Featured in issue 5 of Marker.
What moment in your life sparked your creative career?
Probably when I was a little kid, we went to a church where you had to sit for a really long time quietly, and either read your bible or draw or just be quiet and sit there. So I would draw for hours and hours because you know you’re going to be sitting there—you’re captive. You go into that mode where you’re reflective, just thinking and drawing, so I was doing that from the time I was four or five years old.
Once I started getting a little bit of aptitude, people started pointing it out at school and mentioning, “You’re good at drawing!” So I’d do some more. I remember when I was about fifteen—fourteen—I started experimenting with drawing chaotic shapes and chaotic textures just with a pen. I drew some pictures and entered them into art competitions. And I actually ended up winning competitions, which I was really shocked at because I had no art training—we didn’t even have an art class in the school where I went because it was a really small town.
Where did you grow up?
In Russell, Manitoba. And there was no art. Zero. [Laughs.] Well, not zero, but very close to zero art. There was nothing in high school or junior high. So I was totally on my own, which is funny because although I was operating in a vacuum, in a sense, I found that that worked in my favour. I could do anything that I wanted, and I didn’t feel like I was necessarily accountable to anyone or following a trend or part of a group or anything. I felt just super alone with it. [Laughs.] Not in a bad way necessarily, just, “Hey, I’m on my own here.” So if I was going to do something, it was whatever I could do.
Can you explain your process for your chaos drawings?
When I first started, I was trying to do automatic drawing—drawing from my subconscious and creating chaotic shapes manually. And then it branched out into experimenting with trying to create chaos—chaotic patterns—just in a more truly chaotic way. Instead of me drawing something that I think looks like chaos, which I was really drawn to for some reason, I was like, “I’m going to start using actual chaos and forcing myself to work with what’s really there.” And that could involve pouring of liquids, pouring of inks, experimenting with stamping inks onto a surface—whatever you have to do to get wild-looking textures. And then I’d do that searching and reflecting on that chaos, looking at it and trying to see what’s in there that’s meaningful and I always had this—one of my little weird rules in my head is that it has to be meaningful. I think that goes back to your world view or your beliefs: do you believe life is meaningful or do you believe it’s meaningless? ’Cause that would come out in whatever art you would create from that. So if I looked at a blotch, I’m looking at it in the same way a kid looks at some clouds. Looking at this, you know, is this a dragon’s head? Or is this the tail and the head of a wolf? I’m going to look for opportunities in that chaos and if a wolf starts to present itself, then I’ll go with that, but I’ll go with it in the way that it’s naturally headed. I want to bring that thing out—and then you pull it out of the shapes, the textures that are there. If I make some chaos…I’ll look at that and say that’s beautiful and that’s got a lot of potential and that’s where I would want to work with something that if I made one, and if it looks ugly and it looked like a dead end, I’d probably just chuck it out and start over.
How many drawings do you have to go through to find something of value?
Sometimes you might have to do fifty to get a good one or to get an exact one. It depends how exact you want it to go. For example, in some of mine I’m experimenting with textures, and if I wanted to generate a fur texture for a lion, I’ll play with it. Some of these methods that I’ve created are ones that are a little bit secret. I get a lot of people on Instagram asking, “How do you do this?” I don’t show all of it. Also, I will use social media to make it interactive. So in some cases, I’ll post a chaotic image and say, “What do you see?” And if a whole bunch of people say, “I’m seeing a horse.” I’ll say, “Okay, if I’m seeing that, if I’m feeling it too, okay, we’re doing a horse.”
You talked about the influence social media has on your work, and I’ve noticed that you have over 166,000 followers on Instagram. What’s the most interesting feedback you’ve gotten?
If you’re to go with what’s the most interesting to me at a human level, at an emotional level—certain people will put into the comments the impact that this art has on them personally, and that is very powerful. That stuff blows me away. ’Cause I don’t even understand it, but somebody from wherever—I have people buying my art from around the world and even the United Arab Emirates and different countries, and it’s so interesting to see it crossing all the cultures and all the languages. The comments underneath are in different languages, which I don’t really understand but I will Google translate some of them just because I’m curious what these guys are saying in Russian and all these languages. It’s funny how art—visual art—can cross all those cultures….
