More than Ordinary Objects: An Interview with Artist David Wysotski
by Anastasia Hare, SG Communications & Development Manager
David Wysotski’s paintings in the exhibition Temporarily Mine at Station Gallery cleverly suggest searching beyond the life-sized renderings of the inherited objects that he depicts, and focusing on their eloquent portrayal. I’m intrigued by David’s use of dark shadows and empty areas in each composition, as well as the titles of his featured works, such as A Life Unfolded, Serving Memories and Left Its Mark.
David’s work also plays with perception; several include real objects amidst the painting of the same things. Hammered nails protrude from the surfaces in some paintings, while actual holes made by a drill punctuate others. My interview with David reveals the ways in which the topic of inherited objects has been a limitless source of inspiration for this ongoing body of work.
AH: Do you ever work abstractly or have you been focusing solely on photorealistic painting?
DW: I’ve been doing nothing but realism lately, for years. My job for the last twenty some years has been a realistic illustrator. I’ve been doing natural science illustration. It’s very tight realism.
AH: Are they mostly textbooks?
DW: Text books, field guides, posters, work like that.
AH: Were you working independently?
DW: Yeah, totally freelance since 1994… and it’s been fun. But I’ve used this tool series as an outlet to get away from my day job, because my day job is so tight, and I wanted to loosen up. And it’s funny, here I am painting all these tools and they’re still rather tight, but they’re a lot looser than my day job work. So it’s been a change, a good change.
AH: Are your textbook drawings mostly botanical, and other natural science?
DW: Natural science textbook illustrations for the most part; all sorts of species.
AH: It makes sense to me then that you’ve turned to tools: inanimate objects and hard surfaces. It’s a different subject matter.
DW: Absolutely. No feathers, no scales, no fur. These tool paintings allowed for new textures. I got to paint wood, metal, and surfaces that I never do with my natural science work…I wanted to use my oil paints again, that I hadn’t touched in many years. I learned about the Open Studio at Station Gallery… and as often as I could, I’d get here on a Monday and get back into my oil painting. At first, I didn’t know what I wanted to paint. My father-in-law had passed away around that time, and he passed on his tools to me. So I had all these new tools, and I treasured them. He was a great guy and he loved his tools. That he chose me to have them was pretty cool.
AH: There’s something so intimate about somebody’s tools too. They carry their marks, like fingerprints and other signs of use.
DW: Not only that, sometimes they carve their initials into the tool. They’re so valuable to the owner that they’ve actually marked them with their name. There’s one tool in particular that started it.
Opening his sketchbook, David shows me an inscription and sketch.
AH: Okay, so that was the first sketch. That’s what started it.
DW: Tools, book 1 of 2. 2009. That’s the first tool of the whole series and it’s because my father-in-law carved his initials, V.W., into the handle. I saw that it was valuable to him. Now I own it. Now it’s valuable to me. It’s a piece of history, and it’s almost a symbol of the man. He used this tool, he treasured it, he valued it; and he chose to pass it down to somebody. He wanted it to be in somebody else’s hands that would take care of it. One day I’ll pass it down to one of my daughters and they can own a piece of that history. That’s what this whole series is about. “Temporarily Mine” is the title of the show. It’s me hanging onto these tools, and not necessarily just me but anybody. When we have an object that we hold onto, that we hold dear and special, you don’t want to just throw it out, you hold onto it. There’s no monetary value to it whatsoever. It’s just an important piece of history, and special, personally. Then you pass it down to the next generation… It might be sold at a garage sale next or given away, or it just might not be treasured anymore, which is fine. We can only do so much for what we value. You pass it down and you hope that its story continues.
AH: By painting it, you’re ensuring that it’s being remembered and honoured in some way. And in turn, what or who it represents.
DW: I’m immortalizing it. My grandfather passed away around the same time as my father-in-law. He had a massive workshop full of tools and I acquired a whole lot. So all of a sudden I’m inundated with all of these special tools, and some of the tools that he had, he had carved his name into as well. So again, they’re special and now it’s my turn to own them. I’ve got a wrench that’s like two feet long and 20 lbs, and broken! I’ll never use it. But because it belonged to him, I have a hard time just throwing it away. So instead, I figured if I immortalize it, and if I do a big painting of it, then I’ve made it last forever.
AH: And you’ve given it a sense of purpose, when it otherwise was a defunct object.
DW: Then I can throw the object away, because I’ve elevated it to an even higher existence.
AH: You also seem to do this through your impressive sketchbook and its level of detail! You even started a new sketchbook for this series. There are sketches, dates and details about the various objects, including tools, plates and lanterns, and lists of your art materials. Is it typical of your process to meticulously record such details?
DW: No, not at all. For my natural science illustrations, I do a lot of research and I fill sketchbooks, but this sketchbook sort of became a treasure on its own because all of these tools have a story. I’ve written the stories in here to what these tools represent…
AH: So these tools that your grandfather gave you are included in this series. What, or whose other tools are there?
DW: It was my father-in-law and my grandfather that started the whole series. Actually, the second painting is of my grandfather’s tool. You had asked if there were other people’s tools in the series, and the answer is yes… When I started painting this series downstairs on the Mondays, people were curious and I’d explain, and they’d say, “Oh, I’ve got something.” And so the next thing I know, people are bringing me in tools that are special to them. And often I’d say, “Wow, that’s beautiful; tell me the story behind it.” And they would tell me the story, and I’d think, “That’s even more special now. I want to paint it.” I’d borrow these tools and paint them, and then return their tools. For seven years I’ve been doing a lot of that as well… I’ve got a lot of tools lent to me from people that haven’t seen the finished paintings, so it’ll be fun to have them at the show so they can see their treasures up on the wall.
AH: It must have been pretty motivating to start this project and receive such interest from others that they want to be part of it!
DW: Yeah, they really did… I have more tools than I can ever paint at this point because so many people are like, “Check this out!”…I’ve got a stack of tools that I’m itching to paint that won’t get done for this show, but for the next show. I’m not done painting tools. It’ll be fun to sort through the collection that I have and keep it going… There are a lot more ways to paint these stories… I have a lot more tools to paint.
A body of work like this reminds us of the long history of still-life paintings, depicting objects not just as they are but as metaphors for life and death, prosperity and expedition. David’s ongoing series prompts us to consider some our own keepsakes and the inherited objects that we’ve been holding onto, and whether we’ve given them the care and attention that they deserve. Are they wrapped up in a box in storage or displayed for others to see and admire, to begin conversations about the stories they hold?