Two Ontario visual artists describe the value of a life in art
Carla Lucchetta is a writer and editor at TVO.org and producer for The Agenda with Steve Paikin.
To be creative is to see the world on two levels, or as author and essayist Anaïs Nin said, “We write to taste life twice; in the moment and in retrospect.” It’s the retrospective look at life that transforms into art – whether painting, performance, spoken, or written. I engaged two Ontario artists in a conversation about what compelled them to pursue a creative life, what painting and making art brings to their life, and what it means to share their work with others. Knowing a little about the sometimes quirky, sometimes volatile, always joyful practice of creativity, I welcomed a few moments of connection with two like-minded souls.
Susan Gosevitz is an award-winning artist based in Toronto and Muskoka. She is a member of the Ontario Society of Artists, the Society of Canadian Artists, and Artists for Conservation. Her work reflects calming scenes of nature – Muskoka landscapes, rivers and lakes, or wildlife – that provide the viewer a moment away from the chaos of everyday life.
Natalie Wood is a Toronto-based, Trinidad-born multi-media visual artist, curator, educator, and social innovation specialist. Her work shows a commitment to the stories of marginalized communities, a reflection of her queer and Black identities.
TVO: How did art come into your life?
Susan Gosevitz: Through my father. He was an incredible talent. Anyone of his paintings could hang in a gallery anywhere; he was that good. I asked him a lot of questions. I grew up in Burlington, and my high school art teacher was Robert Bateman. And he also taught geography. His influence seeped into my subconscious, and I grew to love—and paint-—landscapes, hills. I joined the art club. Little did I know what was inside of me.
Natalie Wood: My earliest memories of art are from when I was seven or eight. I would draw in math books with grid patterns. I would draw square faces within the grid. I remember doing it deliberately. From there my parents started buying me supplies I could use at home.
TVO: When did you think it would become a career/vocation?
Susan: In 2004, I enrolled in the Toronto School of Art, with no expectations. I wanted to be more familiar with the business of art and to familiarize myself with new artists and materials. It gave me the confidence I needed to finally devote myself to art.
Then in 2010, I was accepted into the Society of Canadian Artists. My art life started to take off after that. From where I sit now, I never, ever, took a course or graduated from art school with any expectation to being recognized by peers. It’s more important to pursue excellence. Along the way I did get awards and sold some pieces but I’m still in pursuit of excellence.
Natalie: I come from Trinidad and my parents at the time didn’t believe in art as a profession. They thought it should be a hobby. When I came here to do my degree at the University of Toronto, I didn’t take art. I took psychology and sociology. Once I finished my degree, I started going to the Ontario College of Art. It wasn’t a university at the time. I was quite fed up with Eurocentric attitudes that saw my people in an inferior light. Whatever we did was not good enough, or wrong. When I went to OCAD I took studio courses. For me, art has always been part of my life. I do agree with what Black writers such as Marlene NourbeSe Philip believe —that art can help liberate how people see themselves. We rely a lot on our creatives to help us navigate some of the pain and help us find a pathway. Art was always part of my life. It’s a profession and a career, but it goes beyond. I see the way I live as an art practice. Even when I’m at George Brown and I’m teaching social innovation for social change. I help people work with their creative strengths to find a way to make the world a better place.
TVO: What does creative practice bring into your life?
Susan: Life—especially during the pandemic—affects an artist’s creativity and you can’t force creativity. I paint in blocks of time. If I’m starting a painting, every spare moment, everything outside of eating and sleeping, I’m in the studio. And I’m uninterrupted by life. When I’m painting, I’m lost in my own internal world, constantly having a dialogue with myself in my head. It’s a mental workout. It’s like doing a math puzzle. But it’s instinctive so it creates a calm in me.
Natalie: It’s a way of expressing myself —a voice that I often don’t have the opportunity to express in any other arena. It’s a compulsion. I’m internally motivated to create the work. I cannot stop myself from dreaming up ways to express feelings. I sometimes experience it as a challenge; I can’t always find the time. My daughter’s 13, so now we have a little more time. When she was younger, I couldn’t do painting, I could only do video. I thought I wasn’t doing anything. I wasn’t putting it out there. But I was always doing something. One of my artist friends would say, “Just make the art, just make it and all else will fall into line.” Now that I have more free time, I can engage with people and I’m now looking at ways to come back into the art community. But yes, art helps me understand who I am in this world and how that connects with others.
TVO: Do you turn to art more often in difficult times?
Susan: Yes. There’s a separation between outside influences when you are one-on-one with a work of art in process. You tune into what you’re creating but everything else is on the periphery. There are boundaries in place that say, “do not cross.”
TVO: Susan, your artist statement on your website reads, “I see art as a collaboration with nature. Together we create the real and sublime in one, providing a return from hectic and stress, from consumption and chaos to meditative simplicity.” How does art do that?
Susan: The world around us can be chaotic —environmentally, politically, all these things. When I first had to articulate what my art was about, I thought about how people feel when they connect with nature, walk through the woods, or when a child is taught the difference between an oak leaf and a maple leaf. When you start paying attention to nature, it’s calming and healing. There’s science that proves if someone in a hospital looks at greenery out of their window, they will heal faster.
TVO: Natalie, I read this in your artist statement: “I am particularly interested in the counter-narratives, experiences and forms of resistance.” What does it mean to you to share the message of your art?
Natalie: It’s a way of liberating, expressing emotion, connecting with community, debunking stereotypical myths. I feel that my art plays that role. As an immigrant artist, the kind of art I do comes from a place where, as a Black lesbian growing up in Trinidad, my stories were not celebrated. I felt oppression from there because of being queer, from here because of being Black. I try to make sure that my art connects with themes of liberation and freedom and not so much revealing the pain of it, but the truth behind the pain.
TVO: Please finish this sentence: Without art in my life …
Susan: Without art in my life, I’d be empty.
Natalie: Without art in my life, I wouldn’t be me. It’s so much a part of me, how I move in the world, how I live, who my community is, who my friends are, and the work that I do.