Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 6, No. 4, 2007
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Robert J. Lewis
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Purivs Young
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




It is the rare the artist who can earn his/her living from art and must, therefore, find gainful employment. Lucky are artists who have careers in creative, art related fields; and while many don’t, they still find time and energy to pursue their creative impulses.

I am a member of AXIAL, which is a group of eight dedicated, hard working artists. We get together once a month to critique one another’s work, discuss the many subjects and issues that are usually only of interest to artists, share gallery and exhibition news, and round out the meeting by sharing gourmet tidbits and the wine supplied by each member of the group. At our last gathering, lulled by good company and good wine, I realized that we had all taken time out of our very busy lives, rescheduled meetings, commitments to family, and regular jobs to be with like-minded people who share a passion for making art. Most of our members work or have worked at other professions, while simultaneously creating and exhibiting their art work.

William Kinnis, in his 80s, and Dominique Mousseau Tremblay, in mid career, are members of AXIAL, and are both examples of overachieving artists. Despite our popular lament about the lack of time for family sit down dinners, no time to exercise or read a book -- the list is endless – we do what artists must do: find the time and energy to pursue our passion. Dominique has found time to do all of the above and much more. He is the newest member of AXIAL and I asked him to share some of his insights about managing a career, family and his prolific art production since time management is a frequent subject for discussion among working artists.

I begin with an interview of Dominique Mousseau Tremblay and then, in his own words, William Kinnis recounts his remarkable life in art.

LYDIA SCHRUFER: Dominique, tell me a little bit about your background; where did you go to school?

Self portrait © Dominique Mousseau TremblayDOMINIQUE MOUSSEAU TREMBLAY: Our nomadic family moved a lot. From the luminous and luscious East-Africa, where I was born, to the dark, cold and sombre city of Ottawa where I daydreamed through elementary school. From the Rideau canal, we moved to the heights of Ste-Foy, a suburb of Québec city where I “completed” my secondary school stumbling from grade to grade; I was more interested in playing every sport I could handle, especially hockey. Art wasn’t on my mind until my CEGEP years. Didn’t even know you could make a career selling your own art. Came back to Ottawa, subscribed to a commercial art course at Algonquin College, completing the program back in the Québec City area at Limoulou College. Moving to the next level, I obtained a Baccalaureate in “Communication Visuel” at Université Laval. It wasn’t what I was aspiring to but, I admit, I gave in to peer pressure. I then found work as an illustrator and designer for several publicity agencies.

© Dominique Mousseau Tremblay

LS: I know that you have an eleven year old son and are working; can you tell me a little bit about how much time you have to devote to your responsibilities.

DOMINIQUE MOUSSEAU TREMBLAY: Life changed course when my son was born. Years before his birth, I had quit my profession to fulfill my big dream, living as an artist. At least trying hard to make it in Montréal. Part time day jobs provided for necessities and art expenses. La vie de bohème. But when my son was announced, anxiety got hold of me. My life as a bohemian wasn’t going to be enough to offer decent place for him. I didn’t have the kind of ego that would let me forget my responsibility to my son. I stored the paint brushes, paints, canvases, papers, and frames and went back to school to study graphic computer design. That was the big thing then when software was starting to be more user friendly. Another diploma later, I took a job, with a regular pay check, as an infographe. I then bought a modest home, and organized my life around parenting. To facilitate the task, my employers, Dieu merci, let me work from home.© Dominique Mousseau Tremblay

I now have my son in garde partagé, making it much harder to find time for art projects. Transportation between houses, being the main activity.

LS: Have you always made time to work at your art?

DOMINIQUE MOUSSEAU TREMBLAY: Even if I stored my art tools, I always found ways to produce work. In smaller dimensions, on paper, using pencils, watercolours and oil pastels. They were fast to produce. The knowledge of computers and software opened a whole new world for creating digital art. The purchase of a camera was a marvellous and handy instrument to capture ideas, moments. Storing the pictures on hard drives made it easy to archive the images by themes for future use.

LS: You are an experienced prolific artist. What was the most difficult aspect of balancing your various commitments? Were there times when you felt overwhelmed?

DOMINIQUE MOUSSEAU TREMBLAY: The love of my son made it easy for me. It was natural for me to take care of him. I never felt overwhelmed. Educating a child is an added experience to my life. I didn’t want to miss having a child and thereby see the world from a wider lens. Through his eyes are reflections of another space to discover. I know that I will open that storage room, install the equipment to produce larger and more flamboyant work once the boy grows up.

LS: Do you draw inspiration from your family and career?

© Dominique Mousseau TremblayDOMINIQUE MOUSSEAU TREMBLAY: Inspiration comes from everything and everywhere. Going back to your previous question, if I’m overwhelmed by something it’s inspiration. It surges from many sources. Sometimes I think it’s too much of a good things: from family to lovers to people on the streets. Moods, atmosphere, other artists, music, architecture, urban and rural landscapes -- all these elements enrich my vision.. International politics weigh heavily on my mind and also find their way into my art as does climate change, injustice and poverty. I love to explore the wide spectrum of mankind’s often strange behaviour.

LS: Do you have a favourite place or time in which you find it easier to make time for your art work?

