We’ve been collaborating with Toronto-based artist Richard Ahnert for a number of years now and he’s consistently blown us away with his thought-provoking paintings, deftly capturing brief moments of stillness in dynamic scenes with a quiet sort of gravitas. When it came time for us to LVLUP this summer, we knew Richard’s work would be perfect for inclusion in our inaugural art exhibit. Three of Richard’s original oil on canvas paintings are part of the show: High You Fly, Wasted Waters and Hurts Good. To showcase not just the art, but also the artist behind the brush, we did a Q&A with Richard.
Let’s start with your art. Anthropomorphic characters feature heavily in your work. What’s the story behind that?
Anthropomorphism or human / animal hybrids have always taken on a large role in my work. Even as a child I’d often add antlers to my stick figures or I’d sketch centaur-like creatures. I believe that there’s something very innate in us all that relates to animals as human figures and vice versa. Some of the earliest forms of art discovered by men were of animals and humans existing in a very entwined dynamic, often in the form of hybrids. We attach certain motifs or characteristics to a subject when it is defined as an animal, whereas we relate less to a simple portrait of a person. Anyone can be one of my characters.
That’s an insightful perspective! Satirical narratives are also featured in some of your pieces. Do you set out with the intention of alluding to current issues? Which do you think need to be addressed with the great immediacy?
It’s true that my work has a narrative; however, like the world of literature, some are meant to write non-fiction and others are better equipped to write fiction. My work is meant to stir the imagination of the viewer, and though the narrative of it isn’t always objective, the meaning of it and how one relates it to current or personal issues is entirely up to them. My only goal is to create work that entertains and stimulates conversation and thought. I have my views on nature, religion, the environment and social structures, but I do not use my work to push a political agenda.
Your website portfolio is organized into annual galleries starting from 2011. How would you describe the stylistic evolution over the years?
From a stylistic perspective, I believe that my work is in a constant state of change. I think this is what feeds the soul of the artist. You must always challenge yourself and push forward, even when that push requires you to take a few steps back. I’d say that my work has become looser over the years in treatment. It has more texture, more expressive strokes and shows a more rounded understanding of colour theory. These may sometimes appear be to be less realistic or detailed than earlier work, but the progression can be appreciated in seeing the work up close.
On that note, has your background in graphic design influenced your oil painting? How?
If anything, my education in classic art and painting had more influence on my design career. In both, there are similar rules, but I think it’s easier to break those rules in painting and get away with it. But that doesn’t make it any easier. There are no undo or revert commands in painting. If you’re going to do something wrong, you need to plan that wrong correctly from the start.
That’s very true – there’s no ctrl+z in painting! Do you have any creative rituals or eccentricities?
I’ve never thought of myself as having any creative rituals, but I usually begin a painting by throwing some music on (perhaps Stevie Wonder or Tom Waits), possibly put on some clothes, pace for a solid 30 minutes, down a coffee (not necessarily in that order) and then dive right in.
Sounds like a fun way to get started. Continuing with the thread of uniqueness – what’s the coolest/weirdest/most prized possession in your studio?
I have a surplus of odd things in my studio, from antique African spears to replica light sabres. I suppose my favourite is my Weta Manmelter 3600 ZX raygun. It only works on stun mode, but still, it has proven useful at times.
That’s the first time we’ve gotten that answer! If you’ve had one, what’s been your biggest “artist disaster”?
No one particular disaster to speak of, but I can say that my most successful paintings (in my opinion) have been the ones that I didn’t overthink. When I’ve tried to over-work a piece or reveal too much in a painting it usually lacks a focus and impact. I’m constantly reminding myself to keep things simple, focused and honest.
Keeping things simple, focused and honest sounds like a great life philosophy in general. Let’s say you’ve been asked to collaborate with a few other artists on a massive three-storey wall mural. Who would your squad consist of?
I did a 50 foot mural recently and vowed ‘never again’. But if I could work with a team of my choice to enhance the experience, I suppose it would go something like this: I’m really digging the work right now of Arron Wiesenfeld, Andrew Hem, Phil Hale and Jeremy Mann. If I can borrow from the past it would be great to have some guys like Hopper, Thomson and Rembrandt hanging around. On a more realistic note, I think there’s a kick-ass collaboration in the waiting if my teammates from the Nuvango LVL UP show were to join forces: Alex Garant, Playdead Cult, Tara Krebs, KiSung Koh, Tony Taylor, Sarah Joncas, Samara Shuter, Justin Pape and Robert Carter. So many current Toronto artists and friends provide me with endless awe and inspiration.
Definitely loads of great talent right here in Toronto! In your opinion, what are the most unique things about our art scene? How do you think the artistic culture here will develop in the next couple of years?
I think Toronto is a beacon for both artists and collectors. There is so much going on here in this city. Some of the most exciting artists right now exhibiting internationally are from here. We have progressive schools, an endless wave of start-up galleries, and some of the most highly regarded exhibitions on the scene right now. There’s so much opportunity in Toronto for an artist. With that often comes a pretty competitive field, but I believe that is what raises the bar and pushes many of us to do exiting things.
We certainly love seeing the results of those pushes and raised bars! What project(s) are you working on next? What are you really excited about?
I’m always excited about my next piece. If I’m not, it’s probably not worth doing. I’m looking forward to a body of new figurative work, and to explore bringing nature into new environments, landscapes and cityscapes. Unfortunately it will need to wait for a while longer as I’m in the middle of moving into a new studio space. So I gotta go now. Thanks for reading.
Thanks for chatting with us, Richard!
Find Richard’s anthropomorphic creations in his portfolio here.