Tessar Lo is a Toronto-based interdisciplinary artist. He graduated from the illustration program at Sheridan College. He has exhibited internationally at Jaski Art Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Door Studios, Paris, France; Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, USA; and Atticus Gallery, Barcelona, Spain. Most recently he was included in the group show One, and Two, and More Than Two curated by Micah Lexier at The Power Plant in Toronto, Canada. He lives and works in his studio.
I work here and sleep here. It’s good and it’s not good. I like the tension of having to live with the work. I can’t ignore it. If I finish working for the night and go to bed, it’s still there around me. I like that. I think it’s integral to my work. You can’t be comfortable all the time when you’re working. I’m still trying to figure out that relationship–living and working.
The problem is that I start getting into my head too much. I disconnect from everything, and that’s necessary, but I start to think, ‘Am I going crazy?’ I walk away from my work by walking to another work. For example, I’ll be painting something and to give that room, I’ll do a drawing. To give that room, I’ll cut some paper. I’ll do that cycle until I have to actually leave and go for a walk outside.
There isn’t an exact routine to my day. I work when something hits me and I don’t force it if it’s not there. I tend to think that I work hard but I don’t work in the sense that I clock in and go for three hours straight. I’ll go away, cook something, take a walk and come back to it. While I’m doing those other things, the work doesn’t leave me. It sticks to me. It’s a blessing and a curse–with art, y0u love something so much that it becomes a part of you, but at the same time, you wish you could put it aside.
I don’t know if this makes sense, but I feel like there’s parts of me that are interesting in certain parts of making things. There’s intricate things, big swashing things and knowing those parts is like knowing parts of myself. I address and give to time to the part of me that needs big energy strokes and I address the part of me that needs to be stupidly meticulous. With this, the spectrum is wider for me to play. I feel more comfortable going in any direction I need to go. It’s my vocabulary. It’s language.
At my Cooper Cole show, we’re doing these installations of studio ephemera alongside the paintings. The ephemera is so integral to how I get to these checkpoints in my work. I work pretty quickly so I always get people asking me, ‘Three months ago you were doing this thing, how come you’re doing this thing now?’ If they’re only seeing the stuff that’s being presented by a gallery, they don’t realize that it’s not like I woke up one day and decided to ditch this and go here. There’s a journey. There’s reworking and reworking and reworking to get to this point.
By showing the ephemera with my work, I’m trying to show people that there’s a process that’s beyond making the paintings. More and more I feel like the paintings are actually a byproduct of the more important thing which is that process, that learning. The painting becomes the tail end of it.
I do the Metro crossword whenever I commute, and I started realizing that it comes back into my work. It’s playing with words and referencing things by their underlying commonalities. It’s weird. There’s all these little things but you can never show that to people. I can explain it to you, but it’s not the same. My hope is that showing a little bit of the ephemera, the process, will trigger this idea of , ‘Ok, there’s more to the process then just making a painting.’ I really need people to know that there’s a whole system…that’s also not a system.
When I was younger, the ideas came second to a strong visual. The surface was representation. Now, I’m more interesting in representing the idea. The surface has to exist as a trigger to those ideas.
I graduated illustration from Sheridan pretty adjusted to the idea that I would be doing illustration. Slowly, the illustration work died off because I was spending more time exploring the things that I needed to work out in my paintings. You could say the shift was courageous…or foolish. Rent is still a reality. Food is still a necessity. I’m stupid. I’m stubborn. You can cheat anyone you want, you can cheat your family and bullshit them, but you can’t lie to yourself. You lie in bed at the end of the day and you know who you are and you know if you’re being integral to yourself. Unfortunately for me, if I don’t make art, I don’t sleep well. Without art, I feel like, ‘What is all this money then?’ It’s oppression, ultimately. It might be self-imposed but it’s still oppression.
The need to make art is pretty necessary to make good work. You can’t replicate that need. The feeling started when I realized how powerful art could be. As a maker of art, I aspire to make the kind of work that could be powerful and effect people. A few years ago, I made this painting and, I don’t know if this person was going through a break up or something, but she looked at the painting and started crying. It was baffling for me because it wasn’t a piece that I would necessarily be proud to show, but she seemed really moved by it. It’s that mystery of connecting between human experience and work. It’s magical, right? We know so much. In this day and age, we know so much, we know too much about everything, and we need those things that can’t be explained.
–Tessar Lo, as told to Studio Beat
photos by Courtney Vokey