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NAME: Sonya Iwasiuk
BASE OF OPERATIONS: Parker Street Studios, Vancouver
Four uneven floors of dilapidated studios and crooked hallways set a fitting scene for one of the most productive centers of art in our city. Wandering Parker Street Studios for even a short time reveals an abundance of local talent, and still, the work of Sonya Iwasiuk sticks in the mind.
Raised in small-town Alberta, Sonya’s work is dominated by the expansive, rusty landscapes of her childhood. Attached to every piece, an object – gnarled and worn by weather and time, found on a walk or a hike, or at the roadside. It is the center, both in the aesthetic, and in the implied narrative: eons of calm and tempest — explorations of fragility, eternity, strength, and death.
So… where does it all come from?
Well, as a kid, I was really into drawing – it was my love. I explored a lot, too. I grew up on the outskirts of a small town in Northern Alberta, where there were abandoned homesteads and barns and buildings all over the place. I was always curious about them and their past; I’d wander out with my dog and search for old jars and bottles and forgotten things.
Would you say those memories of your childhood are your main source of inspiration?
Well, my childhood – I don’t know if it’s like everybody’s childhood – but I reminisce about it a lot, and I think you can see that in my work. But I also like to paint stories. I’m really interested in human nature and tragedy, and the connection of objects to the past.
After the days of exploring ruined buildings, where did you go?
After high school I moved to Winnipeg to be reunited with my father, and decided to stay there and go to college. I went to the U. of M. thinking I would enroll in Fine Arts, but when I got there I thought ‘Hmmm.. I think I want to make money instead’ *laughs* ‘so I went into advertising…’
I guess you felt like it had some connection to art, then?
Yeah – it’s design, and art is design. If you don’t place things properly, a piece won’t balance, and it will be too tense, and people won’t like it.
And that kept you going until you decided to make the move to painting?
No, I finished school and eventually made my way out to Vancouver to work freelance. I didn’t like it though, and I got out and ended up selling high-end furniture for a little while.
Eventually I decided I wanted to be a set decorator for film. I was just about to get started when I took a weekend off and got into a car accident. I couldn’t work for eight months – so, it was pretty bad – and for years my body was too sore to do anything physical, even paint. Eventually, I started feeling better and started to get fit again, and so that was my focus – I was always hiking and kayaking. I was always outdoors. Art was the last thing on my mind.
Then I ended up getting Lyme Disease while hiking, and that was what brought me back to art – because I could no longer hike -or do anything, really; I was just so fatigued.
What was the process like, getting back? Was it at home, working out of the garage?
Yeah, we tore down a bunch of shelves and cupboards and built a little studio area and I spent the first little while just sorta playing around in there. I fell in love with it all over again and realized how much I had been missing it all those years.
Was that the point you decided to make a career out of it?
No, it wasn’t until I was let go from my job last fall.
I went on holiday, and came back to find out they didn’t need me anymore. I was kinda dreading going back anyway, so it was funny – I was shocked and relieved at the same time. They gave me three months’ severance, and my partner said to me, ‘okay, now is the time – paint’, and so I went at it. Even though I’m going into debt right now – which is freaky for me – I’m going with it, because I really want to succeed. I love it so much.
The proverbial ’starving artist’, then. How optimistic are you that you’ll be able to support yourself with your painting?
Well, apparently I’m doing quite well, considering I’ve only been at it for seven months. I’ve sold 18 pieces, and the economy doesn’t exactly have people rushing out to buy paintings.
I have the type of personality that hates to fail, and I usually succeed when I really put myself into something. That’s what I’m doing with this, so I’m confident it will work out.
Are you happy with what you’ve produced so far?
Mostly. I experiment a lot, so there are bound to be pieces that don’t work. Every time somebody buys one of my paintings, I’m amazed. Obviously, I’m working towards being accepted into larger and more prominent galleries, but I don’t think any artist I’ve ever spoken to is completely happy with their work.
I think we’ve seen a divergence from the original theme of wide landscapes, and a movement into a more figurative style – is that a part of that process?
Yeah, I’ve never wanted to keep to one theme or style for too long, so I often play around with whatever I’m thinking or feeling at the time.
This latest piece you’ve made quite large. Did you have a sense that it needed to be big?
Yeah. I did a small sketch in about twenty minutes and thought ‘this is going to be a good painting- it’s got good composition; it’s going to be very powerful. It needs to be big’.
I feel quite attached to it – it will be weird when I sell it. Like ‘Shirley’s Garage’. It was strange when I sold that, because it was so personal and I knew the story so well.
Can you tell us how the object ties into the story ? Is there any actual connection between them in this case, or is it just aesthetic?
Aesthetic. It’s just so raw and rough and tied into the cage etching I did above the girl. I love the metal, because it can be beautiful when I want it to be, and it can be– it’s sculpture all the time, and I love putting the sculptural element into every piece. But in this case it comes through very raw, and cutting.
The subjects of the story – are they aware that you made this?
How do you think they’d feel about it?
The two standing figures… they’d probably be angry.
I know Shirley’s Garage was another one with a difficult theme – are you comfortable going into that?
Yeah, that was a friend of mine that had experienced some awful tragedies in her life. I knew that her son had died and that her husband had left her shortly after that. I hadn’t even talked to her about it – I just heard about it from someone else – and I wondered what that would feel like – to have your son die and then your husband of over twenty years leave you shortly after. If it were me, I would want to crawl into a corner somewhere.
She ended up giving me some pieces of metal when she decided to purge her garage, and her life, actually. They were 2′ x 3′ pieces of tin from old roofing tiles or something, and with that one I actually put the metal on the canvas first and then I just started painting- I started painting what I thought Shirley must feel like, and it came out. I didn’t even mean it, it just came out.
Was she aware that you had painted it?
Yeah, I told her about it after I sold it, actually – it was one of the first that I had sold, minus a couple of 6″ x 6″ pieces previous to that. I couldn’t believe that somebody actually came into my studio – there was an open house here in April – and bought my biggest and most expensive piece. It gave me a lot of confidence.
What was the reaction when you told her what you had done, and that you had sold it?
She wanted to see it; she thought it was great, and she really wanted to see it. She actually came by the day before I was to deliver it. She broke down. She told me that she felt like she had been witnessed, and that I had told the untold story… it was a really amazing experience. She even said that she felt she could move on now, and that I had somehow helped on that journey. It was pretty incredible.
Sonya Iwasiuk works out of suite #342 in Parker Street Studios, and welcomes visitors to both her studio, and her website: www.faintinggoatstudio.com
Contact Sonya by phone at 778.998.7894 or by email, at email@example.com