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Walking a City Block

with DJ Stewart

Toronto, Canada: where
06.03.2018: when
6 mins: read time

As a recent graduate of OCAD University DJ Stewart's work was up for GradEx 103. I walked past walls and walls splayed with colourful canvases with the intent of landing at DJ’s booth. His work mounted on a corner wall was a combination of hung work and forms filling a space. The pieces all played in the same range of plaster white, concrete and bright orange, touches of grey blue added noted contrast. He describes his work as, “Accessing the environment, in contemporary times and landscapes. Asking questions about how to appreciate nature within sterile city environments. How do you deal with exploration compared to the way you would being around trees and water up North.” 




What got you into the idea of studying construction sites?

It was walking to and from school. Toronto is in a constant state of architectural flux. It’s never in a finished state. There are sites that I call underdog sites. As if they are over looked and unfinished. There are beautiful moments in something being so utilitarian. They are not for anything but their function, I am interested in taking the aesthetic out of that. I am exploring the landscape through mark making and materials. It’s also about using this conversation between painting and sculpture. In mark making it’s about using materials to make marks. I see this strong concrete slab [DJ’s art piece] is very similar to a bold brush mark. This kind of fencing could be seen as a translucent mark. 


There is a contrast between bold materials, bold marks and bold surfaces and treating them really subtly. In the hard edge surfaces there are subtle almost ghostly moments. There are references to things you just overlook – like the spray being done with confident gestures on the sidewalk. I translate that back into fine art. I don’t see myself getting stuck on construction though. I like exploring the landscape and I think being in this industrial environment I just deviated to these every day places. It’s about changing the hierarchy of materials. Not pushing materials down but raising others up so they can become a part of the conversation. 


I think part of the confidence in the construction site comes from doing simple repetitive tasks, spraying line after line. How does that influence you in your

work practice?

For me I work on paper so that I can work through the experimentation of finding my own lines and my own language. I can only get to these simplified forms though making mistakes and remembering what made the mistakes beautiful and repeating. With the slabs it’s putting them into the same form again and again. I am learning from the slabs prior. In the end I have something that seems really simple but it took a long time and a real process to get there. 


How do think you might take forward the acts of repetition you have been working with as you move into a new project?

There is lots of opportunity to find environments and materials that are charged with the potential for mark making. Right now I see opportunity in sports. There is so much motion, material, jersey, and netting. It’s actually very similar to the construction sites. I think there are ways to explore subcultures and environments; to really translate that into sculpture.


Did you used to play sports growing up?

Oh I played them all: hockey, football, rugby, snowboarding, soccer, pretty much everything except basketball. 


Do you still play any?

No. I mean for now, I think I chose art and I chose this path. I have to leave my sports behind and work on my art practice. As I get older I am seeing parallels between art and sports. I don’t think you ever really loose the mindset of it. Whether it’s competition, style, or that certain type of creativity.


In playing sports there is the participation of a team and really working together with different people on things. Do you think you will bring part of that into your art practice and look forward to collaborating

on projects?

Yeah I have never been against collaboration. I always see opportunity to use each other’s skills in finding things you would never find on your own. For me it doesn’t matter if I am a drawer, painter, sculptor. To me these pieces are just art objects. This hybrid between painting and sculpture is not a versus, it’s a nice conversation between the two. Whether they come out on paper or within these plaster collages it doesn’t matter. 


Your work is sort of team building between different forms!

Yeah I see collaboration between exploring painting and sculpture simultaneously. I wouldn’t get to these paintings without the sculpture process. I wouldn’t have gotten to the sculpture without going through the exploration of mark making on paper. 


Do you have any history with print making?

No I don’t. I have always been kind of into these methods of subtle layering on paper. I think I am influenced by print making, but for me it is experimenting with what I know. I have done spray paint as a mask and going over with one ink. I think it is lucky that worked out similar to print making. But I’d like to get into working in printmaking in the next few years. 


After this project how do you feel about the colour orange?

It’s a very masculine colour. It holds a lot of meaning and is powerful. I think after using it I’ve learned it’s important to be subtle. After I worked with it I moved into the off blue colours and darker blues. I think *he laughs* I am a little sick of orange. If you are going to use it, it has to be subtle because it is such a powerful colour. Especially this prison colour it is there as a warning. It literally exists to caution people about cracks and things they don’t want to walk into. 


You used to live downtown in a different neighbourhood. How has moving to a different part of the city had an influence on your work?

Everywhere I go here is organized. Almost a cookie cutter of concrete and sterile places. Compared to Sherbourne...  well Sherbourne had a lot of character. Living here all I look out on are construction sites. Overtime I have found peace with it. It’s like living next to the highway. It turns into this almost calming hum- like rain. At first moving to the city you really have to silence out the sound. Once your body adjusts you can find calmness even in the industrial landscapes. 


Interview and photography by Alexis Venerus

To see more of DJ's work @deejaystewart

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