About Artists Illuminated



Artists Illuminated is a place where we share stories of the people who make up ELAN. Our goal is to shed light on the intimate processes behind art-making and to connect artists with audiences on a variety of platforms, more specifically on our blog and on Instagram. These platforms are dedicated to artists (ELAN members), and serve as a firsthand introduction of ELAN members to the wider public. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, and Newsletter mentions, Artists Illuminated delves a little deeper into the unique artistic and creative lives of ELAN’s members.

See guidelines for more information on how to be featured.

Follow ELAN on Instagram at @elanqc

A new Artists Illuminated feature is published at the beginning of every month.

About Artists Illuminated Shorts!


Artists Illuminated Shorts! is a variation of the Artists Illuminated project, and provides the general public with a snippet of an ELAN Member’s artistic life.

2-3 Artists Illuminated Shorts! are published per month.

We want to feature you! Contact communications@quebec-elan.org to learn how!

Featured Artists

Erik Nieminen is a Finnish-Canadian artist born in Ottawa in 1985. He achieved a BFA from the University of Ottawa in 2007 and an MFA from Concordia University in Montreal in 2010. He has exhibited in both Europe and North America, including a recent solo show at the Albemarle Gallery in London entitled “The Unreal”, and at the Galerie d’Art d’Outremont in Montreal entitled “Above Below”. Erik Nieminen’s next solo show will be in 2019 in New York City, entitled “Paradise Not Lost”. He currently lives and works in Montreal, after spending four and a half years living in Berlin. He shows with the Galerie Kremers in Berlin.

“Midas”, oil on linen, Erik Nieminen.

What attracted you to painting, and to your mixture of realism and surrealism?

For me painting is the most malleable of visual mediums. It is not constrained by programming or other technological limits. It’s purely chemical — almost alchemical from a certain point of view. The flexibility of the painting process stems from its non-reliance on mechanical visual systems which allows painting to exist as a kind of alternate reality from our own — something dream-like or even surreal. Things like film and photography serve a different function as they tie concretely back to our world as a document of a moment in time. Paintings are created over varying lengths of time with each individual inch of the canvas being taken into consideration, meaning there is nothing incidental. It is an amalgamation of thousands of conscious and subconscious decisions. Painting can be whatever you want it to be.

I tend not to distinguish between realism and abstraction (or surrealism). It all exists together, as the moment you depict something on a two-dimensional painted surface it automatically becomes abstraction. It’s either that or it’s all representation. In any case it’s all unreal, and therefore it’s a bit of an absurd notion to be too reliant on notions of “what things actually look like” and thus I am free to move between styles as much as I wish.

“Abstract Paradise”, oil on linen, Erik Nieminen.

Your work often has a mixture of artificial and natural environments: could you talk about how these themes influence your work?

I’ve always been interested in urban motion. I grew up in Ottawa, which is a city of a decent size, but ultimately has a very small-town feel about it. I always wanted to get out and live in a big urban center… to be in the middle of the hustle, in the dynamism of the crowd, of technology, of concrete — I found all this quite exciting. I understand the city as a kind of construct, a fabrication that is intended to serve humanity in an organic, natural, and fluid manner. However, it doesn’t always work, and so humanity constructs artificial escapes, mini-paradises in the middle of the city in the form of parks, biodomes, etc. We visit these places as a respite from everyday life. What was once commonplace is now a kind of theatrical therapy.

In terms of painting, I used the city as a subject for a long time. It provided enough content to develop complex spatial challenges, but natural habitats also provide these challenges through different shapes and forms. I’m interested in combining the city and the organic world in such a way that they collide with each other to create unique visual encounters, and from there — themes, narratives, and ideas may emerge.

Much of your work in the “Reality” series depicts people in day-to-day situations in the city. There’s a voyeuristic element to this. Do you work with photography to help create these scenes?

I wander through the city with a sketchpad, a camera, and a video-camera. Periodically I will stop and document a location that seems to contain significant visual possibilities, something I can cultivate further. I take thousands of photos per year, but also many hours of video documentation. Every painting begins with abstract sketches (lines, shapes, scribbles). Eventually a kind of abstract composition emerges. These digital photos and videos serve as reference points that I can steal from to inject into my sketched spaces. Therefore, as real as some paintings may seem, they are all impossibilities — a conglomeration of drawing, photo, and video coming together to create a singular painted experience that cannot be found in real life. In terms of being a voyeur — I try not to be noticed when documenting something… I don’t bother to compose shots, I get the information as fast as possible and move on. I don’t want to be intrusive.

