ZANE VISITS: TALIA SHIPMAN
Tell us a bit about yourself and your story.
I’m a photo-based artist. I grew up in Vancouver, but moved out East to attend University at McGill and then Ryerson. I’ve lived in Toronto for many years, however, currently I split my time mostly between LA and Toronto.
Right now I am focused on public art and my conceptual fine art practice, which can vary aesthetically (ie. people, landscapes, objects), but in terms of underlying themes and subject matter there is a lot of continuity. I am interested in humans’ interaction and impact with the environment, and the idea of finding balance in between extremes. From my experience, it’s something that all people can relate to: finding balance in their life - and that is going to mean something different to every person and also going to be constantly changing and evolving. I’m fascinated with how both humans and the environment can adapt and transform.
What are some of your main inspirations?
The political climate, environment, and personal experiences. My last series was inspired by the water drought in California the first year I spent a lot of time there. It was at the forefront of the news and significantly affecting the people around me. I originally went to California to shoot a project about the ocean and ended up falling in love with the desert. The project ended up becoming again about extremes: like how can I be in love with these two environments that are so different, so opposite? You have the desert which is stable and static and constant in a lot of ways and then the ocean which is constantly moving, and boisterous and wet. So the series became about navigating those two extremes through an imaginary post-apocalyptic world that I created, where water no longer existed and basic needs (like water), were replaced by consumer objects. Sometimes ideas also come to me in my dreams.
And color! The color turquoise runs through a lot of my work.
Tell us a bit about how that started.
I started my turquoise series (The Turquoise Period) as a side project while I was in art school. I was suddenly analyzing, overthinking, and adding meaning to photography, which had been a pure passion and hobby, and then turning it into school and a job. For a bit, I kind of felt like I had lost the innocence of just taking photos – which I think happens for all of us in our own ways.
So, I was on vacation in Mexico with my family one year and I started this series. It was something that I did when I travelled for personal use, not for work and I didn’t have to think about what it meant. It stemmed from me being in this country (environment) that had nothing materially, but had all these bright colors around and people seemed happy. Then I would come back to North America where everything is grey brown and beige, we have opportunity and prosperity, but everyone around me was depressed. So the color turquoise became symbolic to me. And then before I knew it, the whole project just grew…it became the eyes in which I saw the world. I would travel to places just so I could capture their turquoise buildings, walls, or art. It was really cool because I would show up in a new place and it gave me context and goals. People started to send and give me turquoise objects, clothing and accessories. Then about six years in to the series, I realized a lot of this color obsession came from my love for the water.
I grew up in Vancouver and left when I was 17 and haven’t lived there since, but everywhere in Vancouver you go, you see the water and this open space. I didn’t realize until later how much that influenced me, how I think, how I see the world, and my work. I realized that my attraction to turquoise was my way of carrying the water with me everywhere I went; it was my personal balance. Once I became aware of the correlation between turquoise and water, the body of work started to massively expand – both physically and conceptually.
Are there any contemporary artists that inspire you?
I love the work of Vanessa Beecroft, I like how she has been able to cross over.
As a Canadian Artist how do you find the Canadian and specifically Toronto art scene?
I went to art school in Toronto (Ryerson), and worked in commercial galleries, so although I’ve worked my ass off, I was automatically surrounded by a network and community from the get-go. My first job was at Corkin Gallery. It was actually quite funny - they had no idea, at the time, that I was a photography student and I somehow walked out with a job on their opening day. That definitely influenced me; I would go to work and be handling Robert Rauschenberg and Irving Penn pieces that I was learning about in school. Then I worked at Nicholas Metivier Gallery and right out of school I started showing in New York, and then in Toronto at Angell Gallery. Currently I’m represented by a gallery based out of Vancouver called Back Gallery Project, who I ironically met at the Toronto Art Fair. I travel a lot and that is my inspiration, but it’s really great to have a home base. A lot of the people around me are doing beautiful and amazing things and I have a solid community here. To sum it up, I used to call Toronto a bad relationship I kept going back to, until I realized that it’s maybe it’s simply a really good one.
Going into your large-scale installations, how was it getting your piece put into the World Trade Centre? Tell us about that experience.
About 3 years ago I did my first public art installation: a giant wall/path in downtown Toronto (Bremner Tower PATH, 18 York St, Toronto). Before that, my works were mostly 2D photo and image-based. I pitched to the architects how my work could translate to 3D sculptural format, and for some crazy reason they saw my vision. I was totally out of my comfort zone, because I had never done anything like that before, but I learned a massive amount. That project definitely got me thinking on a larger scale. Although I had always practiced mixed media, opening my eyes to public art world, propelled me into the possibilities of video, sculpture and large-scale installation work. After that came a permanent video piece that plays on loop in the heart of downtown (at Adelaide and John St), as well as most recently, two six foot photographs printed on glass in metal frame structures, on the grounds of the Humber River Hospital in North York.
Then there was the piece in Brookfield Place in NY in the collection of the head office of the Hudson Bay Company (they also own Saks 5th Ave, Lord & Taylor). They saw my work at The Toronto Art Fair last year (Art TO).
Some projects come easier than others and this one did not - I was very emotionally invested in it. Everyone was like: “keep it simple, keep it safe”. Then two nights before the Art Fair, I did the opposite. I built this bonkers wall made of hundreds of small papers. Normally at an fair you exhibit only a couple of pieces because the focus is on sales, but I printed and framed 15 pieces, made a video piece, a sculpture, and a wall hanging. Everyone thought I was totally insane, but I was at the point where I was like F*** it, if I’m going to do it, do it!
The night of the show my art dealer pulled me over and said the whole thing just sold. What’s so amusing is that I hadn’t meant it to sell as one installation at all, but between my experience with public art and having worked so hard to make the series cohesive, it inherently showed like one piece. So my first edition of that series got to stay together, in New York, in a head office of a big company, permanently, on a wall forever! We thought the actual installing in NYC would take two days but because of the customization it ended up taking an entire week and a lot of late nights. But when it was all done it was just like wow, this is completely incredible. It literally looks over the statue of Liberty and is down the hall from and in a collection with a permanent James Turrell room. How cool is that?
Do you have a process for every project you need to go through?
I look at my work like a relationship: sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s time to let things go and other times you just keep trying until it works. I write down endless ideas, and I’ll refer to them often. Usually words or phrases. Titles are important to me and often inform my work. But I’m not crazy structured in the sense that I approach each project individually. I’m definitely more regimented technically than conceptually. A lot of being an artist is trial and error.