Monday, August 20th, 2018
Celebrated French painter Henri Matisse once said, “A large part of the beauty of a picture arises from the struggle which an artist wages with his limited medium.”
Matisse, who once designed an entire church—Chapelle du Rosaire—and everything in it, clearly understood that every medium and each canvas large and small presents its own limits and challenges for the artist. The opportunity of the artistic struggle was one the students of Colette Laliberté’s Painting in the Expanded Field class at OCAD University, an art, design and media university, soon came to understand when they selected a medium they had never before used.
The students were invited to participate in “Wallwork,” a proposal-to-finished-project process that resulted in a 50-foot installation in Mercedes-Benz Financial Services’ Mississauga office. This is the second year that the company has hosted the Wallwork competition as part of a decade-long partnership with OCAD University.
This year’s winning entry is Ignite, an installation of backlit Masonite boards that depict past and present Mercedes-Benz engine parts. It is the work of fourth-year OCAD students Karen J. Li and Evelyn Quach. The art will remain on display through March of 2019 when the artists will return to dissemble the installation as part of the class assignment and artist experience.
Expanding their artistic horizons
Laliberté sees this project as an exciting addition to her students’ repertoire, as most of them haven’t had the opportunity to create 3-D models or work with different tools, such as an architectural ruler.
“You can do anything with pencils on a small scale, but this project is about learning how that vision will translate on a larger scale,” she says. In addition, the students gain meaningful experience in writing and presenting proposals. The final step in the process for the shortlisted students involved delivering their ideas to the entire Mercedes-Benz Financial Services Mississauga office.
Laliberté found that this year’s group of students was highly experiential, some of them tackling more extreme designs by pairing up. That was the case with Li and Quach, who decided to partner on their proposal to make the project less daunting and draw from each other’s complementary strengths.
Finding inspiration in shapes and lights
The project began with a fact-finding site visit to the office, which Li describes as somewhat intimidating, given the vast expanse of the wall and the contrast to the mediums they typically focus on—she had been working with small-scale plaster works, and Quach is a detailed oil painter.
Their brainstorming session yielded a number of insights as they discussed aspects of the office space that had caught their eye, specifically the noticeable emphasis on community and pride in working at Mercedes-Benz Financial Services. The artists’ goal was to propose an idea that was relevant to the office community, and they eventually landed on the concept of abstracted engine parts.
“We agreed that as art students with no knowledge of a car engine, separating the car parts and abstracting them to simpler shapes would be fascinating,” Li says. They also liked the underlying concept that just as all parts of the engine are crucial for a car to function, so too are all departments in a company. The idea to use LED lights was inspired by the office’s existing staircase that is backlit with LEDs.
“We knew our proposal was ambitious but agreed to go all out, since Laliberté’s course was about pushing beyond our comfort zone,” Li says. In return, the women gained valuable experience in all aspects of creating a finished work from scratch. They learned the 3-D program SketchUp, honed presentation skills, did plenty of math, purchased and prepared materials, and focused on every aspect of time management and project planning.
“Precise planning was mandatory because things can get even more complicated due to the number of components involved in a project of this magnitude,” Quach said. “We constantly evaluated costs, material choices, sizes, weights and installation methods.”
View the installation video here.
Along the way the team received assistance and support from a host of sources including John Deal, Drawing & Painting Studios (DRPT) technician; Tara Paashuis, Coordinator for Studio Sales & Services; and George Docherty in the Integrated Media (INTM) department, as well as friends who helped with connecting and soldering the LED lights.
As this project was particularly complex to organize, Laliberté appreciated the patience and flexibility shown by Mercedes-Benz Financial Services Canada. “It was important that the artists not feel pressured—this entire process was so new to them, and the company coordinators gave them room to figure out the logistics, which really allowed the students to grow and develop,” she said. “What they learned from doing this project will be with them always.”
To see more of their work, visit Karen J. Li’s website here and Evelyn Quach’s here.
To read the OCAD University perspective, please click here.
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