“The Other Side” (top) and “Ricochet” (bottom), oil on linen, Erik Nieminen.

What are some of the sources of inspiration for you?

While I try not to rely on anything specific, I am very influenced by artists whose interest is in playing with three-dimensional space on a flat surface. Therefore the cubists and futurists were some of my earliest influences. An artist like David Hockney is someone I’ve looked at a lot, though my work doesn’t have any particular aesthetic connection to his. I’ve been looking at a lot of very formal abstract painting recently, but then I’ve also been listening to talks by the artist Vincent Desiderio who paints in quite a figurative way, almost old master-like. Literature that involves reflections about the human condition in urban space have always interested me — Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy being one, but also something like Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Man of the Crowd, upon which I based a 7 meter long painting several years ago. I listen to electronic or minimalist music while working. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but perhaps it’s got the right mix of warm and cool to keep me in a state of balance while painting.

You’ve had experience living abroad in Berlin: how did you transition your artistic practice to the city? Can you talk about how you established connections, mapped out galleries and other resources?

It wasn’t necessarily easy to move to a country where I didn’t speak the language and knew almost nobody (my friend, the artist Vitaly Medvedovsky lived there at the time and he was very helpful). I’m also not an extroverted person, so diving in and making connections is not a natural state of being for me. It took quite a while (several years) to meet enough people to have regular opportunities open up for me. Ultimately, Berlin is not necessarily the best city in which to show painting — unless it’s of a more conceptual nature.

After nearly four years in the city I was approached by a gallery for representation. Partly it took so long because I work relatively slowly… just to build up enough work to show someone took a couple years. I had a list of galleries that I found interesting, but of course these are not places you can just walk into and show them work. They have to know of you prior to you talking to them or you have to meet through some of network-like connection. The gallery that found me was actually a new one at the time (it has since closed and I have moved on to another gallery in Berlin).

I’ve found that my work doesn’t necessarily change that much depending on where I am. Partly I attribute this to art being so globally connected now via the internet. Influences range far more than from just a local context. Furthermore I don’t have a particular interest in depicting specific locations, so if I’m living in Berlin I’m probably not using a location in Berlin as a source — it could be imagery I’ve collected ten years ago someplace else.

“Janus”, oil and linen, Erik Nieminen.

After graduating from your MFA, what steps did you take to continue exhibiting and practicing professionally?

I was quite lucky that a few people liked my work enough to want to collect it right out of the gate. Therefore I have been fortunate enough to more or less live off my art for nearly a decade now. It is not always easy — some years are better than others. The main thing is that I continue to always have exhibitions of some kind lined up for the future, which then can open up other opportunities. It was important after graduating to hit the ground running and to keep that momentum going. Therefore I try to maintain a steady schedule of about 2 or 3 upcoming (group or solo) shows at all times. I am fairly picky about where I show and the context matters, so it’s sometimes difficult to find the right environment for the work, but thus far things have worked out well enough. The occasional grant or award has been quite helpful as well, from a financial point of view.

Could you talk about your experience in exhibitions? What are some tips you might give to other artists pitching their art to galleries? 

I have worked with some curators, mostly as a result of them seeing my work online or via studio visits. I have almost never received a response by reaching out to a gallery out of the blue. I have heard this can work on occasion, but it’s quite rare as galleries tend to be inundated by similar requests for connection. They have to meet you in a social scene or see your work in a public exhibition in order to gain their attention (this has been my experience). I have worked with both commercial galleries and not for profit spaces. The upside to working with a commercial gallery is that they will (in theory) promote your work at all times and try to find opportunities for you to show and sell your work. It can have positive financial results and hopefully bring your work to a wider audience, though this very much depends on the reach and ambition level of the gallery. Artist-run centers and other non-commercial spaces can sometimes be more interesting from a creative standpoint. As they aren’t so concerned with making money, there is more opportunity to experiment and perhaps show work that would not be seen in a commercial gallery.

“AboveBelow”, oil on linen, and exhibition at Galerie d’art d’Outrement (Montreal), Erik Nieminen.

What projects are you currently working on?

I was fortunate to be the recipient of the 2018 Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series Award, and as a part of that I will be having a solo show in New York City in 2019. The exact date and venue have yet to be worked out, but that is my main focus at the moment. The title of the show will be “Paradise Not Lost”, which is also the title of my current body of work. In February 2019 I will be taking part in a group show at Galerie Erga curated by Jason McKechnie. The title of that is “Perspicacious Paintings”. I will also have a work at the Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Montreal as part of Nuit Blanche. I’ve never shown in a church before, so I am looking forward to that. Finally, I will be having a solo show in June of 2020 at the Galerie McClure in Montreal.

