Artist of the Month: Michelle Tourikian

 

Michelle Tourikian earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from OCAD University in 2011 majoring in Drawing and Painting. Post-graduation she gained valuable experience and insight as a participant in OCAD University’s 2012 Florence program. Living in Florence, Italy initiated a period of rapid evolution in her work, which began with a range of paintings focused on depicting the emotional distress involved in change, displacement and mortality. Since this development, her work has continued to utilize a mixture of abstraction and figuration in order to visually represent information itself, history, technological advancement and personal spirituality. Traditional materials such as oil paint, canvas, wooden panel, paintbrushes and palette knives collaborate to breathe life into this chaotic alternate plane of existence.

 

1.     Living and working in Florence, Italy clearly had a massive impact on your practice. Can you tell us more about this and the themes you work with; emotional distress involved in change, displacement and mortality?

When I first moved to Florence, Italy to participate in OCAD University’s Florence Program, I had just completed my thesis year at OCAD U and graduated from the Drawing and Painting program. The opportunity to participate in the Florence Program post-graduation was an opportunity to change what I was doing artistically, and I took that chance by the horns. My thesis year at OCAD U was very challenging and rewarding, but by the end of the year, I had found myself creatively stifled. Florence became a vehicle for renewed expression.

Of course, when you move to a new country and city with a language barrier and only a small group of peers, it can be a bit difficult to adjust. My work became intensely personal, focusing on expressing my inspiration and awe at the beauty and history of Florence, my subsequent personal transformation, but also continued feeling of alienation and anxious vulnerability. These notions are explored through the overwhelmed appearance of the figures in my Florentine body of work and the use of imagery of the cosmos. Figures are floating with abstract idea “puffs” swirling around; figures are segmented and transported though rings of matter similar to those of Saturn. The rings of matter represent the emotional burden and discord of having two homes.

Since returning from Florence and developing further as an artist, my current work features images from art history and the natural world transformed through use of computer technology as well as hands-on techniques. While I often compose my images organically or though sketches, I also create geometric forms in my reference photos by inverting the colour, and overlap figures and images of the cosmos through use of my computer. When I translate these images into paint, I tweak the image toward my final vision for the work and play with the textures and content of the piece. As such, my work continues to compare and combine notions of history, technology, nature, origin, and humanity.

 

2.     Why do you choose to work with traditional materials such as oil paint, canvas, wooden panel, brushes and palette knives? Do you ever work with other mediums and surfaces?

I really love working with oil paint because of the extended drying time, which allows you to blend effectively and generate really interesting effects with both brush and palette knife. The colours of oil paint are incredibly vibrant and rich as well, which is useful in creating depth and subtle play between colours. Both canvas and wooden panel are really enjoyable to work on - canvas is great for larger paintings and creating depth, while panel is wonderful for recording precise details and texture.

I do like being more experimental from time to time and incorporating acrylic paint, spray paint and paint pens into my work. I believe that experimenting with your materials and keeping the content of your work fresh is essential to staying creatively stimulated. Acrylic paint also dries much faster than oil paint, which can be a pro at times.

Ultimately, I like being a part of the long-standing human tradition that is painting. It is one of the strange things that define us as a species - we are capable of creating art, music and figuring out our environment through observation and science.

 

Image: Michelle Tourikian, PantherTron3000, oil on canvas, 48” x 60”, 2015

 

3.     What would you say are some of the main contributors that have moved you to the point you are now at in your career as an artist?

My mother and father have both been instrumental in me pursuing the arts. They have been incredibly supportive of my work and goal to become a successful artist. I am eternally indebted to them.

Having a good group of artists around you to keep pushing you and have a dialogue about your work is very important. Being in an environment like that during my thesis year at OCAD U made it clear that having an artistic community is very encouraging and beneficial.

 

4.     Who are your mentors? Has anyone in particular guided you through your process and professional art practice as a whole?

 

My mentors have been my teachers, my friends, my family and my clients. I am constantly learning new things while on the job and getting feedback from others is instrumental in moving forward. While you will always be the one with the final say as to what you will create and pursue, I always love hearing feedback from people - artists, art enthusiasts, anyone really - to see how my paintings are being interpreted.

However, I will name some names. Many of my friends are great artists whose ideas influence me greatly, such as Iskuhi Avagyan (www.iskuhiavagyan.ca) and Megan Ward (www.megward.ca) whom I met through OCAD U’s Florence Program. Sara Pearson (www.sarapearsonart.com), another OCAD U grad, is an incredible painter and wonderful person. My OCAD U professor Michele White was always very informative and mindful of which direction she should push me. I was very grateful for her help and advice.

As for influences outside of my circle, I am a huge fan of Julie Heffernan (www.julieheffernan.net), Alex Kanevsky (www.somepaintings.net/Alex.html), Jean-Pierre Roy (www.jean-pierreroy.com), Erik Jones (www.erikjonesart.com), Nicola Samorì (www.nicolasamori.com), Salvidor Dali, and so many more.

 

5.     What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Keep making things, no matter what the outcome. Do not be put off by failure. If you fail (and you will), do not take it personally and learn from the experience. Those mistakes can become the most exciting part of the work, but if the piece still isn’t working, just paint over the problem areas. Push the piece as far as you can, and see what happens.

Also, keep experimenting and pushing yourself. The last thing you want is to become bored with your own work.

 

6.     How can we learn more and keep up with your latest work?

Please check out my website www.michelletourikian.com to see more of my work and sign up for my newsletter, visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ michelle.tourikian.artist to hear more about what shows I will be in this year, and follow me on Instagram at @mtourikianart to keep up to date with my work. I am currently working on a new body of work for my upcoming solo show titled “The Space Between” at the Aurora Cultural Centre, so look forward to a lot of action on my social media pages.

 

See Michelle’s LaVaLab profile at http://lavalab.ca/artist/353.     

 


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