Laureen Marchand is an artist living among the beautiful rolling hills of Val Marie, Saskatchewan, a Canadian ranching community that is rich rich in nature and wildlife. Marchand paints oil paintings centered mostly around a single subject that she is very passionate about: the rose. I started the interview by asking about Marchand’s unique style and subject matter.
Jason: Can you describe your style and subject matter for us?
Laureen Marchand: I make oil paintings that consider how we perceive beauty and what we think beauty is, and also the relationship between what we see and what is really happening. I decided a long time ago that if I could paint someone or something so it looked the most like itself, it might help us see not just the painted object, but ourselves in the object. So that’s what I try to do.
Though I’ve painted both figures and landscapes, for the past dozen years I’ve focused on roses. Roses are a symbol that everyone recognizes—of beauty, youth and perfection. Roses make us think of the love that loveliness brings. But like all that’s alive, roses fade. And if beauty causes love, the fading of beauty must signal the end of love. Or must it?
I think painting is the reason I was put on the earth. It’s the way I try to understand the world around me. Even though I’ve been painting for a long time, it never feels like I know what I’m doing. So you mix an uncertain, oily medium, pick it up with a stick that won’t completely let you direct it, and place one slightly transparent brushstroke next to or on top of another until something exists that didn’t before. And you never know until you’re finished whether it’s all a big mistake or not! Just like life. And you hope it makes sense.
J: What made you choose oil as your medium?
LM: I’ve used most mediums and processes but oil paint has my heart. Nothing else has its colour and I love its plasticity and the way it seems to speak by itself.
J: How did you develop your style, and what drew you to your subject matter?
LM: My earliest influences were the Canadian realist painters who made their names in the 1970s, people like Alex Colville, Christopher Pratt, Mary Pratt, Tom Forrestall. I think they led me.
For most of twenty years, the imagery I painted was representational, narrative and figurative. Then during the production of the work that became part of a two-person exhibition called Bequest, with Canadian artist Honor Kever, and which toured western Canada for 20 months in 2002 and 2003, the figures left my work. Finding the thing that would replace or stand in for that human presence gave me a difficult couple of years, but then I discovered the rose.
J: How did you get started in art?
LM: I always loved what I called making things, but as I was growing up I never met an artist or saw an original piece of art. Then, in eleventh grade, a new girl moved to my school—a girl who had spent her childhood in galleries and art classes. I began college two years later as a painting major in a BFA program. Since then my art career has taken many twists and turns, but there’s never really been anything else I wanted to do.
J: Are there other artists in your family?
LM: I had an aunt who painted by numbers and I have second cousin I’ve never met who works as an artist. My mother took courses in illustration before she married my dad and settled down. My sister has a beautiful singing voice. Otherwise, I’m it!
J: Was your family encouraging of your art?
LM: Everyone thought it was kind of ordinary that I was always drawing something or designing doll furniture or building a Japanese garden in my closet. I was such a dreamy kid that maybe they thought it was nice to see me actually doing something concrete. When I announced I was going to art school at university after high school, I remember my mother asking hesitantly if I might not rather study psychology. Apparently I replied, “If I can’t go to art school I’m not going at all!” This was so much unlike my usually non-confrontational self that I never heard another word of protest.
J: How much art related education do you have?
LM: I got a BFA after high school and 12 years later went back and got an MFA. Both of my schools were pretty conceptual and I didn’t learn a lot about technique at either of them. I’m mostly self-taught at technique. What I did learn was how to think and how to look. That has always seemed pretty valuable to me.
J: When did you sell your first artwork?
LM: When I was in high school. I painted a portrait of a prostitute I’d seen on the street as I passed by her in a car in a bad part of the city I lived in. My best friend bought it as soon as it was finished.
J: Are you a full-time artist?
LM: I’m a full time working artist, and what that means regarding the time I spend in my studio varies with what else I’m doing, either for income or in order that I can fulfill my value of leaving the world a better place than I found it. I know very few artists who care to immure themselves in the studio to the detriment of all other connection.
J: That’s a good point. What are you working on alongside your art, and what other jobs have you held?