It’s funny because some people put comments and say, “Aw, that looks really realistic.” And I’m sort of thinking it’s not really realistic in the sense of photographic—like it doesn’t look like a photograph to me. It’s realistic in the sense of it’s got flaws, it’s got strangeness, it’s got beauty, it’s got flowing forms, it’s got a naturalness to it.
One thing that did come out of the social media—and it’s funny—it turned into my art style has sort of become an official style on Instagram. Now if someone copies one of my styles on Instagram people put underneath, “That’s in Glen Ronald style” or “He’s doing the Glen Ronald thing.” They’ll put comments down underneath. So it’s kind of interesting that it’s turned into an actual, recognizable thing that’s an official style on Instagram.
Does that affect your ego at all?
It could, but I just find it interesting to show that it can be distinctive enough to be a specific style. Because I think that’s a real problem now in art that there’s a sense in post-modernism that everything’s been done, everything’s been recycled, there’s nothing new. But I honestly don’t believe that. I think you can still do something new. You could have a new writer or you could have a new type of musician or a new creative force. And you’d be like, “Okay, that’s the next Van Gogh.” It’s possible.
Is there anything besides the chaos that’s a creative influence for you?
Yah, nature. I think nature and animals is half of it, and that comes from my science background. I have a background in science and studying microbiology at university, and the science part of it I always found fascinating—even when I got out of science, it wasn’t like I got out of it because of boredom. I found my sense of wonder at nature and all types of animals and plants and micro-organisms, and that sense of wonder has never decreased. If anything, it keeps increasing the more I learn about it. Because the more I learn, the more I realize how incredibly complex and connected all of life is on the planet—it’s just nuts. You could study that stuff all day and not even be scratching the surface.
I noticed you’re involved with Arts on the Ave. What sort of things are you hoping to accomplish?
I got forced into being the treasurer on the board because nobody else would do it and it was a small board. So they basically announced that I was the treasurer, and I had to go along with it. [Laughs.] I help out with branding and marketing, and I have my studio right down there on 94th Street, so it’s right beside the Carrot. We have board meetings in my studio, and I have shows and try to generate some interest around art in that community. And that’s part of the mandate is to use arts to create more of a sense of community in that area.
Do you hold workshops for people?
We’ve done a few little fundraisers. A girl will come in and do a painting night as a fundraiser for Arts on the Ave, and we’ve done a few different events. We let the public come in and paint in the studio, so I set up canvases with drawings on them and I let everyone come up and paint—kids or whatever—all on the same canvas. And it’s really fun, very interactive. People really get a kick out of it, so we do that during Kaleido [Family Arts Festival] and even sometimes during Deep Freeze [Winter Festival] in January when there’s a public event. The atmosphere is really low-key and relaxed, and you’re just wandering around doing artsy stuff.
How do you create a balance for your business, art, and family? Or is that the point—that you don’t, and there’s just an element of chaos to it?
[Laughs.] There’s definitely true chaos in there. What I’ve done is built a business that’s big enough to support me and to have all the departments running smoothly without me there physically in the building. And that was my goal, so I’ve got it up there now pretty well running where I can go away for weeks at a time or I cannot show up for work on any given day and the machine just keeps going. So I can spend more time on family and more time on art. And then, I wasn’t exactly planning this, but I found that when I started doing more art, it actually started opening up all other kinds of connections—even business stuff though I wasn’t thinking along those lines. Now a whole bunch of business people have started buying my paintings and putting them up in offices. And I wasn’t intending it to go that way, but it’s actually good. Art opens up a lot of doors—certain people are just really into art; they just love it. It connects on a real heart level with people.
Where do you hope your work will take you? What are the next steps for this?
Honestly, I don’t know. But I would be open to doing some collaborations with other artists around town and getting some exposure for them and for me. And it’s fun. Usually when you go with someone else, it’s like jamming with a different type of musician. It’s like you see what they’re doing and you see their strength, and you think, “Okay, I could do some of that.” It’s inspiring.
Interview by Matthew Stepanic