Interview with Artist Toni Hamel

Ella
9th July 2018

We interviewed artist Toni Hamel to get a small inside look into her artistic process. Hamel, who is based in Toronto, describes her work as “an illustrated commentary on human frailties”. Her pieces tend to narrate the peculiar behaviour in humans and attempts to alert the viewers about the repercussions of our current actions and behaviours.

Can you tell us a bit about your practice and give us your background?

My art practice currently focuses on painting and drawing. I have dabbled in sculpture and installation in the past and I hope I'll get a chance to do so again in the future. As far as my background is concerned, my formative years were spent in Italy where I studied Architecture and later received a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Once I moved to Canada, I expanded my studies to include Computer Graphics and eventually Psychology. Although I worked in other creative fields for most of my professional life, I kept on practicing the craft in my spare time knowing that one day, when I felt I'd be ready, I would enter the world of Fine Arts on a professional level. Such time came about 15 years ago.

I'm a late bloomer as you can see, but I'm convinced that entering this field later in my life has had its benefits. The many years spent practicing in obscurity and away from public view has had welcome implications, in fact: if on one hand it afforded me a clarity of thought/direction and self-assurance in my own voice, on the other it has allowed me to achieve a refinement of execution that I don't think I possessed in the past.

Vanitas (2012) 
19.75 x 27.5 inches 
graphite, watercolour, acrylic jewels on paper
 

Do you feel you have a clear creative process? Or is this something more fluid?

I'm methodical to a fault when it comes to art-making. My method nowadays has become quite formalized and structured - I find that I'm at my best when I follow routines. I usually start my day by drawing thumb-nail sketches while I let my mind roam free, welcoming cognitive associations and improbable  juxtapositions. To stir up the creative juices, I may listen to songs by Leonard Cohen or Fabrizio De Andre for example: beautiful poetry accompanied by soulful music. I find that their words stimulate my mind and allow me to conceive visual juxtapositions that are always interesting and novel.

Some mornings are quite fruitful whilst others may not be as rewarding, nonetheless this process is always worthwhile and it has now become an activity  that I entertain even when I travel or I'm away from my studio for extended periods of time.

The heist, 2017
oil & alkyd on cradled panel
24 x 24 inches

Where do you draw inspiration from? More broadly and day to day, is this different?

Since I need structure and routine to function well, each day progresses pretty much in the same way: sketching sessions early in the morning and easel time for the rest of the day.

My inspiration comes from life in general: from what I see, what I read, what I'm exposed to. I am a keen observer of nature and humanity and I try to be involved in both as much as I can.

I'm an avid documentary watcher and a news junkie. I read poetry and political essays: the first feeds my soul and lifts my spirit, the other pulls me back and keeps me grounded.

Opening night (2016)
24 x 24 inches
oil on canvas
 

How do you avoid falling into automatic mode? What routines do you find helpful in keeping your creative side stimulated?

When I feel 'stuck', discouraged or need a push to get my creative juices flow, I'll take a break from studio time and change my environment for an hour or so. I might go for a long walk with my dogs, I might take my sketchbook to a coffee shop nearby, or I'll dip into my bookcase and look at the work of other artists. I have an extensive library of artists' monographs and I find that looking at their work sometimes it gives me the motivation and reassurance I need to carry on with my own. Also, when I am dissatisfied with a particular work in progress, I've learned to put it away for a while and return to it at a later date. Looking at the same piece with fresh eyes allows me to see it more objectively. Also, I tend to work on multiple pieces at the same time. I have four easels in my studio and each has several canvases stacked one above the other, all at different stages of completion. When I need a break from one I'll move onto another.

Venice is sinking (2012)
72 x 48 inches
oil, ink, latex paint on panel
 

Why is creativity important in your role, what environment does it best thrive in? Do you need a quiet space or loud music? Do you need to be alone to be productive? 

I see creativity as the ability to look at the world (either the inner- or the outer-type) with novel eyes and propose original interpretations/ ideas based on such observations. It is an asset that is valuable in any setting but, of course, it's especially so in the artistic field.

Since my work is mostly the product of internal dialogues I conduct within myself, I need to be alone to carrying it out. I might listen to soft music like jazz or classical or I might sit in complete silence so as to better listen to my inner voice. I find that when my senses are over-stimulated by loud music or the presence of other people I tend to feel overwhelmed and therefore I'm unable to focus. As you can see, my practice is quite a solitary undertaking.

The aviary (2016)
15 x 22 inches
oil on Arches oil paper
 

What did you want to do as a child?

 Exactly what I am doing right now. It's been a long and a time arduous road but persistence, dedication and perseverance eventually led me exactly to where I've always strived and hoped to be. It's been a blessing thus far and I hope I'll be able to continue on this path for the rest of my life.

Can you tell us about something you have coming up? 

I am not sure what the future has on hold for me. I'm currently working on the series "High tides and misdemeanors" which is a sequel to "The land of Id" body of work which has proven to be quite successful. Recently I have been sketching ideas for a new series and I hope I'll get to work on it soon.

The watch (2017) 
24 x 24 inches 
oil and alkyd on cradled panel
 

I thank you very much for your interest in my work and for this opportunity to speak about it. For more information and updates please visit http://www.tonihamel.net or follow me on social media:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tonihamel_artist/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/toni.hamel.artist/

Toni Hamel is represented by Ingram Gallery