LM: I’ve run a record shop and three art galleries and a summer art school in Ireland. I’ve worked as an arts administrator, a freelance writer and editor, an events planner, a concert promoter, a barista, a cartographic technician, a graphic designer, a grocery store clerk, a waitress, a college teacher, a museum manager, a landlady, a website designer, and a workshop leader in all aspects of the business side of art for artists and in studio subjects for artists at all levels. I have a graduate degree in librarianship that I acquired following a year of working in a public library as a library clerk, when I realized that if I took a brief time out of my art life I would be able to support it with a job that that was very portable and paid way better than most artist jobs, well enough so I wouldn’t have to do it full time. So I’ve been a part-time public librarian, academic librarian, library consultant, and all-purpose head of a theological library system where I got to do everything from management to public relations to automation systems development to rare books collection to reference questions. That job was fun. Current projects include a contract as a consultant on automated retail inventory management, managing another artist’s print production, and acting as the coordinator of an artist residency program. I also mentor artists; information can be found on my website.
J: How do you promote and expose your work to potential buyers?
LM: I’m a gallery based artist, and in addition to the commercial dealers I work with, I also have a little summer season gallery in my own back porch. I’ve tried selling art online and I didn’t care for it. I like the human touch. I have a website that shows my works and links to my galleries. I blog usually twice a week, and I post on Facebook.
J: What do you feel has been your greatest challenge in selling your work?
LM: Being isolated in a small community, away from the art world and bigger galleries. It’s easy to be forgotten if you don’t have an in-person presence. So finding the right gallery match is important. I’m currently looking to increase my gallery representation and am being very careful to concentrate on galleries where my work fits in and can be successfully promoted.
J: What do you feel you’ve been most successful at in your art, and in your art business?
LM: Always coming back to it, no matter what has gotten in the way. I’ve been painting for three decades and I’ve loved it even though it wasn’t always easy. From my graduating class out of art school, there is only one other artist who is still working. I think that’s worth being proud of. And persistence pays off. Over my career I’ve been privileged to exhibit in more than two dozen solo or two person exhibitions and over 40 group shows. I’m proud of that, too!
J: Do you have a daily routine?
LM: I like to be in the studio by 10:00 a.m. and work until about 4:00 p.m. with short breaks during the day. If I can, I keep this as my preferred routine six days a week. Late afternoons and evenings are for going for walks, keeping up with the paperwork and other work, and seeing friends. Then there are the times when nothing goes as planned and the world intervenes with a bang. After that it can be hard to reconstruct my schedule. I keep at it, though. I think having a structure that works for you is the most important foundation for an artist.
J: How much time do you spend in the studio on an average week?
LM: As I said, it varies. I aim for 25 hours of painting time. My work is slow and I stand up to paint, and I find that after four or five hours my concentration isn’t as good. Though when I’ve been an artist in residence my production time has gone way up. Having time set aside out of your usual circumstances plus someone else to make meals, wash the dishes and do the cleaning really does help!
J: How much work do you produce per month on average?
LM: I’m slow. It just takes me longer than some people to get it right. So I probably produce about 20 paintings a year.
J: Do you have any favorite artists or pieces from art history?
LM: I’m not sure I have a single favourite. I saw a Vermeer once, Woman Writing a Letter With her Maid, in the National Gallery of Dublin when I wasn’t expecting to. The combination of the painting itself and the surprise just knocked me over. I had to tell someone about the experience and I was on my own so I spoke to the nearest security guard. He was wonderful. He told me, in his lovely Irish accent, that the painting had been in the collection of a wealthy Irish art patron with British connections from whose house it was stolen twice (by the IRA, according to rumour), so the art patron decided he couldn’t keep the painting safely and donated it to the museum. Then the security guard walked me to a Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, and told me how it had been hung above a fireplace in a nearby monastery getting black from turf smoke because the monks thought it was a copy made in the master’s studio, when it was discovered to be the original work. Mostly the discovery was science, but the guard showed me a place where the master had gotten placement of a soldier’s arm wrong and moved it several inches, which was something a copyist wouldn’t need to do. So those two paintings have a special place in my heart because the experience of viewing them was so special.
J: What are your interests outside of your art?
LM: I like to walk in the hills near my home, looking for wildflowers and watching birds. I love coastal climates, and I travel to Ireland and to our own Canadian west coast when I can. I’m Chair of the board of a small local ecomuseum which was described in a recent magazine article as “punching above its weight.” It does! You can see it here: www.pwss.org. I read, with a particular interest in vintage detective novels from the “golden age” of the English mystery. Connections of all kinds are very important to me, so I maintain friendships in several countries. And I garden during our short Canadian summer. Plants add so much to a life.
J: Thank you so much, Laureen! To see more of Laureen’s art, visit http://www.laureenmarchand.com.