Lina Vandal, studio visit in Montreal

It was a wild and crazy rainy afternoon when I made my way up to Lina Vandal’s studio. I had just been to a great Montreal book store Mona Lisait and was carrying a large bag of second hand French novels to haul back with me to BC and my trusty rain slicker kept me dry as I hopped puddles and tried to outrun a downpour.

I knocked on the door at 5334 and a nice young woman answered BUT it was not her. I checked the address I had been given and she was so sweet, asked me to come in and have some tea anyway and dry out. I declined her kind offer and phoned Lina and we figured out I was just on the wrong side of the street at 5333 instead of 5334. Now taking the elevator to the 6th floor made some sense after all!

Lina is an very attractive tall slim woman with lovely long grey hair and bold tortoise shell glasses. Being a fellow glasses wearer since age 6, I always notice nice ones. She welcomed me into her large airy studio which is in a partly converted old textile building in the Mile-End area. The top picture shows her modelling for an absolute knockout fashion jewelry line by building neighbor Montreal designer Anne-Marie Chagnon whose work I have a few pieces of and covet many more. The building reminded me a bit of my father’s garment factory Pauli way back in 1970’s when Montreal was very much a fashion design and manufacturing center. The wind whistled and screamed past the big single pane windows which make for a very chilly winter and a very hot summer! Such extremes!

For three years now she has been in this studio space that she rents from Yves LaRoche, a local gallerist she was lucky to meet. I visited his gallery a few days earlier which was showing some very inventive cardboard sculptures by Laurence Vallieres.

The walls were hung with large canvases nailed flat onto the wall. She works in acrylics and these are the smooshy colorful backgrounds for her current body of work from which faces or bodies will later emerge. She leaves a good 3 inch border to allow for stretching onto wood later and bare wooden stretchers line the hallway like gentlemen callers waiting to pick up their beautiful girlfriends who are still putting on their makeup and getting dressed inside.

She uses different techniques but for her current production, she draws faces with charcoal and then gets those sketches scanned and printed out in large format and resolution on large sheets of bond paper. Later these will be image-transferred onto the painted backgrounds with acrylic medium and the paper backing will be removed. This can create some interesting accidents and a nice scratchy, dark image with a mysterious feeling.

Lina loves drawing from live models and from photographs she takes of them but working from life makes the result much more intense and there is no time to waste when trying to capture what is in front of you. When she works from photography, she tries to put herself in the same urgent and intense state of mind as for living models in order to capture the essence of the model quickly, without thinking too much. She prefers very short poses and the challenge of trying to capture the human form in 30 seconds or a couple of minutes. We both agreed that 20 minute poses is a good format to keep the freshness of a drawing; the model can hold a more complicated pose and the artist has only enough time to make a mad dash at it and try to capture it. Working longer can make it overworked and risks becoming to overly perfect for what Lina tries to convey.

She has four children and several of them have become some of her favorite models, working their way into many lovely pieces over the years.

Even though she does not refer to herself as a portraitist, Lina does some commission work when requested and when the subject is inspiring. She says that her challenge regarding commission portraits, is to remain loyal to her own style and keep a certain freedom of interpretation, while facing the constraint to deliver the likeness. She prefers to take her own photography for that type of project instead of an existing one.

Lina has a background in advertising and after years of jumping through the hoops of clients and trying to hit the market with just the right amount of fish hook to reel them in, she finds that creating artwork is sometimes a bit the opposite of that. Of course you would like to find a buyer for your work but first to be born the work needs to come from your real core essence and spirit. Creating work to please the buyer is not her first concern; she needs to create it for herself first and foremost. The challenge is to find the market that will echo to this singular vision. Also, artists move forward with their work and do not want to be held back in a specific casting; they need to explore, they do not want to copy themselves which in the end leads to a result that lacks life, like a stillbirth. However when success is there, it is tempting to use recipes and repeat ourselves instead of keeping looking for challenges and new ways.

As an example, Lina is gradually moving away from a certain sweetness that was visible in her earlier paintings and that pleased certain buyers. Her current work has a bit of a darker edge and bite to it, like good bitter dark chocolate after sweet milk chocolate. Both are nice but an artist has to stay true to their own direction or risk becoming stuck in a rut. There must be still an element of risk taking or else the work can become wan and pale.

Lina’s paintings are found in galleries in Montreal, Toronto, Thunder Bay, Miami and recently has branched out to Santa Fe.

Artists Lina is inspired by include Jenny Saville for the masterful way she handles flesh and Alex Kanevsky. These two artist names have come up with every artist I have chatted with this week. Others who inspire Lina are Ransome Stanley, Jason Shawn Alexander who she was thrilled to meet in Miami Basile last year, Paul Ruiz, Sophie Jodoin, Jacques Clement, Marie-Josée Roy, Jean Louis Omond, Yoakim Belanger (brilliant new artist whose work I enjoyed this week!) Modilgiani, Lucina Freud, Egon Schiele, Dominique Besner, Rembrandt, Riopelle, Corno, Angela Grossman, Betty Goodwin, Craig Hanna, Lino, Basquiat and Kittie Bruneau. An inspiring gang for sure!

Thanks Lina, good luck with your new works!
Lina Vandal

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