Artist Interview: Derek Mainella

Derek Maniella is an artist and independent curator from Toronto, Canada. Mainella has worked with various forms of media including drawing, installation, sound and video; he is best known for his oil on canvas paintings. Mainella was the curator of Mind Control Gallery from 2003-2006 and has assembled numerous independent curatorial efforts since 2002. Derek has produced several ‘art-happening’ parties and has been guest dj at countless art openings and events. Mainella was represented by Greener Pastures Contemporary Art in Toronto until its closing in 2009. He has had several solo shows and has been in groups shows in Toronto, New York and Europe. Mainella’s work can be found in private collections in both North America and Europe; alongside artists such as Karen Kilimnik, Jean- Michael Basquiat, Dana Schutz, John Currin, and Jonathan Messe.

FAULT: With having a mixed media background, what made you decide to primarily use oil on canvas?

DM: I was doing a bunch of different work in art college; video, serigraphy, 3D works, etc, and had shown some installation work and stupid found objects in addition to the paintings. Then I began showing these really dark oil paintings at Greener Pastures in Toronto and things really took off with those. So now it’s mostly painting. I have some ideas for some sculptural works perhaps in the future, but it always comes back to painting somehow.

FAULT: What are some of the sources of inspiration behind your paintings?

DM: Basically, my paintings are based in the hyperbole of the real world. What we see all around us- advertising, magazine images, pop culture, etc. Turning that back into the quiet tradition of painting. There’s a lot of conceptual and modernist work happening nowadays, but now it’s an accepted trend. Previously, when that was what most art looked like, people hated art because they couldn’t understand it. Much of my work people can relate to in some way, even if they don’t understand it.

FAULT: How does music influence your artwork?

DM: Music is important in my work to some degree. The good stuff (music) anticipates the spirit of the times in many cases, and I like to keep abreast of what is happening. Really influential bands or movements also have the capacity to alter your life somehow. Then there are the literal translations in my work; the hip-hop, street culture, and pop references and there will be some direct phrases from my childhood favorite bands in some new landscape text paintings. Also, “Get Rich or Die Tryin” is played in the studio, over and over, all the time.

FAULT: How has your painting style evolved/changed over the years?

The old masters works of recent years are now giving way to more loose, expressive paintings. This is something I’ve always wanted to do. So each work will not be as belabored, but there will be way more works, larger, and more variety and craziness.

FAULT: In what sort of environment do you like to create your paintings?

I like a raucous atmosphere with a lot going on.  Our old studio, slash gallery was huge with people around and something happening all the time. Now I am quite the solitary painter, but that is also good for focus.  I hope to get a large studio again eventually with assistants, who I can kick out when I want to.

FAULT: What artists do you admire?

Hmmm… Ok this will be the very short version. I’ll tell you my list of old historic painters… Velazquez, Goya, Fragonard, Franz Hals, Friedrich, Gainsborough, Manet. The YBA’s were a HUGE influence, and of course, art was not cool until they came along. In recent years: Bernard Frize, Michael Krebber, Karen Kilimnik, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Katherine Bernhardt, Erik Parker, Dawn Mellor, Josephine Meckseper, Jason Fox. The big three artists I’m jealous of because they are so rich: John Currin, Richard Phillips and Elizabeth Peyton. Then of course my painting mates from Toronto, but they are all very bad people and should never be admired.

Money to Burn

FAULT: What’s the biggest complement you’ve received as an artist?

Some prominent New York artists have purchased my work, that’s the biggest I would say. Also being in a show a few years back on the same wall as Jason Fox was a huge thrill at the time.

FAULT: You recently curated a show “Bitch Slap” at Thrush Holmes Empire. Can you tell us more about that?

I’ve been putting on art happening shows and large-scale group shows quite randomly since 2002. I realized a few years back that many of my favorite international artists were women, and decided I must do an all-female show eventually. The name was from the time period when I first had the idea, so it was a little played out, but it was designed to attract people because the shows are only up for a weekend generally. That is about as political as my reasons were. People didn’t really understand in some cases and I got into a bit of trouble with some uptight types, but people enjoy having something to complain about. There was great work from artists I had access to from Canada and New York, and the show was very well received, so I was happy.

FAULT: Do you think it’s important for an artist to be involved in the local music, fashion and art scene?

It’s hard to say actually. There are those reclusive genius artists who do amazing stuff. Then there are the people that go to everything and manage to get some work done somehow. I’ve always had a huge interest in these things but mostly from the greater world, from books and magazines. But I like going to parties, so yes.

FAULT: What are you currently working on?

Paintings for a group show in the UK in October, and a solo in Toronto next spring at Neubacher Shor Contemporary. Hopefully something in between… Right now I’m doing some text paintings that I’m setting on fire and then painting over- very cool.

FAULT: You have an upcoming show AVANT FROTTAGE this fall, what can we expect to see?

This will be my next curation. The subtitle for the show is… “Weird Art, Neo Psyche, Contemplation, Extreme Examples and Oblique Gestures.” Like my earlier shows, this will be more of an art happening with tons of art and people and some surprises. I might also curate a solo show of someone else’s work in the not so distant future, which I’ve never done.

FAULT: You’ll be part of a group collective Autumn 2011 in London, how did that come about and can you give us more details about the show?

I was chosen from a selection of Canadian artists for a show that will pit the work of Canadian artists versus that of some London- represented counterparts. Very exciting.

FAULT: What is your FAULT?

Beyond being an artist, my true fault is that I’m not filthy, dirty, stinking rich.

Derek Mainella – Website/Blog

Special thanks to Esther Kim