The Interior Life of the Observer: Interview with Figurative Painter Christina Sealey
“There are no innocent bystanders …what are they doing there in the first place?”
~ William S. Burroughs, Exterminator!
Truth-telling and authentic portrayal of the worlds we move about in has always been valued highly by artists and art lovers alike, but there is a vulnerability to Christina Sealey’s portraits that renders them not only compelling but also a bit disquieting. By creating narratives that feel like stills from a European film, works that have the flavor more of cinematic essays than carefully arranged poses, Sealey draws her viewers in and then renders them uncomfortable in this role of voyeur, uninvited intruders in personal dramas in the very midst of unfolding.
INTERVIEW WITH CONTEMPORARY OIL PAINTER, CHRISTINA SEALEY
Hamilton, Canada ~
Deanna Phoenix Selene: I have always felt that the best portraits are those where the captures feel so honest that one almost feels like a psychological intruder, and you definitely create this impact with your work. Do you find it a challenge to both be completely invested in your life and yet at the same time removed enough to step outside of it and capture it fully and honestly?
The City, Richard | 36 x 60 | Oil on Linen | Christina Sealey
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Or is the role of artist best reflected in your piece, In Between (Alex)? One who inhabits both worlds, and yet at the same time, neither.
Christina Sealey: It is definitely difficult to step outside oneself to create an honest and objective observation or one that is not overly invested in personal experiences. By creating distance (the voyeuristic aspect that you describe) it is easier to explore challenging events, emotions and desires. I often find that the observations and ideas within my paintings don’t make complete sense to me until I have been physically separated from them for a while – sometimes a year or two after I have completed them and can see them in the context of other work. So perhaps in this case the situation is similar to your observation of the painting of Alex.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Is aloneness something you find yourself running towards? Or away from?
Christina Sealey: Throughout my life, I have often found myself in the position of the observer. It can be a comforting position with some feeling of security brought on by a fear of having to interact with other people. But, of course, this also creates a feeling of loneliness that pervades my work.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: As a former investigative journalist, I am aware of the dual pulls on oneself between wanting to tell the truth that will help others, and wanting to respect privacy. What does capturing these moments create for the viewer? For the models? For you as Artist?
Christina Sealey: In The Interior (after Degas), Fernando and Ruby, there was definitely an intensity that I wanted to create between the models – an observation of their relationship that I wasn’t really aware of while I was painting the image. I was playing with a balance of abstraction and representation, and wanted to balance the intensity of the figures, color and mark-making in the open doorway with the concentrated intensity in the thin sliver of light in the crack along the hinges of the door. The painting explored shifting intensities within a relationship, emotions that could be either negative or positive. I think for myself, I find empathy for the individuals in my images.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: I love the honesty and breadth of love captured in your painting, Interior (Lukas). I also notice that it is the only work you completed that year. Anyone who has been a mother, a parent, knows how having a baby both ignites creativity and the desire to capture the beauty and magic in one’s new life, but also steals all time and energy away from that pursuit. At least momentarily. Can you describe what this experience was like for you?
Christina Sealey: I think for me that painting describes a number of things. Certainly the love and protection of the child, but also the overwhelming responsibility. [Raising] a child is absorbing and all-consuming.
The controlled geometry and soft shifts of color in the upper half of the painting creates a meditative space or protective bubble between the mother and child, free of time and place, and separated from the chaotic elements of everyday responsibility and uncertain future.
Interior actually took three years to paint. I had the ideas and drawings finished for the painting, but was unable to paint it, not really through lack of time, but because the subject was difficult and I needed my distance from it. There was definitely a feeling of guilt associated with wanting and needing to work on my art and music, while at the same time feeling that I should be devoting all of my spare time to my son.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Do you have a goal that guides you throughout your painting? What does a good painting look like? What are the qualities you seek to invest?
Christina Sealey: My goal with my work is to create an image that elicits a response in the viewer that is not wholly reliant on the observational elements.
Christina Sealey: Ideally, every aspect of the painting should contribute to the concept to create a physical or emotional response: composition, color, light, brush marks, size, etc… Although, as you have mentioned, my images are initially based on personal experiences, places, and particular people, I am most interested in an image that can have a number of possible readings and one that has a balance between realism and abstraction. I am rarely satisfied with an image, but I feel this keeps me pushing forward.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you tell me about The Noise (Thea)? I know a number of people for whom sound can quickly become overwhelming. Others tend to not even be fully cognizant of how much sound we are soaking in daily ~ until there’s a power outage and suddenly all the machines go still. Or we step outside into nature. The other hat you wear is that of a musician, an explorer and architect of sound. Can you tell me more about this?
