We caught up with Toronto-based artist Alex Landon Richardson to chat about the inspiration behind her work, staying disciplined as a creative professional, and what advice she would offer other young professionals looking to pursue a similar path…
Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
I make paintings. At the moment, I am preparing for my upcoming solo exhibition at Coldstream Fine Art in Toronto, which will run from June 17 – July 22.
In a sense, I am paid to experience the world around me, fully, and to relay that experience in painting. I suppose one could say that I am a vessel. For thought, observation, absorption of my surroundings, and discovery. The world makes an impression upon me, and I relay that impression in paint.
A day on the job involves frequent trips between the studio and art supplies store, long days in solitude, research, reflection, image-collecting, writing, plenty of creative decision-making, and the physical act of manipulating a surface with paint. It comes with the joys and challenges of being your own boss, creatively self-directed, and finding your own way through the mysterious process of image-making.
Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
I walked into a heritage building that had been converted to an arts centre, and when I saw artists fervently working in their studios, I thought, “THAT is what I need to be doing.” I leased a space and opened a studio gallery straight away. It was a very natural progression, as an inclination towards art has always been present with me. I continue to make art because I can’t imagine not doing it. I suppose it is my form of communicating with the world and understanding the world around me. Being paid to do this is a remarkable privilege.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part is the moment when I get ‘out of the weeds’ of walking blindly through the creative process and find the clarity and power in a piece of work. It is absolute magic when a piece of work comes together before your eyes. The most challenging part is the ‘weeds’ part. Painting often feels like walking around with a blindfold on, searching for a flashlight. And sometimes, a painting stays in the weeds, despite days, weeks, or even months of working with it, and you have got to keep the faith that you will come out of that murky stage. Making a painting will test one’s character!
What is one sign that you’ve seen over the years to suggest that your work/life balance is off?
When I start to think that “a trip to the art store” is a great day out! It is easy to become absorbed in your studio work, and when it comes to art-making, discipline can sometimes mean pulling yourself away from your work.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Having a stable client base, which will give me the freedom to live in the country with a large studio and maintain my practice; exhibiting in London, Dublin and Paris while maintaining an active presence in Toronto; exhibiting at Equinox Gallery in Vancouver; living with horses.
What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
Time management. It is very easy to get carried away with unimportant tasks or to labour over a piece of work for too long; it is very important to create good habits in-terms of scheduling, and to respect your schedule. I no longer go to sleep without knowing exactly what I need to do the following day, and I stick to the plan. I create simple, clear plans which I know that I can achieve in a given day.
What does success look like to you? Does Money = Happiness?
Success, to me, is remaining true to oneself while having the security to explore. If one cultivates the security that allows freedom to experiment, all through following what is important to him or her, I believe this is the sweet spot. The golden mean. I believe that too much money becomes limiting, as does too little. It comes down to balance.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
The most memorable moment was the opening of my studio gallery in the Alton Mill Arts Centre, in Caledon, Ontario. This was my first step in taking my practice to a professional level, and I benefitted so much from the encouragement and support of that community. The opening party, in particular, was a special milestone as I recall faces who have been incredibly supportive of my pursuits, and continue to be, years later.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
My advice to other young artists is to make the most of every opportunity, regardless of how insignificant it may seem. Looking back, the most casual encounters and spontaneous opportunities have been the most monumental in my journey. Also, learn to overcome your own bad habits. Make good habits, and foster discipline. You may spend Saturday nights alone once in a while, but keep the big picture in mind.
Where is your favourite place to wine/dine in your city and why?
On the beach! I love to take my lunch or dinner down to the beach, near the Scarborough bluffs, in its full ceramic and fragile dishware, and sit with the seagulls and rolling waves. To me, that is the ultimate dining experience… the distant horizon and wide expanse of water with the fresh lake breeze invigorate my senses and clear my mind, allowing me to really enjoy a good meal!
When you’re not working how do you love to spend your “Me” time?
I love to be around horses, and being active amongst the beauty of nature. I also love to take drives to unknown small towns, to ‘get lost’ in new places. I love to talk with strangers. I love to drift in a creative headspace to some good music.
Where is your favourite place to travel? Why?
Italy. It calms me in profound ways, and provokes a creative headspace like no other place I have wandered. Art permeates life there.
If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?
Minstrel of the Dawn by Gordon Lightfoot. It’s magical.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
It’s hard to imagine not painting. If I were not an artist, I would be working closely with people, as I love to encourage and nurture others. I currently teach art at Nipissing University part-time. I would likely be doing more of this.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
I currently jumped on board with a volunteer initiative near my home, in the Beaches, Toronto. The project is called The Beach Community Edible Garden. It is a beautiful vision, initiated by a young man by the name of Alex Rochon-Terry. The fresh foods that are grown (organic vegetables and herbs) are donated to local food banks, and to local childrens’ cooking courses. The remainder of the harvest is donated to the community. This is important to me because I feel that fresh, wholesome food should be available to everyone – young and old, privileged and underprivileged. I believe that good food transforms a person, as it creates a positive ripple effect of health and wellbeing. Food banks could definitely benefit from receiving fresh, wholesome food.
What to you is notable?
Those of us who exercise compassionate leadership; Peirson Ross, a friend and musician who is paddling 900km from Georgian Bay to Montreal on his North Eastern canoe tour with his band, raising awareness about endangered species in Canada; Alex Rochon-Terry, who envisioned the Beach Community Edible Garden and proceeded to bring it to fruition.
Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
Android, it’s a hand-me-down!