A curious thing happened at Andrew Glenn's first art show, Memento-people at the Montreal event kept wanting to touch the art.
"I kept telling them to touch them ... It's only art! Do not be afraid of the art!" recounts abstract painter, photographer and graphic designer Glenn of the May 2004 showing. "They were very shocked that I wanted them to do that."
There must be something to letting patrons touch the wares-Glenn sold eighteen of the twenty works on display during the few weeks the paintings were up, first at Galerie Espace (4844, boul. St-Laurent) and later at CafÂ» SuprÃ
- me in the Domtar Building downtown.
Until two years ago, Glenn was your average struggling artist. Spat out of photography school, he enrolled in a graphic-design course to try and find his mode, but ended up working joe jobs to pay the bills. It was daunting.
"If you're going to be an artist and you want to work in that domain, then do it."
Art loathes routine. When work and home are the two stations of a perpetual relay race to keep the roof overhead and the belly full, the creative drive inevitably stalls. When doubt about an artistic career swells into a valid excuse to avoid natural talents, the artistic life usually ends up on life support.
Glenn sensed that this was starting to happen to him. He was experiencing the What Now? of the months and years following the completion of a degree and grappling uncomfortably with the idea of living off his art. Fortunately, a trip to Western Canada two years ago intervened.
Part of me really realized, 'If you're going to be an artist and you want to work in that domain, then do it.' No one is going to tell you how, no one is going to hold your hand; you just have to do it. You're going to fall on your face a couple of times and you're going to skin your knee and life goes on. You've just got to take a few steps. Okay, if they're in the wrong direction, they're in the wrong direction. But at least you took the few steps, learned a little.
Glenn came back to Montreal and soon after, he organized Memento, spending hours in "the spider hole"-his basement studio, named after the hole in which Saddam Hussein was found. Showing his work ended up being something of a circuit breaker: the uncomfortable reality of being forthrightly judged by eyes other than his own gave him the drive he needed to carve some positive mental space out of his deadening "scraping by as an artist" routine.
A year later, he and I are settling down for breakfast (full disclosure: we're old friends) and it's the morning of his twenty-sixth birthday. We were to meet at nine-thirty, but he calls at ten-to-nine to say he's at the restaurant-a morning person and someone who loves the nightlife, sometimes it seems Glenn would eschew sleep if he could.
It's clear he is feeling a new kind of pressure-the kind that comes from expectations born from within.
"I stress about my age more and more, not because I'm concerned with it," he says, "but because I sometimes wonder if I should have something done by now."
This, scarcely a week after his successful solo exhibit wrapped up at Galerie Espace. Not that he was sitting on his ass before Memento, either: since he left Kingston, Ontario, in 1998, he has completed a course of study in photography at Dawson College, worked in the Montreal film industry and enrolled in a graphic-design diploma that he's a year away from finishing. He had his first solo show of abstract acrylic canvases last summer, and his second only a few weeks ago.
When he says "should have done something by now," he's talking about the big, momentous things we attach to specific ages. At twenty-six, he is juggling multiple jobs to facilitate his many artistic pursuits, and sometimes it can seem like those big momentous career moments are impossibly far away.
"A lawyer doesn't have to get another job just so they can be a lawyer," he says. "[Being an artist] is such a funny way to live."
I pick up fifty million pieces of paper off the street and I tear things off walls, and a lot of the times my colours will come from little bits of garbage that I'll put together that will evoke something in me.
Glenn is a young, impatient and ambitious artist, and these qualities push him onwards. The works in his second show, Interaction (held in June 2004), were a magnified extension of the calculated abstractions of Memento. The show binged on rectangles; the seventeen pieces featured off-centre clusters of assertively coloured misshapen rectangles, bordered by swaths of equally vibrant fat brush strokes in three general colour sets: grey/orange/yellow, red/yellow/blue, and turquoise/white/red. The calming two-tone backgrounds that occupied roughly two-thirds of the surface of each canvas offered a soothing contrast to the crazed, jostling movement of these shapes.
There was a time, however, when the idea of painting made Glenn anxious. As a teenager he would step out of the house on a Saturday or Sunday with his camera and wander downtown, snapping photos all day. Painting was something he enjoyed but he lacked confidence in his ability to replicate his ideas the way that photography allowed him to do.
"I'm kind of a crazy little squirrel," he says. "When I walk home from a bar at three in the morning, I pick up fifty million pieces of paper off the street and I tear things off walls, and a lot of the times my colours will come from little bits of garbage that I'll put together that will evoke something in me."
Just as he sees old posters in a different light, he has come to love that his audiences bring different meanings to his abstract works and is flattered that viewers take time to stipulate reasons for the compositions-it can be intimidating to give your opinion to an artist, since you risk being told you're wrong.
As someone once said, if you're not making mistakes, you're not reaching far enough, and mistakes are part of being young. The best course of action is to hold on and see what happens.
"People like it, people don't like it; I have no control over that," he said. "It's more important for me to get it out there."
Melissa Wheeler is a Montreal news and arts journalist who used to breakdance until she decided it was too bad for her knees. You can hear her report on the weekend traffic on CJAD 800.