Between Nurture and Nature
(Amatoritsero Ede in conversation with Artist, John Kinsella)
Amatoritsero Ede: How did you begin your artistic journey?
John Kinsella: First of all, I would like to thank you, Amatoritsero, for this amazing opportunity to tell you and your readers about my paintings and poems.
Nature plus nurture; I was born into an artistic family. My father was a plasterer/poet/writer; my mother painted murals on the bedroom walls; and all four of my siblings are artistic. As a child, I expressed myself in any medium I chose, including writing, painting, music, etc. Growing up in such a creative environment, I just thought that is what everyone did. My home was a very supportive environment to be a creative person, and making pictures is something I have always liked doing.
A.E.: What inspired your ‘Algonquin Paintings’?
J.K.: Nature’s restorative power. All through my childhood years our family vacation consisted of a two-week camping trip somewhere in the beautiful forests of Southern Ontario. For many years my father chose Algonquin Park as the place we would visit, explore and commune with nature. Fresh air, wildlife, lakes and trails were abundant, and by the end of our two week stay the stress of everyday life would fall away and the natural rhythm of the park would replace it. A calmer more peaceful countenance would prevail. Now I am a father and, for the past few years, have visited Algonquin Park with my own family. I have enjoyed the process of discovery all over again through the eyes of my children. Although I am experiencing the park with fresh eyes, I cannot help but be thrown back to the days of my own youth and realize the incredible impact this place has had upon me. Whether canoeing, swimming, hiking, fishing or sitting around a campfire, images of this landscape exist as a backdrop in my minds eye and have become a benchmark to which all landscape is compared. For me, my painting acts as a reminder of the wonder, power, and beauty of Algonquin Park and of a time of innocence in the landscape of Southern Ontario.
A.E.: I note that some of your paintings seem to be done in a mix of pointillism and illuminism. How would you describe your work?
J.K.: Yes, you’re right that both illuminism and pointillism painting styles influence my work, as well as many others. The way I see it, my painting style has come from a long and evolving tradition of painting. Imagine a pot or a mixing bowl, and throw in Pissarro, Monet, Seurat, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Caspar David Friedrich, Tom Thomson, Lawren Harris, Colville, Pratt, Motherwell, Bacon and Rembrandt. Stir the pot and, on any given day, the influence of any of these artists’ styles will be more dominant in my painting. I will often start a painting with the intention of making it loose and gestural. As it develops I find myself making finer and finer marks towards the end of the painting, not at all what I originally envisioned. I have to let the painting dictate how it wants to be made…if that makes sense. If I get out of the way, my influences take over and I make decisions about colour, brush size or type of mark on a subconscious level. It’s an exciting process. I never know how a painting will end up and sometimes the result is quite delightful.
A.E.: In how far can you say that your childhood visits to Algonquin Park influenced your becoming an artist?
J.K.: Experience is the best teacher. I would not say that my childhood visits to Algonquin Park were important to me becoming an artist. But they were important to my early understanding of art. Because of my exposure to nature via hiking and camping, the Group of Seven’s images spoke directly to my experience in the local woods. I could understand those paintings and relate to them. Now, 40 years later, I am moved to paint that landscape that Tom Thompson so eloquently captured in his painting.
A.E.: You are also a poet. What is the relationship between your paintings and their accompanying poetry?
J.K.: Paint what you know I have tried to paint subjects that relate to my own personal experience. That is to say, I avoid the idea of roaming the countryside looking for a scene that would make a good picture. In some ways, my paintings are like my journals of places I have been or remember. I will often meditate and an image or memory of a place will surface in my mind’s eye. I use poetry to tag each painting with a sense of my own experience. I use poetry to summon the spirit of the place and evoke a world with smells and sounds, which you can’t get from looking at a painting.
A.E.: Ekpharasis is a form of art in which a poem comments upon and embellishes a work of visual art; is this what you try to do with your poems and paintings?
J.K.: Yes, in some ways. But for the most part I use my poetry as a companion to each piece, forming a diptych. Neither one tells the whole story but together they get a little closer to the essence of the place. I am also careful not to dictate the viewer’s interpretation of the works. I want to leave people enough room to experience the paintings on their own terms.
A.E.: How do you achieve the realism in your painting?
J.K.: Balance is the key. I find painting in a realistic style to be tricky. There is a balancing act going on between too much information and not enough. For me a successful painting will have an even amount of detail over the whole surface. For example, if I sketch the trees in the foreground and concentrate a lot of information in the far shore the painting will look wrong. The background will look like it belongs to a different painting. By creating a unified internal logic, the landscapes take on a sense of realism. If I give viewers enough information, their minds fill in the rest of the information. Not enough information and the painting will look unfinished. It’s a tricky balance. The more I capture the sense of the place I am painting, the more real it appears. When you look closely at the individual elements in the painting they are really quite vague.
A.E.: There is another great Canadian artist in the Hamilton area, I mean Lawrence Hill, the novelist. Can you imagine collaboration down the line, where your visual art would complement his writing?
J.K.: I personally do not know Lawrence Hill, although we do have mutual acquaintances. Of course, The Book of Negroes is an amazing work of Canadian literature. I wouldn’t say no to a collaboration, however it would be a new way of working for me. We would have to find some common ground. It would be an interesting project, now that I think about it.
A.E.: What inspires you, apart from the majestic forest of Algonquin Park and the beauty of nature?
J.K.: The thing that inspires me most is my wife and children. I put my paintings on hold for ten years to be present in their lives and still love participating in their lives. The other thing that inspires me is the work of other artists. I am inspired daily by the amazing artwork I see in galleries, on the internet, on the street, in books on the radio and on TV. This world is one rich ever-changing pageant of colour and beauty reminding me daily to be grateful to be apart of it.
A.E.: Finally, all of us at MTLS thank you for taking the time off your easel to chat with us.
J.K.: It was my pleasure Amatoritsero. I am honoured to be part of your excellent initiative. Being a part of the Maple Tree Literary Supplement inspires me to get back to my easel. If your readers would like to see my paintings in person, I will be exhibiting with three other artists at the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre in July 2015. I will have at least 12 new paintings for this show. They can also contact Focus Gallery in Hamilton, Ontario, or visit my website www.johnkinsella.ca to see my work.