"A while back I worked for Lower Fort Garry which was an old Hudson Bay Company Fort between Winnipeg and Selkirk. It was a summer job where I was a historical interpreter. I had to dress up like it was in the 1850s and pretend that I lived in that era which is in a way ridiculous. It is this history or fiction that we were trying to portray to people and that got me thinking a lot about my own family and our history. The history that actually exists and the history that we portray along with the official government influence. The complicated mixing pot of history and identity; what’s real and isn’t. What voices are heard, what is given as a standard, and what voices are suppressed. It's forever enduring and it continues today." --Evin Collis
Evin Collis' work over the years thinks a lot about the complexities of the Canadian landscape as degraded and cross-examines the theatrical romantic mythologies surrounding it. But that’s just a quick sentence that barely breaks the surface of Collis’ work. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Collis is very aware of his identity and family history as it relates to the city and this comes through in his work. Collis recently completed his graduate studies at the School of Art Institute of Chicago and being in Chicago over the last recent years has allowed him to find expanded parallels with his work across a landscape like Chicago's. Being there has also allowed his previously predominately painting and sculpture practice to reach into stop motion animation which has opened up for new possibilities for how he thinks through his work. We were lucky to catch sometime with Collis when he was in town to talk about his work, how he feels now that he’s completed his formal studies, his new upcoming comic book project and his earliest memories of being creative—among other thing talking points.
Manitoba Interior (2015). Oil on canvas. 72 x 72.
Luther Konadu. You’ve been making paintings for the longest time now you are bringing the work into stop motion animation in a more full-handedly way ?
Evin Collis. Yes, I’ve gotten more into it and I'm experimenting more. While in Chicago, I had great access to resources I wouldn’t have had on my own. I had the opportunity to play around, fail and try different things with it. It is still a work in-progress though, I’m still learning lots and figuring out how to create the animations I want to make.
Danielle Fenn. Did you make all of those little guys? (referencing the latest animation "Prizzly")
E. Yes, I made everything. It’s all handmade.
Stills from Prizzly (in-progress stop motion animation project)
D. Is that clay?
E. It’s a combination of things. Parts of the puppets are made from Sculpey, aluminum wire, foam, and all kinds of mixed materials.
D. It looks very Winnipeg
E. Yeah, but I also think of them being anywhere in Manitoba or Northern Ontario.
L. What do you find the stop motion work is “doing” that the paintings and sculpture work couldn’t “do” in your work like how it is able to present your ideas?
E. Stop-motion animation has allowed me to tell stories through a separate means of production. It involves all the facets of making I love, drawing, painting, sculpting, building, collage and storytelling. I think my animations have a certain painterly quality to them. My roots are in drawing and painting but the complexities of animation brings the characters and their world to life in a particularly fascinating way. It's another means of playing with the theatricality of it all.
L. How long did it take you between getting your undergrad and starting off your MFA and what did you do in between then?
E. After my undergrad, I returned to Winnipeg and got a job with Via Rail as a porter, so I did that for about four years. While working onboard the trains with VIA I had a studio at the old Ross building was there for about three years. I was traveling lots during the summers between Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Churchill and in between that I was making work.
Throughout my experiences on the railroad, it got me thinking a lot about the communities around it and the degraded landscape in Canada. There is this mythology about Canada and its landscape and the romance of it but a lot of it like Lake Winnipeg—is totally diseased.
"I am very much aware history paintings have been completely untrendy and it’s part of the appreciation I have for it."
Kelly Campbell. The empty Canadian landscape is definitely a colonial fantasy.
E. Oh yes, it very much is. There’s a lot of available literature that speaks to that. The Group of Seven did make some beautiful paintings but ultimately it's about territory and control. I find it interesting to contrast the theatrical romanticized landscapes with the real, ugly, post industrial landscapes and finding an existing romance there, like in Sudbury—which is where my father is originally from—a lot of the land and the lakes were poisoned from the nickel mining but finding the beauty amongst the slag.
D. I notice in your video there was a lot of drinking and what look like the decay of the body and as well as the land
E. The body in distress is something I think about frequently. Having lived in Winnipeg for some time, you can identify with how intense the winters can be. In many ways it's good for making art, you can isolate yourself indoors and get a lot done but there’s a darkness that can come out of that and people have different ways of coping. And there is a running theme of distress, intoxication and poisoning be it the body or the land. There is an internal and external corruption and a pathos to the work.
Winter Night (2015). Oil on canvas. 84 x 84.
L. So it’s something that you looked more into during your graduate studies at saic?
E. It’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about for a long while. Being in graduate school allowed me focus on what I was interested in and work with an incredible group of people, expand my community and my network. It gave me the opportunity to hone down some of the formalities and techniques of stop motion animation. Before that, I was entirely self-taught with it, so being there, gave me a bit more of a foundation. With the painting, I got to learn even more about the materials I was using, I got learn about how to make my own paints. I started painting with egg tempera—which is a fantastic medium.
"Chicago is an incredibly segregated city. Winnipeg is not entirely different."
L. Having lived in Toronto for a number of years and in Chicago, how would you compare the art scenes in both cities?
E. Well, in my experience, Chicago was very welcoming and unpretentious. It is a very supportive city. Toronto and Chicago are both great, dynamic cities with strong arts cultures nested on the Great Lakes. I see Chicago and Winnipeg having many parallels. They are both Midwest cities, have cold winters and a strong working class background. There is grittiness to both cities and the art scene reflects that as well. Chicago has its own thing going and doesn’t really look towards New York City the way another city might. It has its own proud history.
D. It has a lot of proud history and great art scene but also a shaken history as well.
E. Yes, totally. And I don’t think Winnipeg is any different or most cities for that matter. Chicago is an incredibly segregated city. Winnipeg is not entirely different.
L. I was just thinking about how your work is very much informed by “Canada” and how the work is going to stand with you working out of the country and in a different city. But now that you are making these comparisons with Winnipeg and Chicago, I guess I can see how the work can keep taking form.
E. Yes, being there helped me realize the many parallels between the two cities. I feel like Winnipeg has more in common with Chicago in some respects than Toronto. Something about the history, geography, being a city that is often overlooked and misrepresented creates a climate of art making that is more akin to what goes on here in Winnipeg.