By Paul Gessell
Brandon McVittie is probably best known as the former co-owner of the much missed Artguise, a Bank Street art gallery and shop selling artists’ supplies from 1996 to 2010. Artguise wisely took chances on emerging artists of the day, including Kristy Gordon, Juan Carlos Noria, and Amy Thompson, and in the process went a long way in developing a market in Ottawa for new collectors to acquire the work of young, developing artists.
But McVittie is also an accomplished artist himself. His latest exhibition, Newstalgia, runs from Dec. 6 to 24 at Wall Space Gallery. McVittie is enamoured with the 1940s and so he has taken the themes and aesthetics of that period and added his own contemporary touch to make the old look new.
McVittie was recently interviewed by The Artful Blogger:
When I see some of your images of soldiers or partiers, I can’t help but hear the Andrews Sisters singing boogie woogie in the background. Are you trying to recreate a 1940s aesthetic in these paintings or is something else at play?
There definitely is a 1940s vibe to many of the genre pieces in Newstalgia. Not only can this be identified by the attire of the figures in these paintings, but also with how the compositions have been rendered stylistically and in the colour palette that has been employed. There is the intention that they look and feel vintage while being iconic. The ’40s had such profound influence on the modern era.
Your website more or less says you are trying to make old images new. Why this fascination with the past?
History as a subject has always intrigued me. In fact, all aspects of the bygone interest me and not simply things that are “Art Historical” by nature. The past is hugely important and too often overlooked despite it literally being comprised of EVERYTHING that might serve to inspire us. I am of the feeling that nothing is completely new. Hence, art trends are bound to be rediscovered and, in turn, reincorporated.
If you could hop into a time machine, what era would you like to visit?
I would accept the offer of a test drive in a time machine in a heart beat! It is fair to admit that I’m a huge fan of Terry Gilliam’s film Time Bandits. So, if I could hop in a time machine, I can promise you that I’d rack up some mileage…and good past times. The 1940s notwithstanding, I would visit many eras past and indeed future too. I’d need to see the Sphinx prior to its rhinoplasty issues, Pompeii before the lava mishap, Leonardo painting that ‘guy’ Mona, Van Gogh with two ears… and all stops in between and forward. It’s a time machine after all! I’d gas it up and have it sparkling upon return, of course.
Your landscapes and your paintings of industrial workers seem idealized and romanticized. There is a dream-like quality to them. Are you a romantic at heart?
These idealized and romanticized qualities to my paintings are my homage to forgone style(s). Does this make me a Romantic? I do have a fondness for European Romantic era landscapes: Pastoral skies that are turbulent, back lit, or immense can pack a stirring wallop. I have never actually been “confirmed” a Romantic though. Are there membership fees? I would probably be more of a Nostalgic….
Are your paintings strictly from imagination or do you use actual scenes, people, or photographs as a starting point?
Despite using imagination in constructing themes and settings, my process employs all sorts of references when building a painting. These have been in the form of photos, magazines, posters, old books, and various clippings. Luckily this new fad “the Internet” has helped me to recycle quite a bit of paper chaos that I used to try to organize and file. My initial step when planning a painting is to lay out a collection of visual references that I will then employ as the real starting point, which is a drawing on paper. Once realized, this would be the preliminary to painting on canvas or panel.
Are their certain artists whose work has influenced you?
Yes, indeed, but it is a vast list. I admire Eakins, Sargent, Lady Butler Elizabeth Thomson, and N.C. Wyeth to mention a very few. I continue to be influenced by works from the past because that is my cup of tea. I do tend to gravitate toward late 19th and early 20th century schools of art when taking in a museum collection or skimming coffee table art history books. I am not exclusive to appreciating only painters of the past though, as there are countless contemporary artists hailing from near and far that never cease to impress.
And lastly, do you miss Artguise?
If I had a nickel for every time I have been asked this…I would have a bunch of nickels. I’m happy to answer that Artguise Gallery provided me with a lifetime of terrific experiences and opportunities. It was a really fun enterprise. I’m very proud of it. I was still in my twenties when my business partner Jason Vaughan and myself opened the doors. When we closed up shop in 2010 I was in my forties. I met loads of wonderful people because of it. And if we are discussing history, I often catch myself thinking ‘where did all of that time go’? Artguise attracted many talented artists and art enthusiasts as a meeting place in its years of business. I am moved by the number of people who have told me how sorry they were to see it go. That is such a validating sentiment. Perhaps one day I’ll paint a nostalgic piece inspired by memories of Artguise, but I think it should feature dogs with cigars playing poker as a sub theme…it was in some ways a surreal spot.
Newstalgia is at Wall Space Gallery, 358 Richmond Rd., from Dec. 6 to 24.