Vancouver based artist Les Ramsay and Caine Heintzman discuss knives, anxiety, and making piles.
(Night sculpture with tire, Berlin 2008)
Firstly, I wanted to ask you about growing up. Can you explain how you got into doing art?
Well my father was always working on projects. While growing up I watched him carve and weld these amazing knives in the garage. I think most of my inspiration in terms of creativity come from watching how much energy, time and focus he put into making his work–I hated the yard work but loved hanging out while he carved knife handles and shit. As a child I was always interested in catchy designs and logos, then when I started skateboarding in 1986, many of those designs were burned into my brain. I was always into colouring too. I can still remember the smell of my crayon box from grade one. I remember learning that the blue one colored the sky, the yellow one coloured the sun, and when your crossed them over top of one another that shit made green, WHOA!!! I learned right then and there that colours were something more than just crayons.
Sounds pretty accurate to me. Was your family always supportive of your creativity?
Yes, they were for sure, I mean they did what they could.
So, aside from your “early career”, when did you realize that you were devoting yourself to making art?
It wasn’t until a year or so before I started school at Emily Carr University in 2003 I think when I came to the realization on my career choice.
(oil on canvas, Untitled. 2009)
I’m interested in your origins because it seems to me, that much of the work you make is very strongly tied to the things around you at the moment. Much like skateboarding, your work is very instantaneous. It is best and most original when the immediate environment is utilized.
I had been working on painting and also silkscreening for a few solid years before I got into Emily Carr. It kind of took a really serious ankle injury for me to re-evaluate my career move at that point in my life. Skateboarding, for what it was for me, after the injury, was over. Being sponsored etc. was something special, but it couldn’t go on forever, I knew I needed to choose a creative path, so I committed to going to school.
So the whole while, you were skateboarding, you were also making prints and painting, then the injury made you re-evaluate where your skateboarding career was going. How, if so, did the school environment affect the creative process for you?
School changed a lot of the way i looked at the entire world i think. I went back to school 10 years after high school. it was finally time for me to be serious about something else in life. Committing to going to an art school was ideal for me. School made me shift gears in terms of not only what sort of art I made, but how I made it, and why. I never really thought of my own art like that before.
So you became more critical of what you were making?
I was quite fond of the most arbitrary combinations before I went to school. I sort of figured out a lot of after I went to school.So ya, I became way more critical. I felt a creative push from some of the teachers I had at Emily Carr and the facilties were mind blowing. The content involved in my earlier work was maybe a bit immature.
(Digital collage of The Cubist Painters by Guillaume Apollinaire, 2009)
Your pieces are very cohesive, despite being made of seemingly arbitrary things. Is there reasoning in your material choices?
I started reading about many of the artists who I found amazing. They all wrote about themselves, and one another. They had amazing conversations that took just every aspect of art and life so fucking serious. That is when I figured out that I better get a move on in terms of catching up with the years I lived unaware of how serious I may one day take art.
Of those whom you read about, who would you say has had the most profound effect on you in terms of their/your practice?
I think that the motivation seen in Rauschenberg’s work really rubbed off on me, to see how prolific an artist can be, you know? So, not just to say I really love his work, but I think his work ethic, and his romantic relationship with color and form really had/has something to do with how and why I work the way I do. I think I’m just a big sappy sucker, like a romanticist of the way the artist of the 60’s worked and why, or even further back to the Impressionists…
(Triple Whammy, assemblage, 2007 )
Sappy Sucker? How about a sensitive tough guy?
Like pro wrestling?
(Ha ha) Well, I haven’t seen what they are churning out these days…I was going to say, I recently looked at your web page and couldn’t believe how much work you’ve made recently.
I have what I have been calling production anxiety–I have this never ending urge to always be making something, or planning to make something.
(Install view of “Road On The Again” solo show in Victoria at the 50-50 Gallery, June 2009)
Do you think it is a bad thing to have that anxiety? I think many people get it, it is just that not everyone follows up so well. It does seem natural, like to us it is a driving force in our work…
I think its something I suffer from , but it mostly seems to affect the people around me more than it does to me.
It was finally nice to see all the cigarette pack pieces that you were working on in Berlin. It allowed me to reminisce about living in Berlin last summer. How did you like Berlin?
Berlin was amazing!
(Daytime Sculpture, Berlin 2008)
What would you say was most memorable about being there?
Most memorable was how accessible so much art was there, museum,gallery, and street wise. For me, being out of my element is my favorite, in terms of travellinging experience.
Not so great for the skating however…
Berlin was not so good for the skate, no, ha ha. I think for me, being in Berlin, and surrounded by so much art in a city, made me very anxious to make work immediately. Although at the same time, I was relaxed because I was on my own private vacation, for art and for my career. I think I would be twice as productive if I were to move there (or somewhere else in Europe) again for a while, for sure. I could only hope next time to be able to rent a studio space so I could make work that was bigger than my desk in that room. I think the limitations of having no studio gave my work a new direction in terms of photography and how I use photo.
( Flags in the studio, 2007)
Would you consider those to be studies for later bigger ambitious projects…a sort of period of gestation?
I have actually based a painting series on the x cut cigi packs.
Oh yeah, and the piles.
Ya, the public stacking of stuff began to take over the place of my studio work in Vancouver. Building sculpture stuff in my studio turned into piling stuff from the street, and using photo to get the end result. I switched things up a lot, and didn’t really realize to what degree I did this until I got back home to Van.
It’s kind of hard to bring back a pile of scraps, or justify shipping or storing them. The photo definitely is an economical approach. Plus a photo is worth around a thousand words, right? And it can be uploaded, so…
(Sculpture That Holds One Potato 2009)
Do you have any plans of going back to Berlin, or Europe anytime soon?
I am in the FUTURE!!! So far I have planned to go back to Europe in the spring–maybe Brussels, maybe Berlin. Probably Berlin to find an apartment for a bit and travel from there. I figured its a pretty sweet home base in Europe.
Are you showing anytime soon? Where can people see your work?
I’m going to be showing at 107 Shaw Gallery in T Dot Oct 29th, gonna’ fly there too. Bought my ticket.
Thanks so much Les, stoked to have you on for this issue.