Vancouver-based artist Joseph Staples (also known as Office Supplies Incorporated,) was the 2014 winner of the second Contemporary Art Society Emerging Artist’s Prize and Burrard Arts Foundation’s inagural artist in residence this spring. He spoke to us about his experience and tangible ways for communities to support artists.
Tell us a little bit about your practice.
I work in collage using various kinds of printmaking methods to create the images I work with. I’m interested in using single images reproduced many times as raw material for making multiple works. I’ve always been interested in squeezing the most out of these reproductions by making as much work as possible from a single source.
What did you explore during your residency?
All collage is abstract. I find much abstraction is currently related to either geometric shapes and forms using minimal gestures or a maximalist approach somewhere between pattern and randomness. I wanted to make abstract work that was released from photography but still had a connection to the human form and specifically moved away from geometric shapes or Bridget Riley references.
I had found through a series I had worked on for a few years called the Falun series that there were certain cuts and sections that I preferred to work with repeatedly within the same figure. After making a few works along the lines I had previously, I used some of the sections to create outlines; by tracing the shapes I have previously used I now had a type of alphabet I could use to make new work without being tied to the image. This freed me of images while still maintaining a base in the human form.
I created large block prints from sheets of chloroplast and black ink, a sort of monochrome with visual cues relating back to photocopies, grids and a black and white palette I’d used in the past. I used the butcher paper outlines I had traced earlier to cut forms out of the the chlorplast prints. I then assembled these forms into large collages. Without the photo, the work changed to a much more minimal look but for me felt much more complex and closer to abstract expressionism. Agnes Martin is a huge influence and I believe her work led me to many of these discoveries.
What value do you think artist residencies have?
Having a bit of space to make big mistakes and take risks is important. I made a lot of garbage during my residency and explored some stupid ideas. I didn’t think they would be that way but you can’t always tell. I took some video footage of people crossing the street that I thought would relate back to my need to interrupt imagery. Turns out it was just a dumb idea! But I needed to find out.
Physical space in Vancouver is a premium as well. Sometimes you need to make big work. Not always, but some work needs to fill the room a bit and it’s tough in a shared 150 square foot room.
What are you interested in right now?
I think about the report on happiness and community in Vancouver a lot and how that relates to the art world generally and the city specifically. The report and the actions taken after to alleviate loneliness and isolation were sincere but ridiculous.
It’s interesting that anyone would assign responsibility for the public’s feeling of existential angst to government. It also points to a certain level of happiness being acceptable and another being unacceptable. Happiness is a bad metric to define the quality of a person’s life begin with; you can be miserable and have a meaningful life. How many of those people feel their lives are meaningful? How much does art, their condo, eating authentic thai or winning the Stanley Cup contribute to that? It’s an interesting conversation.
What can the community do to better support artists?
Let’s be honest. There are many support systems for artists and they are all important but buying work from an artist whose work you admire is the most important thing you can do. Full stop.
That said, not everyone is in that position all the time. So things like making introductions to friends who do and can buy work, promoting them on whatever sites you use, and picking up a bar tab from time to time counts too.
I think the barriers are very easy to breach between the public and artists. If you see someone’s work you like, email them. Reaching out to artists you like and meeting them in their space is important, for artists and art fans. Every artist has affordable work and that’s where you find the secret gems. They learn to talk about their work in human language and everybody wins.
I think that building owners and realtors could offer temporary empty spaces as residencies between occupancy. It would enable them to show the space 24 hours a day, get the place painted white and cost nothing. Anyone in that position who is interested in setting it up, get a hold of me and I would be glad to help.