Canadian artist Peter Diamond got his first taste of illustration drawing gig posters for his buddies punk rock shows in high school. Now, from his home in Vienna, his work has evolved into beautifully intricate and surreal compositions.
How would you describe your work?
In terms of concept, I would have to say my drawings are something like visual short stories, at least the best ones are. Most often I want the viewer to feel they’ve interrupted some secret goings-on, and I give them just a glimpse of the story to decipher. I aim to nurse the ambiguities and free associations in my pictures without allowing them to become meaningless. In my simpler pieces based on more straight-forward visual metaphors, I do my best to add a touch of the unexpected or the subjective, to keep them from being one-liners.
In terms of technique: compulsive detail, obsessive composition, bright colours forced into dark schemes.
Your bio tells us of how your early experiences as illustrator happened working on high-school gig posters. What have been your major influences since then?
Well since those day I’ve lived a lot of experiences and seen a lot of art, and they’ve all shaped the art I’m making now. If we’re speaking strictly in terms of artists, the most directly influencial since that time have been old-timers including Rackham, Schiele, Hokusai, Kuniyoshi, and Klimt. Contemporary artists such as Tomer Hanuka, Yuko Shimizu, Ghostshrimp, Sam Weber and Carson Ellis have lit some pretty serious fires under me, and I’ve recently become enamored with ornamental design and patterning, and the work of Viennese architect Otto Wagner.
Beyond all that the things I draw are very much marked by travel, reading about history and biology, and long hours of kitchen work.
What made you decided to move to Vienna? With most business being conducted online these days, do you feel your choice of geographical location has an impact on your work?
I moved to Vienna to be with my girlfriend Lisa, who is Austrian. It was easier for me to relocate to the EU than for her to Canada, and I always wanted to live abroad anyway so it made sense for us.
I wouldn’t say that the internet makes an artist’s choice of location irrelevant by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think it gives us a lot more options. Publishing being what it is here, I think I’d be hard pressed to make a living in illustration in Vienna (unless I were a political cartoonist, they have a thriving bunch of political cartoonists here) if it weren’t for the internet, so in that sense it opens things up, but I believe that being in close proximity to your fellows and your clients remains a major advantage.
Having said that, Vienna has been a source of major inspiration. In Viennese architecture the kind of swirling organic detail and symbolistic imagery I love to put in my drawings is molded into my surroundings, and the museums are treasure-troves. And somehow, though I can’t quite put my finger on why, the multiplicity of languages on the street seems constantly to stoke my imagination.
You attended Yuko Shimizu’s Summer Illustration Workshop in Venice. Can you tell us a bit about that experience and how it has influenced your work?
That’s one more way moving to Vienna has been an advantage, as I likely wouldn’t have made it over to Venice from Nova Scotia. Taking Yuko’s course was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Yuko is a master, and happens to understand very well where I’m coming from artistically.
Marshall Arisman said something about when you’re learning from a teacher they’re not so much teaching you something new as reminding you of what you already know. I don’t know if I’d subscribe to that as an absolute, but I think in many cases it’s true. Yuko brought out into the light the weaknesses in my work that were nagging at the back of my mind, but that I had never seen clearly enough to resolve. That, combined with the encouragement to pursue the kind of drawing I most love to do, (and hence the kind of drawing I’m best at) resulted in some huge leaps forward in my portfolio.
The course was only a week long but sometimes I think I gained as much from that week as I did in 4 years of art school.
Your ongoing collaboration with writer Michael Kimber has yielded some wonderful work. Do you approach this type of project differently than usual client work?
Yes, definitely. Michael provides no art direction whatsoever, and we work simply on the understanding that I’m responding to his writing in an honest and spirited way. There are no real deadlines, and I do these drawings when I can get to them and when something in his writing sparks a reaction. I was very happy with the first two, ‘Champions Of Breakfast’ and ‘Empty Nest’, they were strong visual comments with a sense of humor. But the third piece ‘Treading Water’ is in my opinion one of my strongest works, and it was the result of a much more personal response to heavier source material.
What would you most like to see yourself doing in the coming years? Do you have any upcoming projects we can look forward to?
For now I’m just focusing on steady work as an illustrator. I’ve been treading part-time, semi-pro water for such a long time that all I’m really after at the moment is to keep this boat afloat full-time. Learning self-promotion and trying to do it effectively is a whole new art, and it’s keeping me pretty busy.
Further down the road I can imagine teaching or Art Direction, and if I allow myself to daydream (and of course I do) I like to see myself having my pick of clients and trying my hand at toy design, typography, animation and pattern design ( I would love to design excessively intricate wallpaper if only people still wanted it ).
I’m preparing to release a small edition of prints in the very near future. Right now I’m collecting suggestions through my facebook page as to which piece I should run, and an edition of 20 signed giclée prints will be available in the coming weeks.
There are always a host of hare-brained schemes in the incubator and it’s hard to say at any given time which ones will survive to adulthood. I’ve recently customized my first Munny doll and I’m looking forward to doing a few more, and Lisa and I have batted around the idea of a bilingual kid’s book (german/ english). Other than that I’m adding new work to my portfolio all the time, any interested parties can follow that progress on my site and my facebook page.
‘Both Our Houses’ is a fascinating piece. Was this a personal project? Can you tell us about the image and what it means to you?
Yes, that was a personal piece. It’s about the effects of colonisation on the native nations of what is now Canada. This is a topic I first worked with at the end of art school, for my graduate exhibition ‘White Eyes’. There is so much to say about this part of Canadian history, and it’s such a huge part of that history, but for the most part we don’t talk about it much. It’s impossible to ‘tell it like it was’ because we’re too intimately involved with it and the historical sources are too one-sided, so I focus on my own responses to what I manage to learn and to what I see around me, and that response is dominated by horror and sadness.
Growing up as a Canadian kid, I learned throughout my schooling about ‘Les Amérindiens’ (I went to school in French), and I grew to love them. As I grew older and my interest remained, I continued to learn about them on my own and eventually I had to face up to the realities behind what I had learned in school.
In this piece the central image is the blanket of locusts and roaches, and this stands for the smallpox that wiped out huge swaths of the native populations, and the famous ‘Hudson’s Bay Blankets’ that helped spread the disease. In addition to that, I’ve made reference to the myths of the ‘Red Man’ in film and television that still dominate popular perception of native peoples, and the often-broken promises of the many Treaties throughout our history. There are other elements here of my personal reflections on the matter, but the above are the ones that best lend themselves to this sort of explanation.
All images ©2010 Peter Diamond