Christina Sealey: In both my visual and audio work, there is often a conflict or balance between chaos and rest or control. This could be in terms of the mark-making, or groups of elements like figures, shapes, colors, patterns, collections of sounds. In this particular work, this balance of chaos and rest is played out in a conflict between light versus darkness, and control versus disorder within the mark-making. I intended the chaotic space in the painting to represent any kind of disturbance or unknown element, be it physical (like sound), psychological, environmental etc… This could be seen as negative or positive.
Certainly I like to use these elements within music as well and often create sounds that transform from disorder (noise) to clarity (melody) or vice versa. The work for my most recent series of drawings and paintings, including The Noise, was initially inspired by the poem, “Dark Pool,” by PB Hunter, which talks about diving into or facing fears and traumatic or intense experiences to transform them into something new. This concept extended into my music project, Orphx, a collaboration with Richard Oddie, to become the basis for our recent full-length album, Pitch Black Mirror, released in November of 2016.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What led you to choose drawing and painting as your means of expression? Is it a different experience than when you create with sound? Do the two compliment each other? Does one enrich the other?
Christina Sealey: I love the physicality of paint, the action and the time that takes place within a painting or drawing, building up of marks, painting and repainting. Manipulating the surface and producing particular color interactions is both challenging and exciting.
Christina Sealey: The way that I create with sound is similar in the sense that I also consider the manipulation of color, texture, simplicity versus complexity, etc. Although I am creating electronic music and the way that it is created has changed a lot for me over the last 20 years, I have always been most excited about the sounds that I manipulate physically rather than through the computer. For the last nine years, I have been working with a modular synthesizer system that allows hands-on control of all aspects of a sound as it modulates over time and is set-up much like a paint palette for painting.
The underlying ideas are often the same for my art and music, so they are often working in tandem. I feel lucky to be able to move back and forth between art forms, especially when I am stuck on one or feeling burnt out. If I am having trouble with my painting, usually working on music will help inspire new ways to approach my visual art and vice versa.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What is the role of artist in times of turmoil and uncertainty? Can art heal?
Christina Sealey: Artists can use their work to ask questions to spur change, to instil empathy and compassion and to inspire to create hope. Hopefully through these avenues, art can also help to heal.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Best advice to pass on to new artists coming up?
Christina Sealey: Push yourself to experiment and continue to explore new and possibly uncomfortable ways of working! And this goes without saying, but I will also add that new artists should endeavor to create work that resonates with them rather than work that suits a particular market or trend.
About the Artist
Christina Sealey is a full-time artist working professionally in Hamilton since 1999. She studied art at McMaster University and the Dundas Valley School of Art and holds a Masters of Fine Art from the Edinburgh College of Art, UK. Her paintings have been shown in solo shows in public and commercial galleries and at artist-run centres in Canada and the UK, including the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Frederick Horsman Varley Gallery, Bau-Xi Galleries, Toronto and Vancouver, and the Royal Overseas League in London, England, among others.
She has the honor of being a rare, three-time recipient of the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant (Montreal) and has also been awarded grants from the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Foundation (New York) and both the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts. Recently, Christina appeared on the Bravo television series “Star Portraits,” painting Margaret Trudeau, who chose Christina’s work as the winning portrait.
In addition to her work as a visual artist, Christina is also an accomplished musician and has been working with sound since 1993. She regularly performs live music in Canada, the United States and internationally, and was nominated with Richard Oddie for a Quartz electronic music award for experimentation and research in Paris in 2010. In 2012 she was awarded an OAC education grant to provide electronic music classes for young women under the name, In the Loop Music with collaborator, Naomi Hocura. She has integrated her audio work with her visuals in a number of exhibitions including “Imagining Hamilton” at the AGH.
To view more of her artwork, visit Christina Sealey’s website.
Please feel free to email Christina at firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire about commissions or purchasing work.
Christina’s visual art is represented in Toronto by the Red Head Gallery and the Abbozzo Gallery.
Small work and drawings are available at the Carnegie Gallery in Dundas, Ontario
For Orphx, Eschaton or solo bookings please contact email@example.com
My dream: to create a unique vehicle for artists and visionaries from all genres and all over the globe to inspire and learn from one another.
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