For some artists, art serves as a platform for social, political, or cultural commentary. For others, it equals communication of their inner world with the audience. And then there are artists like Carly Neigum who imagine and create their own inner worlds on canvas for themselves to escape, heal, and play.
Born in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Neigum moved to Nanaimo in 2008, where she has been exploring her fondness of dreamscapes and bright colours. She has had her work shown in both solo and group exhibitions, and is gaining popularity as a live painter, having performed alongside local bands such as Top Men, Sweet Boxx, or singer Emma Plant, and in venues like the Globe, Cambie, and Nanaimo Centre Stage.
Neigum is a member of LadyFella Studios, a shared studio space on the top floor of the Vault Café in downtown Nanaimo, where she co-works with three other painters: Chantelle Spicer, Alejandra Gano, and Brian Faubert.
Navigator: How did you get to be a LadyFella member?
Carly Neigum: I’m doing a minor in Visual Arts at VIU and still have a year to go. I was taking a drawing class and met Chantelle when she was our live model.
N: What made you choose to study art?
CN: Art is what I have always wanted to do since grade two. It was my extra-curricular activity instead of doing sports. And I took a lot of random art classes in junior high—pottery, painting, Chinese brush painting…
N: Have you ever felt any frustration when learning, or has it been pure joy?
CN: It’s pretty much always joyful. It actually got me through a lot. I got a little depressed when I was in high school, and art was my way of escaping all of it. I was lucky that my parents supported me even though I did some pretty dark stuff during that time. My dad would always buy me art supplies, paints, and canvases, and let me do my own thing, which was nice.
N: What was the dark art about?
CN: I guess it was the way I felt—really depressed, really lonely. I drew a lot of portraits of myself tearing my legs apart from myself. It was all about dealing with my feelings. I guess it was my therapy.
N: Did you draw it purely for yourself or did you consider any potential audience?
CN: I never thought about creating artwork for anyone else when I was in high school.
N: So you never showed?
CN: I did show some, but I had to be careful, because it was really dark and weird for some people.
N: How would you describe your art now? It’s definitely not dark.
CN: I would say it is a lot more playful. It is funny actually. When I was in high school, I hardly used any colour—it was mostly black and grey. Then I went to university here, and art was not about therapy anymore. I was about making a career and finding my style. I feel really good now when I approach canvas, or when I mix the colours, and how I apply the paint now. I still picture things in my head, and they still turn out different than I thought, but I’m gradually getting closer and closer to the original idea.
N: Where do you draw inspiration from?
CN: Dr. Seuss. I have always been a fan of cartoons. That’s maybe why my paintings are so colourful and playful, made up and make believe. I also enjoy Emily Carr, the landscape paintings of Group of Seven, and traditional prints, like the Japanese tsunami wave, even though I wouldn’t remember the guy’s name to save my life.
N: What do you communicate in your art? What response do you want from people who see it?
CN: I always find it a big compliment when people connect with my artwork, because I don’t really do it for the viewers. When it comes to creating the landscape, I just want to capture the beauty of this place in my own way. I don’t know what they should expect to get out of it. When I look at landscapes, it’s very calming for me, it clears my head. You can sit there and don’t have to think of anything, just stare and feel the peace.
N: Are they imaginary, or do you go out and sketch au plein air?
CN: I definitely have a draw towards the mountains and the ocean. There are a lot of Alberta mountains in my paintings because I enjoy sketching them. And since I’ve moved out here, I really like painting the water. I don’t go out and sketch as much as I did in high school. My teachers made it pretty important to go out and sketch, and I always felt a bit irresponsible because I didn’t always do that.
N: You have also been tapping into live painting for some time now.
CN: I started a couple years ago. My first gig was for a Top Men show. It was at a small venue, and the crowd was pretty rowdy because there was a punk band playing before them. The guys from the band set up a huge black bedsheet behind me on the stage, gave me paints, and said ‘do whatever you want.’ At the time, I was into end-of-the-world, apocalyptic scenes, so I painted lightning and a tsunami coming in, and an atom bomb coming up. It was messy, but I really enjoyed working and painting big and fast.
N: What do you feel when you’re painting? Can you describe the process?
CN: Painting is something I have to do to make myself feel good. It’s fun to have people around and have their energy come out in the painting. But my process is simply the desire to paint. I pick the canvas and colours and let it form. I try to get a painting done in a series of four sittings, before the first initial feeling is gone and I can’t get the colour done any more.
N: How about finishing a work within a time frame of a live music show?
CN: It’s always a challenge. It’s done when the music’s over and it has to be what it is. Having the time limit takes the stress away. You’re in it, you’re doing it, you’re not thinking about getting it done, or finishing. When Ray [Raymond Knight] and I did the Top Men show [in December 2013], it felt like such an accomplishment when we walked away with four finished canvases.
N: On another occasion, you painted live on stage with the time limit of just one song. What was that like?
CN: I For the most part, my back is turned toward the crowd, so I don’t feel the pressure of being watched. It’s funny; I used to have such stage fright. Now I surprise myself when I get up there and paint without stressing about it. It comes out so naturally to get out of your comfort zone. I never felt like a performer, so when I’m on stage, I’m definitely conquering fear. It’s interesting to see what music playing live and loud behind you can do with your art, and how it inspires you.
N: What new projects are you planning in the future?
CN: My fellow artists from the studio and I would like to do a live painting session—bring a canvas down to the Vault one afternoon and paint in an open, public space. I really enjoy having a space up here [above the Vault], but I’d really love to start painting in public spaces, and work with other people on collaborative paintings that brings awareness about issues around here. Valentina [Cardinali, artist] and I are talking about doing artwork based on how Nanaimo is going to be burning Vancouver’s garbage, so once the weather gets better, we will do a live painting, stick garbage into it and maybe set the canvas on fire and burn it or something like that.
Carly Neigum will be exhibiting her new artwork at the LadyFella studio along with five other artists on Saturday, March 22.