Exploration of Urban Forms: Interview with Zandra Stratford

Exploration of Urban Forms: Interview with Zandra Stratford

Zandra Stratford is a West Coast abstract painter known for bold, semiotic works. Her pieces lay a foundation of elemental earth tones; clay and cement greys and soil blacks, laying strata after strata of contrasting and ambitious colour as a counterpoint to industrial textures, and this overlaid with confident horizontal structures.

Preferring large canvases and panoramic birch panels, her work stands as an exploration of urban forms and our experience with the material of cities. Each interaction, point of surface contact or scuff, whether by design or by circumstance, is at once something removed, something revealed, and something left behind.

Her use of maps speaks to a sense of place, but it is at the same time indistinct, a kind of universal geography, the design of space within pre- existing space, and how our interactions – organic and emotional and spontaneous – collapse and become aggregate, integrated into pre- established patterns of traffic, structure, and flow.

Stratford studied printmaking at the Victoria College of Art, after more than a decade’s experience as an advertising Art Director. This informs her work’s cadence, graphic sensibility and declarative confidence.

Her piece “Gorgeous Filth #01” (2017) was selected for the prestigious Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London, the only resident Canadian to be selected for that show’s 249th year.

Her studio, on Salt Spring Island off the coast of Vancouver, is a bright high-ceilinged space filled with the debris of signal - swatches and typographical elements, vintage textbooks and advertisements, spray- bombs and stencils and the ghosts of what someone, at some point, was trying to convey, like decades-old stray radio signals bouncing off the ionosphere to be captured serendipitously by a car radio at night. 

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Tell us about your creative background. When did you commit to a life in the arts?

I’ve always hand my hand in the arts. I worked as an Art Director in ad agencies for more than a decade before picking up a paint brush again. My kids were small were so I didn’t have a lot of time to move my work forward, but I was dabbling and experimenting. It wasn’t until 2012 that I really dedicated the majority of my time to making art.

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What inspires your current work and the color palette you choose?

I’m interested in the stories of urban spaces–the layers of built up debris, dirt, graffiti, and weathered structures, the convergence of the elements with what people have placed there and how that changes over time, the echos of what is left over and how the story changes. That’s reflected in my work. There is as much paint applied as there is removed and somewhere there is a balance that hopefully tells a compelling story. Because these areas are so worn, dirty, and aged, as a modernist I try to juxtapose a soft palette of neutrals and pastels to make something contemporary.

You mention that you live on an artist-colony island. Tell us a little bit about that and what the experience has been like for you.

I’ve lived on Salt Spring Island for the past 9 years. It’s a small rural community off the coast of Vancouver and is magically filled with people doing cool things. It’s a great place to focus because there isn’t really much else to do. I’ve met the most amazing people here, most of my best friends are creatives so while our work may be different there is a similar vein of experience so we really seem to get each other. There’s a shared understanding that you may be locked away in your studio for weeks on end but you’ll emerge eventually and it will be easy to catch up.

We’re about to change things up and are moving to London in the summer to explore opportunities there.

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What motivates you and helps you to prevent burnout?

I feel like making art is how I make sense of the world and it’s really not an option to not do it. It’s very bad for my mental health if I’m not actively working. I go through periods when I have too much on the go and usually have periods where burnout is inevitable. I haven’t figure out how to prevent it just yet but after it’s happened, my favourite thing to do is to go the city to recharge. It’s very quite here and spending too much time with yourself can feel isolating.

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Describe a typical day in the studio.

My usual practice has me going to studio around 12:30 so I have the morning to work on business stuff, but because I’ve got a couple of shows coming up I’m getting in there earlier. I’ve been trying to incorporate meditation into my routine so have recently started each studio session trying to clear my mind and invite focus and curiosity into my work. Then I’ll usually paint for about 5 hours. My studio is in my home so I take lots of little breaks to drink tea and contemplate what’s happening on the boards.

What are some challenges you face in your studio practice?

I’m always chasing the light. I live in the Pacific Northwest so its grey here more than half the year which can lead to some frustration. I’ve been in this studio for almost four years and I still haven’t figured out how to light it properly. Isolation can be challenging when I get caught up in my own head and can’t see where I need to go. Fortunately I am part of a large online artist community and can bounce challenges off to other artists.

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Name a few artists that inspire you.

I really love the #5womanartists campaign so I want to focus on women for this answer.

Jillian Evelyn
Katy Ann Gilmore
Carla Tak
Bonnie and Clyde (Steph Burnley) Tracy Emin
Guerilla Girls

Oops, that’s 6!

Seth Smith

Seth Smith

Huntz Liu

Huntz Liu