Laurence Vallières, sculptress of the menagerie.
Laurence Vallières is a talented artist based in Montréal, known especially for her distinctive, larger-than-life sculptures of animals created entirely out of cardboard. Her work has been exhibited in Canada, Germany and the United States, to name a few countries, and I was lucky enough to room with her in Miami during Art Basel 2014. After having wandered Wynwood District together all morning on our last day, we decided to take a pit stop at Miami Ad School where one of her latest sculptures was being exhibited (view photo below). During this break- we talked about travel, breaking into the art world and strengthening artistic relations and practices with the importance of communication.
What’s the earliest memory you have of creating something?
I have so many! I was very productive when I was a kid. (laughs) Everything was a new idea and each one was just as good as the last. My dad was a bookbinder so he would always be bringing me new handmade sketchbooks. All in various colours with different types of paper. I could say that having the sketchbooks around me constantly just made me draw so much, filling all of those blank pages.
Looking back ten years, do you think people’s vision of art has undergone a big transformation?
Currents change, trends change. People are surrounded by different things every single day and it’s impossible for them not to change their judgment on it. If you’re being bombarded with one idea and you see everyone else enjoying it, you will begin to appreciate it regardless of not having liked it in the first place. In that way, yes, art changes from one decade to another. I also feel like we’re more free nowadays, we have access to so much that we have the option of choosing what we’re drawn to and what we aren’t. We’re even more independent in our taste. On the other hand, the main, global art scene hasn’t changed much. I don’t think ten years is enough, people like the same things for centuries which leads me to believe that our culture is very fixed at times.
This year you’ve flown from Munich to Hamburg to New York and now Miami. Has travelling changed your vision of hometown Montreal?
Hamburg reminds me quite a bit of Montreal, actually! I was exhibiting in the St. Pauli district which used to be a little trashy but is now up-and-coming, very much like Montreal’s Le Plateau. Hamburg is edgy, super hipster and the weather is disgusting. Very similar. (laughs). I have to say, though, that I do find that Montreal is missing nature in its quality of life. The city is plain: it’s far from mountains, from the ocean, from any type of forests. That would probably be the city’s biggest downside, its distance from nature. It’s nice to see bigger cities and different cultures, but travelling isn’t the same 1960’s romanticized idea of moving to a new, foreign city to get a taste of the world. Travelling has made me appreciate Montréal so much more. Even if I do wish the general French Canadian public invested more in the arts, I'm very much in love with Montréal and wouldn't live anywhere else.
Do you agree with the idea that the curator has become more powerful than the artist?
It really depends what level you’re at. Largely curated exhibitions usually want as many people to enjoy it as possible, so the curator includes work that will draw in a bigger audience. If it’s a solo show, the artist should have the freedom to put it together as they like. Art dealers and curators definitely, though, have a much better vision of sales than the artist; how elements should flow in a show for art to be sold. In that way, I can say that they are more powerful. But I do think it’s necessary to have that type of organization. It can become too much for the artist to have to handle everything.
How would you strengthen the communication between an artist and its gallery?
The gallerist has to be your best friend. Not really your best friend, but you have to become very close. You have to trust them. It’s really important to have a good communication when it comes to your work: when, where and how it’s being displayed and if something has been sold. If there’s no communication, you feel unsafe as an artist and that’s never a good feeling. You should also have the ability to share a vision for what’s next for the gallery: it’s part of your decision as an artist if you don’t like the turn they’re taking. It’s not about getting fully involved in the gallery process but it is teamwork and all opinions should be taken into account.
How do you manage to stay true to yourself and to your art with so much external feedback?
It’s difficult. You create something you really like, you put it out there and when you don’t receive the feedback you were expecting - nobody likes it or nobody wants to buy it - you doubt the work and you begin to doubt yourself. It’s very hard to not be affected by this, to sit down and do what you really want and not what others are expecting. Otherwise it’s the anti-artistic process. I know that there are certain places and certain works that will sell right away but that’s not what art is about. It becomes design, a product. Being alone in your studio all day and receiving support on social media, doing interviews and having people buy your art definitely boosts your ego. You feel like you’re going somewhere in what can usually be a very lonely process.
Do you often collaborate with different artists?
Not as much. I don’t collaborate well. I have so many friends that are painters and I love being surrounded by artists, but I like to do my own thing. I did, however, work with artist Logan Hicks in New York and that was a great experience because we got along really well. I was lucky to meet him because it's rare to meet somebody you can collaborate so well with.
What draws you to the animal kingdom when you’re creating your sculptures?
Animals are fantastic, they’re so human! It’s the best way to describe social behaviour; they’ve really opened my eyes on who we are as people. I love metaphors and books that use animals to tell stories make it so much easier for me to understand somehow. Not to mention that they’re aesthetically pleasing.
Are you focusing on monkeys specifically because of their closeness to humans?
Yes, and for impact as well. I used the monkeys for the first time in 2008 when I did a piece about the crash in the market. I built a businessman holding the monkey on his lap, explaining what happened. The monkey was being told there had been a crash and he might lose his job but he hadn’t done anything wrong. He was like the dummy that didn’t get what was going on, didn’t understand why we were going to suffer from something that wasn’t tangible. That monkey was me, that monkey was all the “dummies” out there. Every time I represent him he’s on his iPhone, he follows trends, he does what I see people do on the Metro. He’s not always the brightest, and that at times can become very relatable. It’s not a mockery, it’s just poking fun at the primary instinct.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
The first piece of advice that comes to mind was told to me while I was studying ceramics in California. My teacher was a craftsman, very skilled and very productive. Students were allowed to produce one piece all year if we felt like it was enough room, which left a lot of room to experiment and such. In three months, I had created this massive, wooden sculpture of the London bridge standing on two elephants facing opposite ways. When my teacher saw it, his words were: “Ok. That’s great. Is that all you made in three months?”. When I said yes, he responded: “It’s not enough.”. I couldn’t understand at all at the moment but he was so right! In real life, you have to produce so much work, not only learning the skill and quality of your craft but also learning to produce quality work fast. You’re never going to grow as an artist if you have small production, you’re not going to sell. So that was interesting advice from a craft person's point of view that definitely stuck with me.
What’s your next step?
I want to start writing and building more in-depth ideas, using more installation. Working with a similar aesthetic, I also want to start using different materials, found objects. We’ll see.