An interview with Toronto's very own, Carly Waito reveals the story and process behind her fascination with rocks and minerals. I recently saw her solo exhibition, Microgeographica, at Narwhal Contemporary and was immediately drawn by the attention to detail in her works. Her paintings of these ‘specimens’ are magical and seem more beautiful and delicate than the actual minerals themselves. I found myself marveling every tiny brushstroke and blend of colour more thoroughly than I would if I had the actual crystal in my hand. It is easy to get lost in it all.
JZ: Why the fascination with rocks and minerals?
CW: I've always collected rocks and other bits and pieces from nature, like shells and feathers. I've never been able to resist the appeal of tiny things that feel like precious personal discoveries. After doing some still life paintings of various little objects in my collections, I painted a single quartz crystal, on a whim. One lead to another, which lead to many more. As a painter, I couldn't help but be seduced by the physical qualities of minerals - their transparency, colour, depth and geometry. They are a perfect example of the seemingly magical processes of creation that occur in the natural world.
JZ: You started your artistic career as the co-founder of Coe&Waito, a ceramics art and design company, how did you make the transition from ceramic arts to painting? Do you find the two practices influencing each other?
CW: My primary medium was ceramics throughout most of my design education and for about five years after college with coe&waito (my ceramic art & design studio with Alissa Coe), but I've always painted, at least casually. When Alissa and I reached a point in our business where we both felt like we needed a break and a change, I was able to switch my focus to painting. There are connections between the two practices, in terms of having nature as a main source of inspiration, and having a clean and direct aesthetic.
JZ: Why do you prefer painting with oil as oppose to acrylic?
CW: I love the buttery texture of oil paints, and the slower pace and more subtle degree of control that is allowed by their slower drying time.
JZ: Part of your creative process is to photograph the minerals in order to paint them, rather than painting from the actual mineral itself. How do you feel this helps improve the overall quality of your art?
CW: The appearance of a crystallized specimen completely changes depending on how light is reflecting on its facets, and the angle of your view or of the light source shifts constantly when you are looking at an object in reality. This not only highlights or obscures small details, but can completely change the essential composition of an image. With a camera and macro lens, I can freeze a single moment and illuminate and capture specific details. Also, I love the way macro photography has a shallow depth of field which I can use to emphasize foreground details, and create a soft, hazy, photographic three-dimensionality in the paintings.
Dioptase 2, 2014, Oil on panel, 8" x 10"
Rhodochrosite 2, 2014, Oil on panel, 6" x 8"
JZ: I noticed that your earlier works consists of specimens floating in white background, while in some of your later works, you seem to have zoomed in on the specimen resulting in a more landscape-like composition. Is this the direction you intend to go forward with in your future paintings?
CW: I've been thinking a lot about scale and perception - how simple framing variations can change your interpretation of a subject from a tiny object to a vast landscape. I've also been using a microscope to capture video of the process of very tiny crystals growing in real-time, whose appearance suggests vast cosmic activity. Micro/macro extremes are really interesting to me, and I will likely continue to explore these themes.
JZ: What do you want to leave people thinking after seeing one of your exhibitions?
CW: I hope to to encourage curiosity, and remind people of the beauty and wonder that exist in our world.
Quartz Mountain, 2014, Oil on panel, 14" x 11"
Amethyst Peak, 2013, Oil on panel, 12" x 12"