Erik Nieminen’s Website: eriknieminen.com

Erik Nieminen’s Instagram: @eriknart

Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc

SEE OUR PREVIOUS FEATURES & SHORTS:

Vallum Magazine / VSEAL (Organization Spotlight)

Graham Krenz (Shorts)

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Founded in 2000 and based in Montreal, Vallum magazine is published biannually. Vallum provides a forum for emerging artists to interact with more established figures while giving them exposure and the confidence to continue with their art. As one of Canada’s top poetry journals with an international focus, Vallum encourages dialogue between Quebec and the rest of Canada and allows Canadian artists to exchange ideas with acclaimed and emerging artists from the United States, Britain, Ireland, Australia, India and other countries around the world. For this Organization Spotlight, publicist Rosie Long Decter speaks on behalf of the Vallum team.

Can you introduce a bit of Vallum’s history? How was the publication founded? 

Vallum was founded by poets Eleni Zisimatos and Joshua Auerbach in 2000. They both graduated from Concordia’s Creative Writing program and saw a need for an English-language poetry journal in Montreal. In 2003, the organization expanded beyond the magazine to organizing poetry workshops in local schools – these workshops grew into the outreach program Poetry for our Future! which now offers 35-40 workshops across the city each year.

The same year, the organization was incorporated as the Vallum Society for Education in Arts & Letters (VSEAL), a registered charity publishing Vallum magazine and holding poetry/literacy workshops in Montreal and beyond. In 2005, VSEAL launched the Vallum Chapbook Series, which publishes two chapbooks each year, and whose authors include George Elliott Clarke, Nicole Brossard, Fanny Howe, and more.

Today, we continue to publish two issues of Vallum magazine and two chapbooks in the Vallum Chapbook Series per year, as well as coordinating city-wide outreach workshops. The current managing editor in charge of operations is Leigh Kotsilidis.

How would you describe Vallum’s place in Montreal’s literary community? What events are you involved in or do you organize? Are there other literary publications, societies, networks, or spaces you work with, whether in Quebec or elsewhere?

As the publisher of Montreal’s only English-language journal dedicated to poetry, VSEAL strives to support local poets while also fostering connections with the broader literary and arts communities across Quebec and Canada. We have partnered on events and projects with a range of local arts organizations including the Quebec Writers’ Federation, Maisonneuve Magazine, and the Atwater Poetry Project. In addition to publishing Vallum: Contemporary Poetry and the Vallum Chapbook Series, VSEAL regularly hosts and participates in events designed to support the local and national writing communities – last year, for example, we co-presented a panel on chapbook publishing, alongside Baseline Press and Anstruther Press. We also organize readings, launches, and pop-up shops at cafes around the city. Our outreach program, Poetry for our Future!, further connects us to a wide range of arts and community organizations across the city. The Poetry for our Future! workshops emphasize the importance of creative writing as a means of self-empowerment and community-building; in bringing together established poets and local non-profits, these workshops build connections between communities, aiming to expand and strengthen Montreal’s literary community as a whole.

Some of the outreach partners listed on your website include: South Asian Women Community Centre (SAWCC), Perspectives II Outreach High School, Project 10: Projet 10, Chez Doris, and the Laval Penitentiary. Can you talk a bit about these partnerships (and any others!) and how Vallum has collaborated with these partners?

VSEAL’s outreach program, Poetry for our Future!, began as a series of workshops at Lasalle elementary school in 2003. Now, over 15 years later, we provide 35-40 poetry workshops each year for children, youth, and adult learners across the city.

Our workshops are primarily for participants from underserved communities. Each workshop pairs an established, local poet and educator with a partner organization – poet Greg Santos, for example, teaches workshops at adult learning centre Reclaim Literacy. Jessica Bebenek facilitates workshops at Spectrum Productions, a non-profit for children and adults on the autism spectrum.

By partnering with organizations like Reclaim, Spectrum, SAWCC, Chez Doris, and others, we’re able to ensure our outreach workshops are reaching a wide range of participants, and that each workshop is tailored to those participants’ needs. Our partnership with women’s shelter Chez Doris goes all the way back to 2008, which means we’ve had over a decade of developing workshops and approaches that work for Chez Doris’ community. We’re also continuing to establish to new partnerships with local organizations – this year, we’re excited to be planning workshops with Native Montreal.

