Gallery 1313 Executive Director, Phil Anderson, interviews D.S. Peterson about his exhibition The Colony:

PA: How do you mix your career in journalism with your art practice – is there an overlap.. no connection at all?

For myself painting is a form of journalism. I find there is a very symbiotic relationship between the two and the lines are blurred between where one begins and the other ends. Both forms are about synthesis and revealing some sort of truth, and sometimes, the most agonizing of all – what to leave out. With both mediums you also have to be open to where the process takes you and be willing to adapt.

PA: Did you study art – where or are you self taught?

I have been studying and practicing art since I was a little kid. Academically I was enrolled in art classes in my undergraduate years. I was also in the masters of Fine Arts program at UBC way back when. Recently in Toronto I have studied drawing and sketching at the AGO under the direction of Kelley Aitken. I’ve also learned tons studying under the great Toronto area oil painter Paul Turner. I believe the process of learning never stops.

PA: Who – or what artists influenced you and your art practice?

I became interested in working with oils from an early age due to the legend of Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven, and the great foreboding Canadian wilderness. In my mind oil was a practical medium to use in the outdoors because it is not affected by rain or cold. I also liked that it was part of an ancient tradition. I grew up emulating that process of hiking into the bush with wooden panels and tubes of oil paint and completing something in one sitting. For the most part I still try to work on location and in as few sessions as possible. When I started to study seriously I quickly got interested in David Milne, and Jack Bush, and Jean-Paul Riopelle. The impressionists of course, Monet, then Gerhard Richter and Damien Hirst,Toronto painter Paul Turner, and lots of other contemporary Canadian painters. The Cremaster Cycle by Matthew Barney opened me up to the idea of installation and from there Christo, Andy Goldsworthy, Kent Monkman, and the list goes on.

PA: How did you choose your subject matter for this body of work?

In many ways the subject matter chose me. About seven years ago I moved into a Toronto flat in Kensington Market. The back deck faces the tall buildings of the downtown core, but the foreground is buttressed with that red clay brick of old Toronto. I am fascinated by the old and the new in the same frame. I like to think of what cities were like in the day of that old red brick before electricity and automobiles arrived. Everything changed after that. This view shows the duality of the old and the new. Until I was confronted with this view I was a landscape painter. Prior to this series of works very few of my landscapes had any buildings at all.

PA: Is this work different from your earlier work …. how so?

Everything is different with this work. Before this show I was primarily a landscape painter. On the west coast my work and exhibits were of oceans and mountains. My Peterborough shows were of lakes and trees. This show, obviously, is full of buildings, but there is an installation aspect that I am quite excited by in that I am taking myself as the practitioner one step out of the exhibit process and giving it back to the observer.

PA: You have a video work included in this exhibition – how does it connect with the rest of the work?

I wanted the film aspect of this exhibit to give another narrative to the paintings on the wall. There are 24 panels on the wall, 24 minutes in the film, and 24 hours in a day. Beyond that there is a netherworld that I am trying communicate and having two mediums is the closest I can get to approximate what it is I am trying to capture. In my pseudo-scientific mind it is like trying to communicate the existence of a planet. All you have visually is a distant star that blinks as something passes in front of it. To confirm that it might be a planet you then need to resort to radio waves and spectrometers and math and whatever other tricks you have to confirm the existence of this thing. Then, after all that, you have to call in other people to see if they think you are on to anything. That must sound ridiculous, but I’m only half kidding. This process is what the film and the commentary represent to me. It is like presenting my observations with some empirical data to back it up. The video is about giving people more data. After all my observations are only my observations.

PA: What do you want visitors to go away with from your exhibit?

A sense of enjoyment . I want people to go away with more information than I have about this show. I’m just trying to share my sense of wonder at what I am observing. I want people to go away with a feeling that they related to the work and it created a dialogue with other visitors and they went home thinking about some of the work they saw.

PA: Is there a universal theme in your work or is it more about Toronto?

The theme could be anything to anyone, but in my mind, the theme is about a group of something huddled together like a colony. In this show The Colony could be the buildings. It could be about some of us as colonialists. The theme could be about the struggle between First Nations and the New World. The theme of Toronto is a good one as far as universality. Less than two hundred years ago there were fewer than a thousand people in this city. We were surrounded by forest. The early settlers would have been afraid of getting through the winter and wondering what they were doing on the fringe of this wilderness. The Colony is us. The Colony is about the first log cabins of the banks and the trading posts. Those buildings are still there but they are just taller now and made of glass.

PA: How did you come about the title – THE COLONY?

There were many working titles for the show. Originally the title had something to do with the obsession of painting the same subject over and over again. Then it had to do with the 24 wooden panels the paintings were painted on. Then it sort of morphed into the idea of who is looking at who. Is it us looking at the pretty buildings, or is it them looking at us stumbling around in the backyard on a Friday night?

PA: What do you think your next body of work will be about – will it evolve from this work.

Most certainly. This show is one step towards more installation  I want to repeat the theme of the 24 panels, and a 24 minute film, along with a theatrical opening next year and a documentary of the whole thing. I think the most interesting part of an art show is what people bring to the subject matter. I’d like to work with anyone in the Toronto arts community who would be interested in making this happen. Toronto needs to celebrate their artists and enjoy the work.

Get full details about the exhibition here.