Sketchy | GARVIN CHINNIA

 … some kind of special.

Curator & Writer | Hakan Burcuoğlu · Venue | Emily Carr University · Gear | Leica

He muses, holding in his palm a pillbox of larvae, frozen in time, suspended in amber. On his work desk, an ornamental mason jar; inside it, the tiniest mouse, decomposing and unrecognizable—gone to glory. Behind old Mickey sits a monolithic aquarium—a theatre of life, a harbinger of terminus. I’m out of place—awestruck—searching for familiarity. But for Garvin, none of this is farrago—it’s distilled melancholia, metamorphosis in miasma.

Artists are tempestuous, and Garvin’s chaos incarnate. But there’s a brand of fragility that accompanies the carnage—exemplified by the surrounding geography of his hometown Sherwood Park—an idyllic, Albertan hamlet nestled in between farm fields and oil country. The duality is real—his very parlance—and it’s moulded him into an artist with an astonishing ability for sway-and-flux, inherent in every brush stroke as he belabours the canvas—rigid yet fluid, forceful yet submissive, confident yet forever in doubt.

So here’s to SKETCHY—a revelatory new segment where we inveigh upon the realities of singular artists and their most peculiar feeding habits—be it spiritual, or nutritional. Artists need to eat, after all.

HB: How would you describe your style/process?

GC: Chaotic, tentacular. I’m very expressiveif I’m feeling something, I try to let it come out through paint. I’m invested emotionally. I use my feelings as fuel to keep the fire burning. Lately I’ve become more methodical with it, I do 10 watercolours a day. They’re depictions of the live subjects I have in my aquariummostly insect larvae. Life’s fleeting and things fuck off quickly, so everytime one pops up, I take advantage.

Garvin’s aquarium housing fish & insect larvae

HB: People seldom realize how regimented artists truly are.

GC: It’s paradoxical because complacency implies comfort, but it’s having a routine which makes it comfortable for me. There’s a little tick in my brain whenever I’m workingalmost like tourettes. I get these involuntary urges, and I’m constantly thinking about pushing things to their limit, to the point of destroying what I’ve created, like “take a rock and smash the shit out of it”. I feel like cheating if I don’t give into that. I worry a lot about playing it safe.

An skull ornament adorning Garvin’s studio library

HB: Who are some artists you admire?

GC: I think less of artists and more of authorsStephen King, Steven Erikson, and more recently, Ursula K Le Guin… bitchin’ sci-fi and fantasy. King’s On Writing, a book on the nature of writing, is an invaluable source for any artist. “Do not come to the page lightly”, he says, and I’ve never come to the canvas lightly. As for artists closer to my species, there’s this journal drawing of female Red Army soldiers that’s always stayed with me, as well as the drawings of Polish exiles Soviets sent into Siberia on freezing cattle cars in ‘39. In a similar vein, Otto Dix stays with me because of the drawings he did as a machine gunner for the German Army in the Great War. It’s astonishing that artists can survive—even thrive—in such environments. These stories humble me, and also have my quiet admiration.

HB: How would you characterize your body of work?

GC: Right now, I’d put myself in a species of environmental concern. My subjects are small, unnoticed, but important players in the world. And I want to use my concern—and lovefor things that crawl and grow, in order to touch people. Maybe I don’t need to make someone cry, but I can make them stop and go “Oh.” With the watercolours, in their little solid cakes, I’m not concerned with mixing. By ceding control of the process, I’m freeing the colours, and by extension, myself.

HB: What it is that you want for people to see in your works?

GC: I’ve always wanted to make a piece that would move somebody so much that they would break down in front of it. Perhaps a painting of a fish, even a plant, could stir up those feelings in somebody. Unfortunately, within a scholastic institution, beauty doesn’t come up. It’s all concept and intention, and people don’t seem to care as much about aesthetics and beauty.

Study of female Guppy [Poecilia reticulata] in watercolour

HB: What are you currently working on?GC: I’m all over the place—chaotic, jumpy… the default state of my existence. When I’m lying awake at night, I wonder whether I’m going to end up like one of those people talking to themselves, screaming at the sky. I do like to talk to myself sometimes, when no one else’s around. I find it gives me another perspective. It’s good to apply a different voice upon things.

HB: What about some other voices? A support group… a sounding board?

GC: It’s good to have critique from people who aren’t steeped in what you do, just to make sure you don’t go too far off into whatever’s happening with the institution, or within a particular segment of the art world. You can get so meta about yourselfso tied inthat it becomes another wall to overcome. It’s important to remember that there’s other things outside of what you’re doing.

HB: We have the Instagram for that, you know.

GC: [Chuckles] It’s funny you mention that. One of my buddies recently gave me a harsh rendering of my Instagram account, calling me “just another salmon in the stream”, to which I responded what the fuck do you mean?

HB: He’s calling you a conformist.

