In the Middle of Taryn Walker's World
Odd little creatures springing out from the depths of the blank canvas, creating mischief and growing from each other; Taryn Walker’s artwork brings a sense of intrigue and curiosity, such that you can’t help but feel a sense of childlike joy. The simplicity of the black outlines allow the eyes to fully take in both the individual creations and the full installation at once.
While in Victoria, it’s hard to miss these creatures even in a tucked away alley mural on Fort Street. Here & There met up with Revelstoke-native artist Taryn Walker in Market Square to enjoy the West Coast sunshine and talk about her creative process, where she finds inspiration for her creatures and of course, life on the island – Vancouver Island, that is.
Aleyah Solomon: I saw your mural in an alley off of Fort Street which really stood out to me, and I immediately checked out your Instagram. Murals seem scarce in some areas, do you find that more murals are popping up around the city?
Taryn Walker: Yeah, probably in the last few years there has been a surge of murals happening. There are definitely some pretty awesome muralists around.
Where in the city would you see most of these murals?
Rock Bay is an area where there are tons, mostly because there is a mural festival and the city of Victoria funds many murals every summer that go into that area. It used to be just an ugly, industrial area so…
That sounds similar to Wynwood in Miami, it was a very industrial area and now it’s Wynwood Murals which is a huge world-wide known festival.
Totally, yeah, there is the mural festival, Concrete Canvas every summer now and it’s cool because it has brought a lot of interesting artists from all over the world.
Will you be participating in the festival this summer?
Sadly I won’t be able to and I was too busy with installations last year as well.
Last year, I worked on six installations within eight months or something like that. And to be honest, I burned myself out a little. I also made my first ever large scale wall drawing last January and all of a sudden, I was booked from May to October. It was amazing, but also a massive learning curve – from never doing something like this before to all of a sudden be doing it all the time. After October was done, I had to step back and take a breath. I was feeling a bit fried - both physically and mentally to be thinking of that much content in such a short period of time.
How long does it take you to complete a mural - for Introspective Decay, how long did that piece take you to complete?
Introspective Decay was for my grad show. In June 2018, I graduated from the University of Victoria’s visual art program and was very lucky that they allowed me to paint inside the building. It was an amazing opportunity because I was really able to take my time with it – it took me 56 hours in total to complete. I quickly realized that because of time constraints and my own personal work schedule, I was never going to have that much time to work on something again. But, I have come up with solutions for working around that, for really knowing what I am doing ahead of time and asking for help, as well. That was a big one for me.
Yeah, that is huge. A lot of people struggle with that because we don’t want to admit we need help but sometimes - most times - it is okay to ask for help and it doesn’t take away from anything.
Yeah, for sure. I think, at the end of the day, it’s still my vision and I am not ashamed of asking for help and I know within three days, there is just no way I could get everything done by myself.
When you have a mural to do, someone commissions you and you know the size of the space in advance, how do you start that process of creating the full size artwork?
It really depends on who is commissioning the mural. I have had multiple situations where someone has had a very specific idea that I have had to work within and create around, and other people have offered a wall saying I can do whatever I want, which is the ideal situation because you have a big blank canvas.
I always begin in Illustrator as I still think of my mural work as an extension of my drawing practise. So, I always start with drawings and then I take the dimensions of the wall I am working on and put those into Photoshop. From there, I am able to piece together all these drawings onto the wall and can play around beforehand and see what fits and what doesn’t or if I need to add more parts to it. I will always print out a master sketch and work from that.
When I did my piece, an Introspective Decay, I was projecting the drawings onto the wall and working that way which was really great, honestly, if I could work that way every time, I would! It makes it feel so effortless and I don’t even need to think about what I am doing, really, you just go go go and fill it all in. But, since then, I have had to work in alley spaces, or walls that are right on the sidewalk where it’s not possible to bring a projector in so, these pieces are done free hand, which is a challenge. It’s a mind warp, you just have to do, from your head what gets done with a projector and the computer, in terms of scaling things up and spacing them out and multiplying the scale by like one hundred. But I found what has really helped me is making sure that my computer mock up is very accurate. I often take a photo of the wall itself and put all the drawings on top so I can see, oh there is a pipe there, this one needs to be two feet away from the pipe and I can compose around the actual architecture of the building.
