My Process – Braxton Garneau
by Wendy McGrath
Garneau is the oldest sibling in his family and describes himself as a family “archiver.” He captures a moment in a Rembrandt-like quality and a lifetime in a triptych of etchings.
I met Braxton Garneau in the AGA’s community gallery on a cold March morning to view his work in the 14th “5 Artists 1 Love” exhibition in celebration of Black History Month. His oil painting, “Brother,” and three etchings, “Dysmorphic I, II, and III” were included in the show. Garneau spoke of a “collaboration between you and artifacts” and this relationship became clearer as I considered his manipulation of light and shadow. What I found even more affecting was his literal and abstract representation of the body — a haunting evocation to the connection between time and artifact.
Your artistic practice is wide-ranging and includes printmaking and painting. Can you describe your creative processes?
My concepts normally come in a very natural way: through a discussion, through an experience, or through research. When I’m painting or printing, I normally see how a concept can be combined with something that I’ve found interesting. Since I regularly take pictures, I often turn to those for formal inspiration.
When did you begin printmaking and what attracted you to it?
I started printmaking last fall. I find the modularity of printmaking so freeing because it allows me to experiment as much as I want (to not be so precious).
What/who do you consider to be the greatest influence on your work?
Traveling. I take in the most information when I’m in unfamiliar environments. Seeing the different ways of doing the same thing has always fascinated me. Being exposed to new forms/ideas will always be something that recharges my creativity.
You had several pieces in the AGA’s recent exhibition “5 Artists 1 Love” (January 30 to March 10). Your “Dysmorphic” monoprint trilogy explores the disconnection with our perceived self and how others see us. How does this idea impact your work and your own sense of self in terms of race, gender, and sexuality?
Art making gives me a way to work through the many discomforts I’ve experienced as a queer black male. “Dysmorphic” represents some of the anxiety I have felt while trying to moderate my behaviour as the means to limit my vulnerability. Essentially, my practice has become an outlet to express a more genuine version of myself while providing a much-needed representation.
Your paternal grandparents immigrated to Alberta from Trinidad, your father was born in Alberta, and your mother is Franco-Albertan. How has your family background and history shaped your exploration of family narrative? How does this exploration find its way into your work?
I’m drawn to the most vulnerable parts of my family history. Both sides of my family took very different paths to end up in Alberta and each path had its own set of obstacles. My mother’s family history is vastly more accessible than my father’s which is why my work is often focused on the latter.
Your paternal grandparents returned to Trinidad several years ago and you’ve visited them there several times. You’ve described Caribbean history as “complex”—how do you draw upon and distill this history into your artistic practice and process here? How do stories and artifacts inform your work?
Most inhabitants of Trinidad are the descendants of slaves or indentured labourers. The colonial powers that brought them to the island significantly disrupted the histories and stories of these various peoples. My practice is a way of preserving some of the stories that have made it up to the present. Much of my work is simply a translation of the stories and artifacts that I have inherited from my paternal grandparents.
“I feel self-conscious speaking about race because that’s not the only thing I’m talking about.” Could you expand on that statement in terms of self-exploration, artistic exploration, and your quest to determine what it means for you to be a black male?
My “blackness” plays a role in most aspects of my life so for my art to be genuine, it has to reflect that. I’ve found that race is often misinterpreted as the focus of my work. There are identities that exist within blackness that have their own unique relationships with systems of power. I’m black but I am also mixed, light-skinned, queer, and male. There are privileges and disadvantages that exist within blackness that make it much more than a matter of race.
What project(s) are you working on now?
I am working on several installations based on the various characters from Trinidad’s Ole Mas, the costume-filled parade that takes place before lent. Ole Mas is tied to the emancipation of African slaves in Trinidad during the 1830s.
Born: Edmonton, Alberta
Favourite artists: Bingyi, Zak Ové, Robert Stackhouse, Egon Schiele, Antonio López García
Education: Currently a BFA student at the University of Alberta
Favourite book: Dragon Feathers by Andrei Dugin, Olga Dugina, & Arnica Esterl
Favourite album: “Saturn” by NAO
Music playing while printmaking: Anything by Max Richter or Abel Korzeniowski
Header image: Braxton Garneau, Dysmorphic III, etching and toner transfer on paper, 8 × 12 inches, 2018.