GC: Basically. But he’s also saying my work isn’t what it used to be. He hasn’t seen my figurative, imaginary and surrealist work—the expressive stuffsimply because I just don’t share them. I’m not as plugged in, I guess. I was both pleased and pissed at his remark. By the way, I know a little bit about salmon biology, and any salmon who makes it to that spawning ground is one tough motherfucker.

Garvin’s Northern Street studio in Vancouver

HB: Yeah, and they croak shortly upon arrival.

GC: [Chuckles] I know I’ll make it there but there’s no formula. I’m a bed of moss… an octopus with distributed intelligence trying to grab onto whatever’s around. And my work reflects that state of being. You can’t separate the art from the artist. I look at people who seem crazy composed and it kind of scares me. My [inner] voice breaks when I even think about it.

Study of Caddisfly larvae in watercolour

HB: You seem composed to me. You sacrifice fuck loads to make your passion viable.

GC: I’ve worked lots of different jobs in construction but I’m not going back to that. Lately I’ve been working the dish pit at concert venues, catering to set up crews… grunts working for grunts. I’ve worked Roger Waters, Coldplay and Katy Perry. There’s something very liberating about it—seeing the inner workings behind that facade of glamour. It reminded me of the time I visited the colosseum.

HB: The once mighty colosseum, now gone to glory.

GC: It was quite a sad experience for me actually. It felt so dead… the things that made it what is was, all gone. Sure, it’s about the spectacle with all these guys slaying each other, but underneath—in the bowels of this place—were hundreds of people who made everything possible. It’s inspiring to me, the special time connection we sort of share.

HB: Are some of those feelings transferable to Vancouver?

GC: Vancouver’s my Oz, but I’ve become jaded. A friend once told me “Vancouver’s like that beautiful girl you want to meet at a party, and when you finally talk to her, she has nothing to fucking say”. It’s a letdown in some ways. I live in a communal house on steroids—aka The Vancouver Special—called Grandma’s Palace. It costs us more than three grand a month and we’ll have anywhere between 9 and 12 people sharing the rooms. Our cockroaches, communal mice, and silverfish say hello, by the way.

HB: Some kind of special.

GC: This place needs a kick in the teeth, honestly. They’re just trying to scrape away everything. You know, it’s OK to leave things empty, to let the sunlight come down. I’m so steeped with my school and the institution here that I also feel helpless. I can’t even seem to get a proper read on this city’s fucking art scene. I want to run away, but know I need to stay.

HB: I agree. If that change ever comes, you’ll feel like shit that you didn’t get to play a part in it.

GC: There’s a big sentiment towards change, and people are really fighting for it. As an artist, I feel I can’t properly contribute to the fight unless I find my voice. And If I ever do leave, which is my biggest fear, I’d be distanced from my subject and then the fight’s pretty much over.

Garvin walking from one studio to another.

HB: To lighten the mood a tad, I must say I don’t see you leaving all this good food behind.

GC: These days I’m actually missing the Chinese mom-and-pop joints back home. The ones I frequented in the smaller towns offer diner food like burgers and fries, on top of the Chinese fare. It’s pretty singular, I’d say. There’s a certain way they make their fries that I’m crazy aboutthey’re short, skinny and crispy as fuck. And the fuckin’ ginger beef, I’ve been forever searching for it in Vancouver.

HB: I stumbled upon an illustrative book called the “Starving Artist’s Cookbook” on a recent trip to Chicago. I know you’re voracious, and unlike some artists, you see it as more than nourishment.

GC: Always. Cooking is very important, just to have a good, proper meal. My father’s Trinidadian, and he taught from an early age. The staples were always stewed beef and rice, and variations on those. Also macaroni pievery Trinidadianwas one of my favourites.

HB: Lots in one pot wonder territory?

GC: Pretty much. After taking the island over from the Spanish, the British brought in African slaves and indentured servants from India whose cooking cultures shaped the island’s cuisine. My great-grandparents were indentured servants and cooked very hearty food.

Garvin’s homemade Callaloo

HB: Fresh curries… chutneys with lively aromatics, I presume.

GC: The Trinidadian palate is heavily Indian based in dishes like Chana [essentially curried chickpeas], Callaloo [a creamy and spicy curried Crab boil] with tons of spiceespecially Jeera [cumin]. Fuckloads of curry and lots of rice, so the things that make me smile are always the simplest. Doubles, how do I describe doubles? Trini-street food we always get first thing off the plane, kind of like a Chana wrap with a lots of pepper-sauce. Chow is also a favouriteany kind of tropical fruit like mangoes, loaded with very hot peppers… just great for a hot day. I have these disparate recipes which need reverse engineering because people in my family are terrible at giving clear instructions.

HB: Well why don’t I get some clear instructions from you, on what food spot you’re partial to in Vancouver.

GC: There’s this one place in Hastings-Sunrise called What’s Up Hot Dog. It’s a really homey, goofy, pawn shop-esque, no frills place where post-punk sort of people hang out. The thing that brings me back are the vegan chicken wings, which are saucy as fuck cauliflower served with this wasabi style hotdog. Fucking. Delicious.

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