Our outreach program aims to inspire, spark new talent, empower, strengthen communities, and to bridge demographics that might not otherwise have the opportunity to engage with one another. The workshops are committed to creating an approachable, educational, recreational, and safe environment for poetry to flourish.

Can you talk about some of the poetry workshops you’ve hosted? What has been some of the positive response or effects of these workshops?

Our workshops take a wide variety of forms, depending on the styles of our facilitators and the needs of our partner organizations. In 2016, VSEAL partnered with Hands on Media Education to lead workshops on digital literacy at Perspectives II, an outreach high school. Participants aged 13-18 used poems to create stop-animation videos, which were then featured on our website. In 2017, Kama La Mackerel led a series of workshops titled Our Bodies, Our Stories for QTBIPOC (Queer & Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) aged 16-24. These workshops, facilitated at Project 10, offered participants the opportunity to develop their creative writing skills and cultivate their poetics through performance. Last year we also began a new partnership with SistersInMotion, co-presenting creative writing workshops for women and femmes of colour such as Kai Cheng Thom’s “When Trauma Speaks The Bones”.

We receive a lot of inspiring feedback from our workshop participants that affirms the work our outreach facilitators are doing – one participant at a Chez Doris workshop told us that the workshop made her feel “hopeful about the future” and that she was grateful for the space to share with others. That’s one of our primary goals: to provide workshops that inspire confidence on a personal, individual level while also bringing participants together, forming creative communities.

What are your reflections on the English-speaking literary communities you see around Quebec? Do you have partnerships outside of Montreal or elsewhere in the province?

We are members of QWF and are involved with the Atwater Poetry Project, two organizations that support English-language poetry in Quebec. We are also in contact with English bookstores and hosts of poetry readings. However, we would like to expand our borders to include a more multi-lingual emphasis, especially with French-language poets and writers. We have already featured the visual art of French artists in Vallum, and published chapbooks and poetry by Nicole Brossard and Paul-Georges Leroux. We are excited about these kind of exchange possibilities. We appreciate the work of ELAN, which is a great, inclusive organization. We also have an informal partnership with Concordia for our internship program, which has been a great way to connect with young writers and those interested in small press publishing.

What are some of the public spaces that you would recommend for literary or interdisciplinary events?

Montreal has so many good bookstores, cafes, and venues that support literary events. We’ve had great experiences at bookshops like Drawn & Quarterly and Argo Bookstore – Argo recently opened up a back section as well for events! We’ve had successful pop-up shops at le Cagibi and Anti Café (and the now shuttered Chez Boris). Some of our other favourite spots include Kafein, which hosts a regular poetry open mic night, and Resonance, formerly home to the Resonance reading series. The Atwater Library also has a constant slate of excellent literary events. In terms of interdisciplinary events, Suoni per il Popolo does a great job of booking a range of exciting music, art, and literary projects at their various venues. Festival dans ta tête is a great Francophone festival that connects with the English literary community, and Poetry in Voice also hosts poetry recitation contests with a commitment to bilingualism.

What is Vallum currently working on?

We’re currently in production for our next issue, 16:1 “Connections,” which will come out towards the end of April. We’re also working on the layout for our upcoming chapbook release, Art of Surgery by A.F. Moritz. We have two upcoming launches in Montreal and Toronto for the issue and the chapbook. The Montreal launch will be at 7pm on Saturday, May 4th at Rocket Science Room (170 Jean Talon Ouest #204, Montreal, QC). We are currently accepting submissions to our annual Chapbook Award, with a deadline April 30th, as well as submissions for the next Vallum issue, 16:2 “Fear,” deadline May 15th, 2019. We’re also working on developing new outreach partnerships, as well as reworking our website and submissions system, to be launched later this year.

Vallum website: vallummag.com

Vallum Facebook: VallumMagazine

Vallum Twitter: @vallummag

Vallum Instagram: @vallummag

Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc

SEE OUR PREVIOUS FEATURES & SHORTS:

Graham Krenz (Shorts)

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Laurence Dea Dionne (Shorts)

Graham Krenz is a sculpture and mixed media artist who has shown across Canada, now living and working in Montréal, Quebec. He received his degree in Drawing from the Alberta College of Art + Design, where he was the recipient of an Alberta Foundation for the Arts project grant for his graduation piece, titled “A History of Nature”, which was constructed in partnership with his friend and collaborator Meredith Angus. He has since maintained studios in Toronto, where he showed installation and site-specific work at large events while continuing to develop his small-scale work.