Walking around the city, I have noticed there are a lot of stucco walls. Do you find this affects your murals?
I have worked on a combination of buildings out here, and there are a lot of concrete ones which is really easy because they are essentially flat, but I remember my first stucco wall, which I had never thought about before, but it is not flat. A big part of my work is being technically precise so getting those straight edge, direct lines and on a stucco building, you need to just accept and let go. So, I just have to work with it and allow it to do what it will do. It’s been a challenge but I really love letting the drawings work with the architecture. For example, flies are a really big component, kind of motif in my art and I love having them come out of things, in the building, really playing around with them kind of being a part of that space.
Yeah, so using the space and adding to it rather than disconnecting it from the environment. It works because it gives the space more character.
I love thinking about the sense of discovery - of walking through a space and finding things in the work and that was something that I really got to play around with for the first time with Introspective Decay. It was thinking about my drawings as larger than life but also scaling things down to fit into the space and come out of corners, and all sorts of stuff.
You create a lot of characters and you use a lot of nature mixed with human elements. Where does your inspiration come from? What is the concept behind it all?
That is a really hard question. I listen to a lot of music and audiobooks while I work, and sometimes, when I hear a lyric or a sentence that is a play on words, I begin to imagine what that looks like. I love the idea of narrative and story-telling. That is a very important part of my work because at the end of the day, drawings are telling you something, they are hieroglyphics or depicting what you can’t put into words and I love this idea of being in the middle of the story. I feel like all my drawings take place in the middle. I love this idea – the one I mentioned before with the architecture of the space and stumbling into something – I think about that a lot and the narrative and imagery as well, kind of walking into this story, where you are in the middle of it and the viewer has to really read into it and figure out what might be going on, but you don’t know the middle or the end. I think when we look at an image of a flower, or a gesture, I think something different will come up for every person.
I am also playing into those personal narratives that we have – what does this mean to you? And who are you right now, what is your story and how can you integrate yourself into this. I really believe the drawing and the viewer are really interconnected and kind of sharing that story. Art is so subjective and I don’t want to tell anyone what it is, but it is so interesting when the personal story of the viewer and the story I have created come together and meet in the middle. I also just love gardens!
Haha well I think you have to if you live here! The gardens are amazing here!
Yes, and I love the idea of within a garden is this cycle of life erupting; you have all these flowers and trees and everything, but it’s very much a part of forest and gardens to decay and for plants to die so they can give life to new plants. And when people see bugs they see something very sinister but I work to capture something beautiful there. How a swarm of flies can be very poetic.
Do you find that really difficult when your mural is painted over?
I don’t really get sad about it. My first really large one, Introspective Decay was up for a week and then I had to paint over it myself. It was weirdly satisfying. It almost plays into themes that my art looks at – things are very temporary and everything is a cycle. The fact that a lot of these large pieces are temporary feeds into that as well. It’s in the middle, it’s a fleeting moment and it almost fuels me to be excited about the next thing, too. I feel like some of us artists, we really get locked in on one thing but when you destroy it, you have to keep going. And I also make the effort to document everything really well.
I notice you do a lot of line drawing and then recently you started using more colour. Is this something we will see more of?
I have been playing around with thinking about colour a little bit more. I think part of it is from dabbling in street art and there are so many amazing muralists out there using all the colours of the rainbow which is pretty incredible. That is one I did from my computer which is something I am exploring more as well – using my tablet and layering textures and playing with duplicating things which is harder to do on paper. ■
Taryn Walker’s latest exhibition Sentiments of a Swarm at Arc.Hive Gallery in October 2019.