His first year back teaching full time (last year being department head); Briar Craig is currently the only printmaking instructor at UBC Okanagan. And while in the future he hopes for other printmaking instructors to expose students to more opinions and different approaches, he is a unique individual with an interesting perspective on art, art production and a wonderful repertoire of artistic practice that will undoubtedly stimulate and inspire students.
“Printmaking involves a number of different media – lithography, screenprinting, itaglio (etching), relief printing (woodcut) and the monoprint.”
He completed his BFA at Queen’s University and recalls his first month as an undergraduate as the genesis of his printmaking career. Listening to a Professor speak and show his print-based work, Briar thought to himself, “Well if a printmaker can make that kind of work, then I’m going to be a printmaker.”
He wasn’t involved in any printmaking classes until third year, but he grasped tightly this single purpose of becoming a printmaker.
“From that moment on I didn’t really think about being anything else, although I was obviously taking other classes and learning other things; but I kind of had this single-mindedness that I was heading towards being a printmaker.”
And rather than be disappointed when he arrived at the culminating moment of the last three years, his first printmaking class, he recalls that, “The processes and ways of making images just made so much sense to me.”
Briar completed his Master of Visual Arts (MVA) at the University of Alberta. U of A is one of the premier Universities in North America for printmaking, and has worked hard to develop a print culture in Edmonton; in Briar’s opinion, they became the nucleus of printmaking in Canada. This is something Briar hopes will, with work and time, happen at UBC Okanagan.
He relates that students who have graduated are coming back and taking printmaking courses so that they can keep working with the equipment. He finds it really stimulating to engage not only with senior students, but with those who have graduated and have found that printmaking resonates with them.The community atmosphere is developing. With the collaboration of the Vernon Public Art Gallery and the Kelowna Art Gallery, and Briar himself, the first Okanagan Print Triennial Exhibition has been developed. In 2009 the first OPT will occur – the first exhibition is open to Canadian printmakers, the next, in 2012 will be for all of North, Central and South America and by the third exhibition in 2015 it will be open to any and all International |print artists. Briar hopes this will stimulate students and the Fine Arts program at UBC Okanagan as well.
Briar’s MVA culminated in an exhibition of his print-based work (at that time though it was mostly lithography), being very pop art oriented, and based on garbage and things that he found. So, instead of a pristine soup can like Warhol would have made, Briar’s soup can had been “weathered”.
“In fact I did have one that was called “relic”, which was sort of a reference to how passé Warhol had become by that time, in the late 80s, but also because it had been squished and had this sort of different aura about it.”
Briar included a lot of crumpled coke cans and crumpled candy bar wrappers; things that signalled to him the metaphors for how we treat consumer culture and how disposable it really is.
He found that at University it was a whole different world of exposure to the printmaking medium; it encompassed a depth and a critical approach he had not experienced before.
“It yielded much more rich results.”
Briar considers himself a very solitary worker. The print process has an extensive technical side, which provides a rest period where one doesn’t need to be making critical decisions. “You’re still working, you’re still being productive, but you can kind of ease yourself into the process, like stepping into a hot bath; it’s very comforting. Vital and critical things can happen while you’re just playing with the process.”
He enjoys the presence of the slightly evil collaborator that may, at any given moment wreak havoc upon ones work, or provide an avenue of wonderful creation, where the process works out beyond expectations. But that’s part of what he likes about the process. “The making of imagery is intertwined with the technical process.”
“So to me [printmaking] it still has a kind of mystery and maybe it’s because it is process oriented. There is a big technical side.
Presses, screens, etching plates or acid, there’s this kind of the slightly evil collaborator that you’re working with. At times it can pull the rug right out from under your feet and completely change what your intentions were and then you have to deal with that. And I find that really exciting.”
When Briar isn’t teaching you’ll find him working hard on his own artistic development and production. Over the last five years his work has become more text based, inspired by “the found object”; the detritus left behind by society. Just walking down the street he’ll find little bits of interesting information, and in collecting those, for him, patterns will begin to emerge. Briar likes to play games; when walking around and seeing bits of information, he’ll spend the rest of the day imagining how to finish what he’s seen. For example, seeing a crumpled bit of newspaper with only part of the headline visible, Briar wonders, “how would I finish that off?” It’s a game that comes to him naturally and is reflected in his work.
“So the body of work I am working on right now is a kind of reference to the Dada art movement, and the Dada poets in the 1920s and 30s … I’m playing with the same kind of randomness. I’m connecting things in the dictionary in a systematic manner, and the result would be a print where the text might be something like “utopian vacuum.” It doesn’t exist as a phrase but you put those two words together and there’s some content there. It’s somewhat indefinable and open to interpretation by the viewer but it is, to me anyway, a wonderful bit of accidental poetry.”
Briar notes that UBC Okanagan is lucky to currently have a smaller program and small class sizes. There is an element of personalized attention, and individually giving feedback to students in the process of developing their own artistic expression. For Briar this is a very demanding thing and it really requires an understanding of the student, and the ability to speak a language that that person understands. It’s not always universal. He observes that “there’s art lingo and there’s art terminology, but getting that to make sense to individuals really revolves around teasing that out of them and finding out who they are and how you can support the things that are really vital to them, and redirect them when they seem to be coming off track.” The UBC OkanaganVisual Arts program isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty, to use the equipment that’s available in a productive way. Briar remarks that UBC Okanagan boasts aVisual Arts faculty that has a vested interest in the University and theVisual Arts program. They are all full time faculty, working for the program and for students.
“So I would say people should just come, experience our program. I think it’s rigorous, its’ a very studio based program, but again studio and theory go together in my opinion, so there’s a lot of studio classes going on that are not devoid of theory; it’s not missing the critical side of the art world.”
A Wonderful Anecdote …. “Most people don’t believe this, but I’m extremely shy. The first day of classes I could faint at any moment. I’m so nervous about talking in front of a class and that has never gone away in twenty years of teaching. It’s probably worse now than when I first started out. But in a weird way I’ve become addicted to it; that sort of slightly anxious adrenaline rush that makes you feel literally weak in the knees. I kind of look forward to it, but when it’s happening I hate it; I just absolutely hate it. Once you get rolling and I get talking about art it disappears. But the first little bit is just awful and I always think,
“What the heck could I possibly teach these people” because I’m so nervous, I can’t even get my own thoughts straight. But in a way it kind of works somehow; maybe it breaks down barriers of the stuffiness that is presumed in higher learning. There’s this person being nervous and goofy in front of the class, but I think it breaks down barriers and hopefully helps people immerse themselves a little more quickly into what really is a very foreign process.”
For those that are curious about the deeper parts of Briar’s psyche, he confided in me that his favourite television show is the Amazing Race. “What appeals to me about it is it’s so much about how we perceive the world; these people are racing blindly through these amazing places but they’re just trying to get to a flag. You don’t get a sense of them really taking in the culture and I find that both fascinating and frustrating to watch.”
Knocking on Briar’s office door and getting a chance to open up a dialogue with him is a wonderful experience; one that I recommend.
Article by Melissa Larkin
Last reviewed 10/9/2012 11:05:04 AM