FEATURED ARTIST: Interview with Angela To
Angela To is based in New York. Her works explore the interplay between colour, landscape, and pattern, resulting in dynamic paintings.
We spoke with Angela about the inspiration behind her works to get a deeper sense of what goes into her practice.
Q: Can you tell us about how your initial ideas for a piece or a series are sparked?
Most of my ideas come from direct observation of the world around me. I try to go for a walk every day. I'm very sensitive to colour, pattern and texture, so when I'm out walking I'm constantly noticing flowers, leaf patterns, how shadows fall and the quality of light at different times of day.
Q: Which artistic sources do you draw inspiration from and how has exposure to their work influenced your practice?
One of my art heroes is David Hockney. I saw a retrospective of his last year at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. What struck me was how wide ranging his interests were. Nothing was too small for his notice. He painted the landscapes of places where he lived like California and the countryside near his house in England, the changing of the seasons, still life, portraiture—and all along he found fresh ways to express his curiosity. From his example I am encouraged to paint with abandon and not to listen to the negative voice I sometimes bring into the studio with me that asks: “ is this worth doing?” Of course it is all worth doing.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your process? What materials do you use to create your final piece? How does this differ between your sculptural work and your paintings?
I use acrylic paint for all of my current work. The main reason is that it dries quickly and it is easier to maintain a healthy studio environment because acrylic paint doesn’t require the use of solvents. The other reason is that I use screen printing techniques to develop some of the repeated shapes and patterns in the paintings and acrylic paint can be mixed with screen printing mediums to extend its use.
Q: What sort of skills do you think are important for an artist to have?
A broad curiosity for the world and a generosity of spirit are important for an artist. I am a lifelong learner and believe that being open to learning new ways of making, thinking, and seeing are at the heart of artists who are engaged with their studio. It’s also really important to be open to sharing discoveries with other artists and to being receptive of criticism.
Q: Which aspects of your work are the most methodical? The most exploratory?
The painting process, for me, has two distinct phases. The beginning of a new piece is the most exploratory: it is about mark making, developing a direction for the colour palette, and being playful, which can oftentimes be chaotic. It is during the beginning that I am open to using paint as a material that can be slathered, poured, or smeared. I approach each day’s work with no expectation that the exploratory new piece will survive because it will most likely be covered over and transformed the next day. As I get further on with a painting I begin to organize and connect the layers of information; it’s during this stage that the action gets slowed down and I spend more time contemplating and carefully considering what to do next. Composition becomes stronger—it’s about making sense of the earlier chaos.
Q: How has your subject matter and approach to subject matter changed over the course of your career?
All of my work from when I was a student to today has been centred around observations about life—specifically about a perceptions of 'place' and how I fit in. Some of my earlier work focused on family history and identity and my current work is about directly translating what I see as I make my way through the world. The main difference is that the earlier work had more narrative embedded in it and the current work is more formal and direct about its approach to pattern, colour and image. The connection is that all of the work is a conduit for my daily experience.
Q: Do you see your works as unique or as part of a series?
I generally work in series but I can be working on several series of work concurrently. I work quite fast and so I always have 4 to 6 paintings going on at the same time so that while something is drying I can keep going with another piece. Working serially helps me to focus and to robustly explore colour palette and composition.
Q: What is the most challenging part of the artistic process for you?
The most challenging part is when I am in the middle of a series of paintings. I love beginnings and getting new work started. I’m especially energized by the process of stretching and gessoing canvas, followed by getting that first slash of paint on. It is hardest when I’m part way through a painting because the objectives are less clear and each day can be a struggle to move the piece forward. Sometimes, the adjustment of a single colour can throw a painting off balance. The trick is to make a move that then necessitates a counter move so that the whole process can go forward—however, that doesn’t mean that progress is a straight line. Painting, for me, is a meandering proposition.