Our feature ELAN Member for Artists Illuminated Shorts! is emerging artist Graham Krenz. Krenz reinterprets domestic objects and works with wood to create surreal objects and panoramic images of the city. Graham has been featured in Art Bazaar and in the Toronto Star, where he talks about his practice in carpentry, interests in urbanism, and monumental transit systems. Krenz takes inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright’s school in Scottsdale, and the use of fake military infrastructure as camouflage during WWI. He also refers to Japanese woodcuts as an influence, describing his interest in relief carvings and the way a pre-inked woodblock looks: “They’re negative images, reflections of what the final product will be. I don’t do precisely that with my work, but I maintain that monochrome, semi-finished appearance as a nod to the functionality of our infrastructure, and the transient nature of everything we construct.”

What attracted you to your medium in wood-carving and sculpture?

Both of my parents were “workshop” people. In my father’s case, making furniture and cabinetry in our basement, and in my mother’s, painting, drawing, miniature dioramas, textiles, and more. Both of them encouraged us to work with our hands. My father’s enormous collection of chisels and planes was a factor as well, I liked using those tools and wanted a way to apply that to my artistic practice. In art school I took several sculpture electives, and enjoyed the subtractive process of carving more than the additive processes or mold-making based processes, so I’ve pursued it since.

What are some of your sources of inspiration?

The initial point of inspiration was a sort of unlikely source. The creative agency Elastic, who you may know as the group behind almost every HBO title sequence, created a beautiful title sequence for the show True Detective. This sequence, directed by Patrick Clair, went a long way to pushing me towards representing infrastructure and urban construction as the primary focus of what I make- I had never considered the power of that imagery until then. Long before that point I had already started moving my work that way after relocating from Calgary to Toronto, and encountering the enormous scale of the 401 highway system, which I have now learned is the busiest single road on earth. I wanted to acknowledge the contrast between how mundane a highway is, and how vast and vastly important the project is when you consider it as a monument to labour and human will.

What were some of the themes you were exploring through your series of hanging sculptures, objects, and domestic items (“Stuff I Thought I Wanted”)?

I was having trouble coming to terms with what I wanted, put simply. I thought I wanted all these silly little boy things, and was finding it embarrassing to think about myself that way. I built these a series of tombstones to all the pretentious ideas about myself I had as a young man. It was also the first time I’d begun incorporating any real craftsmanship into my work, I think I was too focused on how conceptual my work had to be immediately after art school. It was the beginning of my understanding of how important spending time working on a material, how that informs the messages you can send with it.

What are some resources you find useful in Montreal that might also be helpful to other sculptors or carvers?

Reaching out to other artists whose work you see is important, to broaden the amount of techniques and ideas you have access to. That’s my main advice, don’t be an island.

Do you run your own space, or do you collaborate with others?

I share a space with some photographers and film workers currently, so that we can all afford a nice, large, enjoyable space to work in. I would tell everyone to avoid owning anything you can’t lift yourself, and to avoid owning any furniture that you can’t take apart. In Toronto I moved my studio at least once a year, you will want to make this as painless as possible. Once a month, throw away a box of what you have. I’ve had shared spaces and private spaces, both have pros and cons, you have to really weigh what’s best for actually getting things done, and enjoying your time while you’re there.

What are some tips you might give to other artists pitching their art to galleries?

I think like most artists I wish curators would solicit me more, but such is life. I have been lucky to work with commercial galleries and artist-run centers. I’ve had great experiences working with both, I think they both serve different viewers and collectors, and both have an absolutely essential place in the artist economy and infrastructure. The obvious downsides with artist run centers is the application and submission process, which is generally lengthy, involves a lot of paperwork, and can be demoralizing. The benefit to soliciting commercial gallery support is that if they don’t like you, you find out pretty much immediately. Rejection is like a bandaid, it’s nice to tear it off quickly.

Photograph is by Nick Wong.

Visit Graham Krenz’ website: grahamkrenz.com

Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc

SEE OUR PREVIOUS FEATURES & SHORTS:

Jingju Québec (Organization Spotlight)

Clara Congdon (Feature)

Glenna Tissenbaum (Feature)

Laurence Dea Dionne (Shorts)

Avy Loftus (Feature)

Kathryn Berry (Shorts)

Fuat Tuaç (Feature)