Tuesday, April 8, 2014

a visit with Yael Brotman     

What is your starting point, subject matter or form?
My starting point is always a combination of the two. Every new body of work is an extension of the work that came before it. In the case of Scaffolding, my current suite of paper sculptures, the houses and trailers that I had previously constructed led to an examination of bridges, piers and related abstracted structures. 
The underlying concept continues to look at mediating loci. In Mnemonic Stoop (2010) the houses I constructed mediated between the present and memories of childhood homes – the building blocks of personal identity - and between private and public spaces. The trailers and shacks in Shipping and Receiving (2012), dealt with national identity and our relationship with the wilderness. The trailers were a mediating point between urban comfort and wild landscape. The piers and bridges of Scaffolding (2014) consider our relation to bodies of water – how we cross them or get near them – and also imply the positive and negative aspects of that proximity.

The use of form and materiality develops along with the concept. In the new work, I transform the etched Japanese paper into miniature lumber of various colours and sizes. I also further explore how a straight solid hard-edged piece of foam core can become rounded, curved, softened. So my starting point is two-pronged along an already existing trajectory of an idea.

How has your practice changed with time? 

I began my practice with a parallel interest in drawing and mask making. I made the masks out of handmade felt and later handmade paper. I was trying to bring these two and three- dimensional approaches together without too much success. I found that I could not make the marks I wanted to on the masks. I was then introduced to printmaking that allowed the use of freehand drawing along with the craftsmanship of preparing plates, that I enjoyed.

After many years of etching and silkscreening flat work on paper, I had an epiphany when I tried to recall the layout of my early childhood homes without the use of photographs. That was the beginning of the movement into sculptural paper constructions. But I continue to sketch before I build, and then to draw from the sculptures when they are completed. Drawing, I feel, is the base upon which all else grows.

What is inspiring your practice these days? 

These days I am very conscious of construction sites around the city. I seek out architectural models. And I research architects that I like – Zaha Hadid, Hezog and De Meuron, Frank Gehry. I am deeply inspired by the engineering of complicated structures and by the fine craftsmanship of woodworkers and carpenters. I am also inspired by Froebel, the 19th century inventor of the concept of kindergarten, and his building blocks and ‘Gifts’.

What are you currently reading?

Right now I’ve got a few books on the go. I just finished  Rites of Spring by Modris Eksteins (a social history of the early 20th century looking at music, dance, art and war, beginning with Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes). I am also reading Seige 13 by Tamas Dobozy (very dark) and The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (things are not always what they seem and sometimes you can miss a critical clue and misread the whole thing). I am going to re-read Inventing Kindergarten by Norman Brosterman (about Froebel and his influence on the Bauhaus movement and on Frank Lloyd Wright).

Do you have a studio ritual?

In good weather I walk from my home to the studio. It is a 50- minute walk and provides a time for me to clear my head, look at people’s gardens and plan what I will do in the studio that day. I pick up a coffee on the way – I never make coffee at home because I know I would drink way too much if it was so accessible, My studio is in the basement of 87 Wade Ave, a building full of artists. I can feel the collective creative hum of the place when I arrive. Inside my studio, I turn on the lights and the radio – I listen to CBC 1 and 2 and to the jazz station at different times of the day. And then I begin to work. This year I was on sabbatical and could do this every day. 
What an absolute pleasure!

Thanks for the visit Yael!

Yael's exhibition Scaffolding runs until April 20th at Loop Gallery.

To see more of Yael's studio, check out these video tours: