FEATURED ARTIST: Interview with Vanessa Lam
Vanessa Lam lives in Vancouver, BC, where she makes work that explores urban and organic environments through mixed media, painting and collage. Find her collection here.
We were given insight into the importance of reflecting on her personal experiences and how her art practice evolves through emotional expression.
Q: Why do you make art?
I came to art later in life but soon realized it filled a void in me that I didn’t even know was missing. Making art provides me the vehicle to work hands on with a variety of materials and gives me the freedom to be expressive. It’s become an integral part of my life, my identity and most of all my well-being. I would be lost without it.
Q: What’s the most challenging part of the process?
When creating a new body of work, the most challenging part of the process is the high level of mental and physical stamina needed to push through challenges to resolve. My process requires constant decision making in response to changes in the work and what impact each of these decisions has. It’s a bit of a juggling act with balancing the energy for concentration while also allowing time away to be objective about the work.
Q: How do you know when a piece is done?
Most often, time away from the work is the indicator that helps me decide if a piece is done. When I do come back to it, if my reaction is that there isn’t anything else that I want the painting to say or do, then it’s finished. However, if there is any part of the work that I feel uneasy about, then the piece needs more work until it is resolved. Only time will allow me that kind of clarity.
Q: What is the best piece of artistic advice you’ve ever received?
I’m mostly a self-taught artist so I have had to figure out a lot of things on my own. I think the most valuable advice I received was when I was beginning my art practice: remember the highs and the good times so it can carry you through the low periods.
When life and art are going well it’s important to cherish those moments. This has always stayed with me and I often think back to those positive moments to help lift me up and persevere, even more so in these challenging times.
Q: Where do you make your work?
I work out of my studio located in Vancouver, BC. It is an old warehouse type space which I share with other artists from a variety of disciplines.
Q: What are you working on at this moment?
This year has changed my plans of participating in an international artist residency. As a result, I decided to take this year to create my own residency in my studio. I am exploring new colour palettes and monotype printing, as well as using new materials on paper and canvas. These past few months in particular have forced me to slow down and focus on what aspects of my practice I want to continue. All of these experiments will inform a new body work for the coming year.
Q: How does your approach to each piece change or stay the same?
With every new piece I make, I always try to apply all that I have learned from the last. There are subtle differences when I look back from the first painting to the last painting in a series. If I can think of ways to make the work stronger, I will try to do it.
I am very much focused on the responsive process of making work. It wouldn’t be engaging enough for me if everything stayed the same. The approach and the work need to evolve over time so that my art practice can progress.
Q: What does your work aim to say?
I have been thinking more about this recently. The essence of my work is drawn from emotion. I think about the differences in how emotions are conveyed and valued in my Chinese upbringing while growing up in the Canadian culture of Vancouver. In my experience, emotions are not talked about in Chinese culture. Emotions can be considered disruptive—it’s more acceptable to show emotional restraint. There is a focus on being in balance, but I felt that it was hard for me to sustain a balanced emotional state all the time.
Painting has become my way to articulate that tension around emotions and express what I have had to keep to myself most of the time. Ultimately, I want people to feel something from the work.