I remember entering into Christie‘s studio/living space for an extra workshop session for Diasporasian Mythologies, and immediately being embraced by her colourful textured paintings lining her walls and beautiful travel memoriam decorating her shelves and furniture. The space appeared to be a physical representation of her creative journey, combining her love for travelling and the arts, for colour and texture. Even her final clay piece seems to stem from this journey as well.
I really loved the energy she brought to the table during the workshop, and I’m constantly inspired by her ongoing pursuit to explore new ideas and opportunities, while contributing to the Toronto creative community. Here’s my interview with Christie as she shares insights into her artistic practice and her journey as an artist, plus, her “favourite” playwright!
Can you tell us a brief background about your creative career? How did your engagement in art all begin?
I would say it all started in Montessori School. I had the privilege to learn everything from making Valentine’s day cards to origami to ballet to clay roses. My creative confidence built steadily as I got to explore all the ways I could ever express myself. And I’m still exploring today! The critical thinking part and engagement with art really came in high school when I started delving into art history and discovered a fascination with complex narratives, especially with creators.
Your works, especially your paintings are very expressive in texture and colours – What role does colour have in your art? What do you want your work to say to other people?
Texture is essential in my livelihood. I crave it in all things, such as food creations, musical melodies, lyrics and poetry, and tree bark on my skin. I see colour as different smells and tastes, but also as different stories and moments. I like to say that I paint with the intuition of my palette and paints; as if they are taking me on a magical and whimsical ride through the realms in my mind. I am currently drawn to surrealist art and a lot of it comes from my muddled perceptions of my own unfolding philosophies in life (contradicting as they are). I want my work to connect to others through symbolism found in their own lives and to realize the potential they have for their own creativity to unfold.
You’re also very involved in community work, not just as a creator, but as a supporter of other creators – What drives you to actively participate in the community?
I believe that anything built with love and meant to last comes from a community of people who support and uplift. I personally understand the struggle of battling myself in my own head and sometimes the one person who comments or connects to your art is like the moment a mammal finds a watering hole in the desert. They will spend all day there, predatory defenses out the window, to savour and admire all the colours and diversities we are in this world and to drink their fill of magic/water (at least that is how I imagine it in my head). Art is life-giving. I have also worked with children of all ages for over 10 years and have a passion for education and facilitation. What drives me to create and participate are, in short, other people. Lately, it has been those who have forgotten the creativity in them or have a yearning to share their art. Community, in the end, is honed and full of intention and I want to be part of raising those who itch for artistic freedoms and those who didn’t know the tools they can have to enrich. Art is much bigger than the pieces that we paint; it is also about the life that we choose to live.
Recently you’ve committed yourself to #40daysofartistlifetruth on Instagram. I really love the honesty in your musings on your artist career. Why did you decide to start this series? What does it mean to you to identify yourself as an “artist”?
I started this to push myself to recognize moments in which I create and engage. For a while, I forgot and didn’t even realize if I was doing it or not! It also made me question what being an artist meant. Does calling oneself an artist create the artist, or does the art make one an artist? I also wanted to do something with a set time, to see if I can commit to reflecting and creating for at least 40 days! I was trying to prove to myself this is what I wanted to be part of. You would think someone who has such a long history of being somewhat creative and finding joy in making would not struggle with that, but I do. It is because I struggle with it that probably makes me an artist of some sort. When other demands in life push down on you to give up and seek elsewhere, if you don’t fight for what you know your soul is meant to do, it will never manifest in the way it needs to…life lessons, hard times and all.
It’s incredible the variety of concepts and materials you engage with in your artistic practice! What are questions or themes you are currently exploring or interested in exploring more?
I am currently exploring what it means to be a photographer. I spend lots of time watching other photographers and have started working with models. The more I direct photo shoots, the more I am curious about what it feels like to be a model. I realize I enjoy this play time of having many creative ideas flow at once and having a shutter speed that can catch my drift in one moment. I usually take questions or themes from my life in my explorations with art and sometimes it can mean writing poetry, months of connecting with other artists, etc. Sometimes there isn’t a tangible paint mark or pen scribble to allocate to a creative moment, except for the testimony of how I react to the things life throws at me. Does how I respond and where I am spending my time allowing me to become the person I want to be? What kind of person do I want to be?
I am also constantly interested in exploring the dynamics between living creatively and living alongside a community that is grown and built. I am slowly working towards having a lifestyle in which I am able to dive into many creative communities and learn how to bring together multidisciplinary thought and creation.
What can we look forward to, in your creative career, in the next few months?
My partner and I just self-published and wrote a book! It is called “don’t say the rings on saturn don’t spin” and it is essentially about how it takes journey, beauty, awe and struggle to remember that magic happens and that Saturn’s rings still spin; your creativity and life is yours should you seize it. We will be printing a second edition to continue selling very soon! You can see when on my Instagram @chrwonstie.
During this summer, we will also be busking poetry on the streets of Toronto and selling my watercolour prints. Meeting new souls and leaving them with a feeling of awe, anticipation and joy is one of the most wonderful arts anyone can partake in. I feel like that is partially where I need to be. As I wrap up some other creative jobs and projects, I hope to enter a realm of exploring a freelance life while building my own brand and churning out more original pieces! I’ve been itching to paint!
Lastly, what does your identity mean to you?
Identity is a loaded word for me. I seldom grasp it, and rarely see it, often deny it, while often clamouring to claim it. Being Chinese in a Canadian life, but enamoured by so many cultures I always end up finding identity in themes of home; in stories I tell myself that are home. In what is both new but familiar at the same time, past but warm still, far away but as warm as the sun; are places home dwells in my heart. My identity in the end is wrapped up in my own creativity and that of others. We orbit around together in a gravitational pull of an itch to express the souls within us. It is something bigger than a single dot; but a whole complex galaxy of potential warmth.
You can read excerpts of The Yoko Ono Project here.
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