Peek into the partially real, partially imagined world of Barkley Towers at artist Sara Guindon's new show that opens Saturday night. The artist creates beautiful, cartoon-like depictions of characters in everyday situations that all revolve around an apartment complex she lived in when she was growing up in Ontario.
The show opens with a reception that runs from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, September 8 at Groundswell Gallery. In advance of that, we spoke with Guindon about Barkley Towers and her penchant for portraying the ordinary in extraordinary ways.
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Westword: Where did the idea for the show come from? Sara Guindon: I did a little zine of drawings before, and I basically wanted to expand on that more. I usually draw things that are kind of everyday situations, and for the show I just wanted to give it a context and sort of a base. So I decided to base it on this community of people that's made up, sort of from memories that I had as a child. It's just kind of a big mix of things, so I've created scenes and made drawings of them.
So you draw from your real life?
A little bit. I don't want to say that it's all from real life, because really I'll pick a memory out that's funny to me or interesting and I'll just create a scene. It's usually a pretty mundane kind of situation, like some people sitting down having dinner or people staring at something. It's just really ordinary situations, but I like to think that I make them more interesting by just really getting detailed and focusing in on the situation and maybe adding some drama, sort of like scenes from a movie.
What attracts you to depicting ordinary situations?
I guess it's sort of mixed up with a bunch of different things. I definitely have always been drawn to nostalgia and memories. I like older things. I just like people and everyday situations. When I'm walking or taking the bus or going to the store I just like people, I like the way people are in their everyday kind of way. I just have always been attracted to regular situations and I've always drawn people a lot. So I think somewhere from that I've just ended up doing that.
What's your art background?
I went to school in Montreal and I actually left school. I was in art school, and I just wasn't very focused. I wasn't making anything; I was all over the place. I knew I could draw, but that was about it. And when I quit school I started working a crappy job, and that was horrible, so that was a kick in the ass to really do something. So I started a small business with another girl in Montreal doing crafts and Etsy stuff, and that evolved and I started making these paper puppets, and those sort of became a bread-and-butter thing that I could make and sell to stores. So that was sort of a nice way to enter the art world because it was immediate and I could sell these small things and I felt like it was like a job. It's scary getting into art, because it's really hard to just get in there and stand by your work and be confident about it. Starting out small like that was a great way to eventually, slowly, on the side learn how to make compositions and be confident about selling things as art and not as retail gift items.
Why did you decide to set the show in Barkley Towers? Is that a real place?
These situations were based off memories a bit, and so I wanted to create a base for the show and a context. So immediately my thought was, I'll call it Barkley Towers, because that was the name of these buildings I lived in. But that was just a base for things. They're really just centered around this little community so I can have these people hanging out and they're all residents of these buildings. Now I'm like, maybe I shouldn't have called it that? Just because it's not my life or anything like that. I wanted a base, basically. I was inspired by that.
It is a real place. It's a building. There are these two buildings, like, '70s apartment buildings that were attached together and there was a pool and lots of kids in the buildings. And at that age you just remember things, little things, so well. There's lots of funny things that I remember, so I'm just sort of pulling things from that time. But there's also things from other times, too. But actually, I don't think they're called Barkley Towers anymore. I was looking it up and the buildings don't have a name anymore. They're still there, but there's another set of buildings in Ontario that are called Barkley Towers. So now I'm like, were they called Barkley Towers? Did I make that up? But I'm pretty sure they were.
Your paintings seem to suggest intricate back stories for the people in them. Do you think about that when you create the characters?
Sometimes I have people in mind. It's not like an actual character and story, it's not really real. I really feel like I care about the little people and I wanna make it something....To me, they're sort of precious in their own way.
How do you hope people react to this show?
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To me there's a bit of humor. Not maybe laugh out loud, but emotion of some sort. They're not realistic or anything; you're not gonna cry. But I'd like to think that people will be tickled by my work. I also just like to make them smile, which sounds really lame. I kind of like to let the work speak for itself. It's pretty literal, it's not too abstract.