When he was in high school, Toronto-based Callum Schuster never thought of being a professional artist. “I enjoyed biology, philosophy, physics, as well as art,” he says. “I wanted to be a marine biologist or a taxonomy draftsman.” This early interest in sciences, however, continues to inform how he approaches his art-making – stacks of science and philosophy books are one of the first things you notice when stepping into his Niagara Street studio in the city’s West End. Schuster is currently preparing for a very busy fall. His first solo exhibition opens at O’Born Contemporary this September, and will include steel wall-mounted sculptures alongside works based on drawings selected by artist and curator Micah Lexier for his survey of Toronto art, One, and Two, and More Than Two, last year at The Power Plant. Schuster has also been tapped to create an outdoor installation in Fort York for this year’s Nuit Blanche in Toronto this October.
“This series of paintings are titled Akin to Skin. The three top paintings are acrylic on canvas. There’s a specific combination of paint mediums I mix myself, adding a bit of silicone for more flexibility and durability. A technique of sandwiching paint between canvas and plastic allows for a unique drying process that, when manipulated, mimics our own skin’s aging process. For me, there’s a direct relationship between our environment and our physical, mental and emotional well-being. This in turn affects our behaviour, and through our behaviour we create objects and new environments that reflect on the human condition. These paintings reflect a bit of what it is to be human and how finite time is reflected in our own bodies. The distinctive markings on our bodies reflect who we are and our experiences, and the paint here is acting like a surrogate.
I’ve also been experimenting with incorporating the paintings’ textures into the wall surrounding them, like a wallpaper. This takes the idea of how our environment affects us physically a step further. For me, it represents a Nature via Nurture idea rather than the Nature or Nurture debate.”
“This is an early experiment for my Nuit Blanche project. Three sets of four lasers will create grids that will shift within the space, which will be a 12-foot cube that people enter. The idea is to apply perspective theory in painting and the psychology of perception to a 3D environment. I’m using the string to experiment with perspectives like one would when drawing lines in a painting, but in 3D space.”
“These drip pieces are attempts at measuring time through accumulated space, like the rings in a tree or, in this case, stalactites and stalagmites. They are objects from around my studio – nails, old brush handles, stuff that’s gotten broken – so the layers of paint are like the layers of sediment in a cave that form stalactites.
The work on the shelf is vinyl on Plexi with a matte varnish, and is the start of a series for the O’Born show. These images were first shown as digital drawings at the Power Plant as part of Micah’s exhibition. I see them less as drawings now, and more as diagrams in visual literacy in the sense that we can imagine a perfect circle or sphere in space and time. I’m taking these forms from that intangible space and bringing them into reality. The diagrams are exercises in navigating the picture plane, which can help point out similarities in how we imagine seeing objects and how we actually see objects. The title is Circle from Bird’s Eye View over Time, and represents a circle with its shadow depicted in 1-½ hour increments over the course of a day, similar to a sundial. They say in philosophy that the application of a theory to a practice is the only way that we can truly understand something. These diagrams, along with the sculptures from this series, are an attempt to take an idea or theory and see how it holds in reality or practice.
These are a few of my earliest paintings. In the top left is Frayed Canvas, in which the translucent paint allows you to see the stretcher underneath and the frayed canvas, all the components of a painting seen at once. It was a simple deconstruction of the process of painting for me at the time. To the right is a saggy yellow painting called Saggy Skin. It’s a skin of acrylic paint that was pulled over a stretcher and then removed from the stretcher and placed on the wall, where gravity acted upon it, revealing the paint’s objectness. Hanging beneath are samples of paint that I’ve made myself from found materials, as well as some dried flowers that I use to create colours.”
“A studio neighbour loaned me the Manzoni book and the Pontbriand book was a recent gift from a friend. Sometimes I get so focused on what’s happening in the studio that thinking about art in a global context and getting my brain out of the studio is refreshing! Mirror Mirror and Art & Physics have greatly influenced the work I’m making now. Mirror discusses the historical and technical aspects of manufacturing mirrors, their spiritual and cultural meanings, and how they have had many different interpretations in art. The other book, Art & Physics, is like a timeline of how art and science have paralleled each other through history, and how artists have foreshadowed scientific discoveries. One interesting example concerns DaVinci. He had his own ideas about inertia 300 years before Newton.”
Bill Clarke was the Executive Editor of Magenta Magazine Online from its inception in September 2009 until May 2017. His writing has been published in Modern Painters, Art Review, Canadian Art, Artnews and several other publications. In January 2017, he assumed the position of associate director at Angell Gallery in Toronto.