not sure who’s got the inside track on ‘real life’ either! I just think of art as focusing on a ‘different’ part of life, certainly a more fulfilling part from a creative standpoint. Most news editors tend to frown on creativity. Something about sticking to ‘just the facts’ or some such nonsense.
MICHAEL: How did you make such a career leap? Wasn't that scary? Art is not the most stable field - not that journalism is these day either.
LORN: A lot of people think Humpty Dumpty fell off that wall, but what if the truth is that he was pushed? Yeah, my journalism job disappeared. I believe the business model in journalism is broken. So, I figured I might as well create my own position in an industry that had its heyday a couple hundred years ago. It seemed logical.
LORN: At least if you’re going to leap into the abyss, you should enjoy the ride down, right?
MICHAEL: I guess so.
LORN: Scary? Try terrifying. There were (are) sleepless nights, months of soul searching and much gnashing of teeth. Fortunately, the universe was looking out for me from the outset and I got the opportunity to enroll in a mentorship with Dene Croft, a brilliant artist who runs an atelier here in North Vancouver. And that’s where my vague, long-term, retirement idea to do ‘a bit of painting’ became my immediate ‘become a full-time painter’ plan. I’m still ironing out the details of surviving at it, but at least there’s never a dull moment!
MICHAEL: Kudos to you. Struggle is the lovely theme that runs through the lives of all of the artists I interview. When you're painting, are you able to separate various concerns and concentrate on the process? What goes through you mind while you're working? Do you clear your mind?
LORN: Yeah, I’m very, very lucky that way - once I pick up my paintbrush, everything else just seems to disappear from my peripheral vision. I’m inspired by the hyper-realists and am constantly trying to improve my skills. So my favourite thing is slipping into the flow and just losing myself in the work. Oil painting is such a challenging pursuit with so many variables that there’s a lifetime of learning there to acquire. But basically what keeps me coming back is that it’s just a blast. Even if a piece doesn’t work out, it feels like a worthwhile pursuit. And, of course, it’s absolute joy when a piece does fall into place. And quite often, I’m startled by how much time has passed when I do finally step away from the easel.
MICHAEL: Based on what I see on your website, you seem to be drawn to light and reflective surfaces. What's the attraction?
LORN: I find it a bit difficult to explain, but it does go beyond the first impulse of, “Oh look, shiny!” that is embedded in human DNA, I think. Light is the dictionary of the visual world. It is what gives definition to everything we see. Even its absence has the power to define.
As for reflective surfaces - I’ve tried on a few occasions to jump into abstraction, but my mind seems bent on organizing visual information in recognizable patterns. And even when looking at abstracts, my brain is always on the hunt for something it can latch onto as a visual ‘object’ reference. Of course, abstract realism would seem the answer to this problem - but I tend to be a bit absolutist at the easel. Compromise in my own work usually ends with the piece yanked off the easel and turned against the wall never to be seen again ... But a reflective surface, with its distorting effects and bent light, can allow a small window of abstraction into what is usually - if the piece worked out - a quite realistic painting.
MICHAEL: Do you think the fact that you're a journalist influences your work as a representational painter? I mean, journalists are very accustomed to dealing with reality and things as they actually are.
LORN: It’s an interesting notion. I’ve never thought of it that way. Obviously, the sum of all of your experiences shows up at the tip of your brush in one form or other when you paint. There’s no getting around that. So, it may be that my leaning toward representation comes partly from a fascination with detail acquired during my previous life as a journalist.
The thing is we like to hear stories that are told in broad strokes because universal themes are easier for us to connect with. But, I always found that it was only when you broke stories down to their molecular level, the minutia, that the real depth of the human dimension was revealed. So I suppose it may be that in detailed painting, I’m also looking to access that deeper sense of connection. But the really great part is that whereas journalism is limited to observation, in art there is that added dimension of creation and invention that the storyteller can call on.
MICHAEL: How long have you been an artist? When did this journey begin? Do you come from an artistic family? Shouldn't you be playing hockey or something instead?
LORN: Hehe! I hung up my ice skates around the age of four. Not a fan of the cold as it turns out. Art was very much appreciated, but not something one considered a career track in my family. I’ve always enjoyed drawing and sketching, but I come from a middle class background where pragmatism was valued above all else. So getting a ‘real’ job that paid the bills was priority one.
So I’ve arrived at this point in life with little by way of capital A “Art" credentials. So, in some ways, I’m playing catch-up. I’ve been painting since about 2000 and got serious about it around 2006 when I took a sabbatical from my former job. That’s also the year I fell in love with the U.S. Southwest desert - an area I try to visit every year to explore and do some hiking. In fact, much of my artwork between 2011-2013 consisted of red rock landscapes - but in a much looser style than my current still-lifes.
MICHAEL: I haven't heard anything bad about Vancouver. I know that it has a strong art community, no? What's it like there? It usually pops up on those "Great Places to Live" lists.
LORN: Vancouver is a great place to live and paint. The arts community here is full of amazingly talented and generous artists. There is always a lot of innovative and experimental work being done. People here have a genuine affection for the creative side of life. And much of the city, in spite of its size, has the kind of laid back feel that you find in a lot of smaller, West Coast communities. Of course the natural setting, with the sea and forested mountains, has always inspired a lot of artists. And, although I’m not a plein air painter, I have many friends who spend much of their summers outside with their easels and paints.
MICHAEL: Back to your work for a moment. Light is a big part of your work. When you're painting, which works better ... natural light or great indoor lighting? Does it matter?
LORN: Light is everything. And I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to it. There are two parts to the process I use. I always shoot my own still-life reference photos in studio. It’s just simpler to do it that way instead of having to buy rights after the fact from another photographer. So, for that part, I usually work with near-neutral lighting. Around 5000k gives a nice slight warm feel to the images.
When I'm painting, as often as possible, I work by natural light. And I’m lucky that it’s possible for me to do that quite often since my studio has very large windows. I’ve glazed the ones by my easel with a neutral film that dispels cast shadows. So the whole workspace is bathed in really great light. I’ve been in this studio for nearly a year and can definitely see a difference in my pieces from my old studio which had much cooler light. So, yeah, I think light definitely matters.
MICHAEL: How do you know when a painting is finished?
LORN: In theory, none of them are ever finished! I’ve gone back and reworked pieces that were a few years old. Sometimes, successfully, often not. I think there’s a frame of mind that accompanies any painting. And slipping back into exactly that head space weeks, months or years down the road is hard to do. But what I’m looking for on the “first, final pass” at a painting is an overall sense of unity, a broad range of values and a few pops where the juxtaposed colours vibrate at the right frequency that the eye wants to linger. What I think of as the “parlour tricks” of painting. But, from a practical standpoint, I guess a painting is done when the buyer leaves the studio with it, unless I know where they live. LOL.
MICHAEL: Funny. Finally Lorn, Are you okay with the direction your life has taken? Life as an artist isn't easy. Why not get an MBA or go to Med school?
LORN: I suppose that would have been the pragmatic thing to do - find another 9 to 5 desk job. There are challenges and yes, there are easier ways to make a living than being a painter, but I honestly can’t think of any better way to make a life. I consider myself incredibly lucky. I have the love of my wonderful wife, my family and friends and a group of amazingly supportive patrons that is growing every year. And I get to wake up in the morning and go do something I’m truly passionate about. What’s not to love?
MICHAEL: I hear ya. Thanks Lorn. Best wishes.
Check out Lorn Curry at www.lorncurry.com