Interview- Jim Holyoak

Jim Holyoak, a Montréal-based artist and writer was at the WAA residency from November through February 2016, as a Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec Residency in India. His discipline is comprised of drawing-installations and book-works, exploring the bridges and boundaries between perception and fantasy, humans and other animals, the biological and the phantasmagorical, deep time and the present. Holyoak’s drawings and ink-paintings range in size from postcards and zines to dense paper-environments, tailored to the architecture of the rooms that it occupies. In parallel to his solo practice, Holyoak has orchestrated numerous collaborative drawing projects, often with fellow artist Matt Shane, and sometimes involving hundreds of people drawing together, of all ages and skill levels.

What does drawing mean to you? 

Drawing (both noun and verb) means many things to me.

In speaking about thoughts, we associate thinking with words, but there are thoughts that cannot be said. Drawing is a way of non-verbal thinking and communicating (as is musical or mathematical thinking and communicating.)

Drawing often serves as connective tissue between different disciplines. In my case, this includes writing, literature and books, painting, installation, performance, music, ecology, and travel.

A dot moving in space is a line. Drawing is travel. Travel is transformation.

Sketching and taking notes, keeping a journal and a sketch book, unfolding maps and filling envelopes, doodling and day dreaming – drawing is a tool for navigating through life’s tangle of thoughts and sensations.

Drawing from imagination is a way to envision the invisible and unknowable. What would it be like to metamorphose into a new body? What would it be like to live a million years ago, or a million years from now?

Observational drawing is not only seeing, but touching, (and sometimes listening) – connecting the eye to the hand. Drawing from observation is one of the fastest ways to improve one’s technical skills, and I believe it intensifies one’s sense of vision (and if you’re drawing music/sound, it will intensify your hearing.)

Drawing is a deep line, tossed over the edge of a rowboat. When I feel the line pull, I’ll pull back, and something mysterious takes shape below the surface.

Drawing is a dotted line, skipping like a stone across the lake’s mirror surface, sewing tangent thoughts together. Drawing is an invisible line. It is a way to see in the dark. Drawing is what I’ll leave behind when I die. These pages are my lines in the sand.

Sketchbook pages- Kids Dancing Mumbai.

Most memorable/favorite artwork to date?

I’m not sure what’s been the most memorable/favorite, but ‘The Utopic Dream of the Sun in a Box’ (2004) was certainly one of the most important artworks to me. I lived in a basement suite of a house in the city of Victoria (Vancouver Island, British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada) with two friends and fellow artists, Matt Shane and Fike Anderson. We covered all the walls with paper, and drew all over our house for a year, allowing visitors to join in and leave their marks. Amidst the drawings and graffiti was dried spaghetti splatter, cigarette burns, dream-diary entries, fingerprints, holes chewed by small animals, etc. We were compelled by a curiosity to know what it would be like to fall asleep and wake up inside our drawing, psychologically and physically immersed, blurring the divide between art and life. After our year had passed, we received our first artist-grant to transport our paper walls to Montréal, and re-exhibit them within a labyrinth we built ourselves, at a DIY gallery called ‘The Lift.’ For Matt Shane and I, Montréal has been home base ever since, and together we’ve had over ten major collaborative exhibitions, in five countries, with more on the horizon.

How does teaching bring your practice together, or does it not?

Teaching keeps me sharp. It requires me to analyse, articulate and demonstrate my knowledge and ideas and questions. My favourite way of teaching is to facilitate workshops in which we’re all artists. The classroom becomes a collective laboratory and habitat. Every grouping of people is a chemistry project, and each mix of personalities is unique. Everyone draws (and thinks) in his or her own way. I believe that one of the best strategies to develop our artistry, and to challenge our habits, is to make art with other people. I learn from my students, while they learn from me, and each other.

Jim studio
Jim’s Studio At WAA residency.
photo credit Oliver Roura DSC_1476
Jim’s studio at WAA residency – photo credit Oliver Roura

Do you have a dream project? 

‘Living the Dream’ for me and my closest artist-friends has always meant the survival of that dream to make and imagine things – the continuances of creation, writing and drawing and making books and installations and music, for the rest of our lives.

I’ve been lucky. It’s strange to say this, but I have lived a lot of my dreams already. (I studied ink painting in China, drew woodland and mountain-kin trolls from direct observation in Norway, and just completed my first novel, ‘Book of Nineteen Nocturnes.’) I am living a dream now by being here, doing artwork in India.

Other dreams?

Once, I was at an art fair in the Toronto Convention Centre, which is an enormous interior space. I went up some stairs to a place where I could look down into the hundreds of booths full of art. I imagined what it would be like if everything was the same, but the booths were pushed in more tightly, and if the lights were turned out, and if a buffalo was released. And flying foxes. What would it be like to wander through that labyrinth?

I rarely make sculptures, but I like to imagine making gargoyles, and setting them in places where people never go, like up a tree, way off the forest-path. I would like to find one of those gargoyles by accident, a hundred years later, when it’s absorbed by the flow of wood, wearing a jacket of moss, starring with blind stone eyes.

I just finished writing and drawing a novel that took me 15 years. Now I’m dreaming of drawing and writing a book with a different kind of concentration – a book of postcard stories and prose poems – a collection of small things, each page taking a day or less, but adding up to describe the passage of years.

Other dreams include: adopting a cat and drawing her, returning to India to draw with kids, and hiking into the Himalayas to make ink-paintings of Mt. Kanchenjunga.

photo credit Oliver Roura DSC_1473

Pages from his Graphic novel -‘ Book of Nineteen Nocturnes.’- photo credit Oliver Roura
photo credit Oliver Roura DSC_1482
‘Book of Nineteen Nocturnes ‘ – photo credit Oliver Roura


Jim’s studio at WAA residency-photo credit Dheer Kaku

What have some of the major influences of this trip been for you? 

Flue induced delirium, 10.5 hrs jet-lag, smiles and hellos, 35 degree heat, the lost art of reading, banyan trees with vines that spill like live wires, sleeping stray dogs, little brown bats at Jogger’s Park, hooded crows who flood the air at dusk, smog that looks like steam, going to the movies and drawing with both hands, hand-made brooms, 10-rupee boxes of crayons, coconut-shell birdhouses, animal articles in the newspapers, Ganesh at the sea who sinks and rises with the tide, Dheer Kaku and the ancient wizard, mangroves decorated with garbage, trolls in Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the man who fed every homeless person on Hill Rd, wax arms and houses at St. Mary’s Basilica, Churchgate Station lineups, sketching in the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, visiting the Dhaka Art Summit, collaborating with students at Rachana Sansad Academy, Christmas drawing/dance party on a Colaba rooftop, Fort Kochi bookshops, every colour of every colour and every colour combination, streets like rivers of bodies flowing under pressure, the tremendous human energy everywhere, all those souls, blinding light, ear-drum splitting horns, and the studio like a sanctuary.

photo credit Oliver Roura DSC_1465
Jim Holyoak, at his studio WAA residency- photo credit Oliver Roura

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