The Montreal based artist Annie Descoteaux uses only paper to create graphic and vibrant cut outs of every day objects in unconventional compositions. The flattened imagery becomes a surface for humour and satire, challenging the viewer to the story behind the symbols.
First of all, I'd like you to tell me a bit about yourself: were you born and raised in Montreal? Where did you go to school?
I was born and raised in Quebec City, but I moved to Montreal to study Fine Arts at Concordia University. My mom is from Montreal and I knew since I was a kid that I would end up moving there, just as I also knew that I would be an artist. I began to show ability to draw when I was around 7 years old. I went to a small religious school, and there was not much opportunity for people like me: it was all about sports! But here and there a teacher would notice and arrange for a special project, and my friends and I would paint something for the school’s annual fundraising show or whatever.
When did you realize you want to become an artist - was there a work you saw or made or text you read that made you want to continue in this direction?
As soon as I graduated from high school, I went to a public (and secular!) school to study Fine Arts. There, I was finally able to experiment with a variety of mediums and gain knowledge from amazing teachers, some of them still being dear friends ever since. I remember a field trip to the MACM (Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal), where an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois’ Cells was presented: I had an epiphany, an awakening. I saw possibilities like no one else described yet, and many challenges ahead.
Who are you influences? I see a bit of Alex Katz in your works, especially his earlier collage work.
Alex Katz is definitely an artist that I admire. I have a sensibility for any painter or printmaker who uses absolute flatness in their compositions: Gary Hume is amongst my favorite, as well as Matthew Brannon, not to mention John Wesley and Ed Ruscha. I love so many other artists, even though their practice is far from mine: for instance, I am very enthusiastic about the work of Camille Henrot and I enjoy the photographic work of Shirana Shahbazi; they both feed my imagination.
Your works have so many undertones in them, they are graphic and vibrant, composed of flowers or food items, yet at the same time there will be a mysterious cut off finger or an inanimate object oozing an unknown fluid. They are fun and intriguing, making the viewer wonder and guess the story behind them. Are there stories behind them and if so what are they?
My work is about unmet desires, being hungry for a hamburger or longing for somebody. But, having grown up in a boring suburb, I would get scared and anxious sometimes at night…too much peacefulness! The sound of automatic sprinklers watering lawns late at night and deserted streets after dark inflame my imagination, that explains perhaps the occasional cut off finger you would find here and there!
You work with a number of re-occurring images, such as the cheeseburger, cigarette, plant, bananas, etc. These are all universally recognizable symbols, but what is the meaning behind them for you?
Hidden messages, the ability to convey metaphors or tell a subtle joke, laughing with friends in a corner of the room is something I’ll always carry in my works.
How do you choose your palette, is there a specific paper type that you work with?
Up to this day, I am stuck with paper I find in art supply stores. I’m careful to choose archival and acid free paper, and I’m attracted to bold colors and sometimes pastel tones to create a contrast. A few years ago I went to an art residency in Brussels and went crazy because one store had a full floor only for paper, all kinds of format, colors, and weight. I went overboard and paid a lot for extra luggage when I took the plane back home!
I mostly use scissors. I like to start roughly and work the shape until the line is perfect and fluid, a bit like a sculptor would craft a piece of raw wood, by subtraction. I use an x-acto knife only to cut out straight lines or to prepare a backdrop.
Color is evidently very important to your work, can you talk about how color theory works in your practice?
It’s a very intuitive process, quite un-theoretical. It’s all about how elements interact with each other, and the feeling I get from it; sometimes I look at scraps of paper and if a nice combination arises I pull it out and work on it. I keep all my scraps because they are great tools.
Have you always worked with paper? When did you begin working primarily with collages and is that what you identify with most?
I began mixing drawing with little bits of collage back in art school, but for some unknown reasons, I left it there, even though I liked the result. Then, years later, when I was working independently and was looking for uncostly means of production, I gave it a second thought. Since then, it is my primary medium.
I see that you also make installation projects, can you talk about those? How do you see translating the flatness of your medium to interactive and 3-d works? Have you ever worked in animation?
I am returning to installation, very slowly though, because I need the proper kind of space to convey this exploration. But I’ve always composed my images as if they were blueprints for larger, three-dimensional constructions. The future will tell.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I’m working on an illustration contract for a quarterly poetry magazine called “Estuaire.” As soon as I can get more personal time I’d like to continue collage on bigger format, using digital printing devices to create larger backdrops. I’d also like to venture into printing my artworks on fabric.
What are some exhibitions you have seen recently that really stuck to you?
I have to say that the Matisse show presented at the MoMA last fall was impressive and his late production, all cut-outs on paper, is still very actual to me.