DOMINIQUE MOUSSEAU TREMBLAY: Recently I was caught up at the US border coming back to Canada. Since 9/11, agents are more vigilant and ask more questions, make you open your trunk and generally take their time; there were fifty cars were in front of me. So I took out my pad and started drawing and before I knew it, “Anything to declare?” I was in Canada. I can sketch in buses, metros, even while biking, but the best place to work is still at my parent’s cottage in Vermont by lake Champlain. The cottage looks east towards the Adirondacks. That’s my favourite place, at around 5 in evening when when the sun reflects on the lake and spreads endless panoramas served on a golden platter. These are the unique moments that need to be seared onto paper and into memory.

LS: Besides good health and remarkable stamina, do you have any advice about how to manage a career, family and art?

DOMINIQUE MOUSSEAU TREMBLAY: Anxious as I am, I need to be autonomous and free of the obligation to sell my art work for a living. I don’t want to rely on any government or family to manage my life. I also refuse to pin my hopes on any eventual art success. A career gives me peace of mind and the reassurance to care for the ones I love. As for art, well it’s always there, it’s in everything I do. I’m always guided by the impulse to create art.

* * * * * * * * * *

© William KinnisThe impulse to create is also what drives William -- Bill to his friends -- Kinnis. In his own words: “For three years, beginning in 1940, I was able to attend an art school in Vancouver; and for the first time in my life being a student wasn’t fearsome. The very thing I had a talent for was made available and I grabbed the opportunity because the little town I grew up in didn’t offer much in the visual arts. B. C. Binning and Jack Shadbolt were two notable teachers at the school. My parents had looked into the possibility of my going to London to study, since I had relatives there but the outbreak of war made that impossible.

“By 1943 I’d learned enough to get work in an aircraft plant, making illustrations of aircraft parts, but by the end of that year I was in Ottawa with the National Film Board in the graphics department. What I learned at the NFB about the commercial arts would later stand me in good stead in Montreal. Life in the war-time capital was interesting in that I worked on war propaganda and on a social planning project for peace. I married Gladys, a writer, in Ottawa and arrived in Montreal in the spring of 1947. I was employed at a printing plant, but I was also painting and getting to know other artists, one of them being Louis Muhlstock. © William Kinnis

“Once a week we had the use of an old architect’s studio building on Beaver Hall Square, where we would draw from the model. Great times we had! We used the space for several years, and then Gladys and I took it over and lived there for six or seven years until it was torn down. Surviving in the city wasn’t easy but we managed to keep a certain amount of independence and in 1949 I gave up the printing job to go back to school. I justified the decision by saying I’d learn to paint murals instead of sitting at a desk. At the Museum of Fine Arts School, I had two teachers, Jacques de Tonnancour and Goodridge Roberts, whose work appealed to me. Their character and personality had a strong effect on me as a painter. During this time Gladys was working and earned a BA in social work.

“At the end of the year at school Arthur Lismer told us; “Don’t figure on making a living at painting. Teach . . . teach the great unwashed.” I began teaching, as many were doing: Alfy Pinsky and John Fox among them, and one of the perks was being able to use my studio for a while. I soon began giving regular classes at the YWCA and at other places around the city, and since most of the classes took place in the evening I did some free-lance work such as touching up photographs. Gladys worked at several agencies and later at the Allan Memorial Hospital after earning an MSc. on a bursary.

© William Kinnis

“Summer months of 1952 were spent in the country at a cottage in Baie-St.Paul, which two art school friends had built themselves. We were so enthralled with their life style that the following year we decided to build our own cottage. Teaching and free-lance work allowed me the freedom to be away from the city during summer and prices of land and materials were very reasonable. By saving during the year and finding a tenant to take over the studio we were able to stay at the cottage for some time every summer. I’ll never forget our days living in a most scenic part of Quebec, and although we never did have electricity or water piped in, we did have a small river and we were young and didn’t mind living a bit rough.

“One day Goodridge Roberts was visiting and we were going out to paint. I headed for the car but he had turned in the other direction and set up his easel, quite satisfied with a subject that I passed almost every day. It turned out to be one of his best works and I learned that one doesn’t have to go far -- the subject is right before you.

“By the sixties we had four children and our directions were changing. We were both to have full time jobs and a shorter commute to a summer retreat. Two art directors at The Gazette helped me from the earliest times by taking me on staff after each summer, which for the twenty or so years that I worked there allowed me to draw a pension when I retired. We also bought a summer house in Sutton, much closer to Montreal, and we’ve spent summers there ever since. Needless to say I didn’t get as much painting done during those years, but I did continue to teach art, including a period teaching drawing at Concordia University’s continuing education program while exhibiting in Toronto, Windsor and Hamilton. My Paintings are part of collections in Canada, USA, England and Australia. I’ve also continued exhibiting solo or in group shows since the 1950s and am still doing so. My work has changed and evolved and since 1984 after a session at Sayde Bronfman School, I learned to love acrylic paint which I have been using ever since. My work has become more abstract and now allows a complete reliance on an inner resource that I hadn’t been using to its fullest. I feel more pleased with the results.”

Thank you both, Dominique and Bill, for taking yet more time to share some of your thoughts with me, and all the other dedicated overachievers, in all the creative fields from painters to poets. Take a bow and pat yourselves on the back and keep creating.

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