The wooden boards are the preferred medium for her paintings, abstract gestural combinations of colour, shape, and movement. Sometimes a familiar form may rise up to meet the viewer, something just this side of recognizable, and sometimes not – it largely depends on what the viewer brings with them to the piece.
Many of the boards are completed, some are still in progress – but it can be difficult to tell which, even for Maya Gulin. “It’s hard to determine when it’s finished,” she says with a laugh. More than just a surface to work on, the characteristics of each board become an integral component of the whole piece. It could be the natural trajectory of the grain, the sylvan fingerprints of knots and whorls, or the scuffs and scrapes of rough handling (Maya has always gotten her plywood from the same shop on Granville Island, next door to the former Emily Carr campus where she studied).
Interview by Grady Mitchell
Portrait + Studio Photos by Jennifer Latour
Copy Edited by Tina Shabani
The question of completeness is one Maya still has no answer for, and maybe never will. “I’m trying to figure out what it means for it to be finished.” The closest answer she has is largely based on intuition. Sometimes she’s happy with a piece and simply stops. Sometimes she stops because she feels it taking a direction she’s not interested in following. It’s a question of adding without adding too much, being careful not to degrade the existing marks by making unnecessary new ones.
Partially this is why she works on multiple pieces at once, putting some aside for weeks or even months as she decides what to do with them. “It’s like constant problem solving,” she explains. “Trying to figure out how to fill a space with the best things.” Most of her pieces are spontaneous. “It’s unplanned until it starts to emerge. Then I make a new plan, continuously.” She practices in a stream-of-consciousness way until something grabs her attention.
That spark comes in many forms. “It’s a moment: a texture I’ve never made before, two different colours interacting in a way I’ve never seen, some sort of shape from the way I’ve manipulated the paint. Something that makes me excited when I look at it. I don’t know how to recreate that immediately.”
The only sure way to reach that point is to stop overthinking and begin painting. “I try to experiment with the mark making as much as possible and find something new. I’m not, in life or anything, a planner.” That said, more recently she’s begun approaching pieces with an image in mind. Although still abstract, there are more obvious emergent shapes – a swan in one, a swimmer, arm up in a breaststroke, in another.
Paint is her constant practice, but Maya dabbles in other forms as well, like music and film. Like her painting, her video work is spontaneous. She’ll grab short moments here and there, anything that strikes her, whether a unique character on the street or simply a passing patch of light. Each clip becomes a brush stroke that she collects to make a cohesive whole, overlaid with her own music.
Whatever form it takes, her work all moves toward the same goal, or, rather, feeling. “This speechless sort of feeling,” Maya explains, “like seeing something for the first time.”