In the heart of downtown St. Catharines lies Studio 4, a tattoo shop dedicated to art. The shop showcases the work of local artists and hangs a gallery of art on its walls that changes every couple of months. Owner and artist, Maggie Shields says that it’s all about bringing art out into the community. The current gallery consists entirely of works by local artist Defne Inceoglu.
“My show is called ‘Same Old’,” began the artist. “These are all pieces I’ve done in the past three years, a collection of things I have sitting around at home or even things I’m still working on – some of these things are not done yet.”
Defne studies art history and art curation at Brock’s Marilyn I. Walker Centre. Although she expressed passion for her studies, she also commented on its rigidity.
“Art history has already happened, so you can track the movements and see how different pieces work and how things have changed over time,” Defne outlined. “Then when you hit the twentieth century, you see art fall away from being commissioned for the church and the bourgeois, and you get groups of artists working around North America and Europe –working more in self expression, which is something that has been a newer concept in the past hundred years.”
Defne continued expressing that her collection is essentially a collection of works on self expression as an artist. Due to the quality of “seriousness” in contemporary art as well its very “detail-oriented, specific structure”, she often feels inclined to be less serious in her own work.
“I kind of like to have a little fun, I don’t want to make everything so rigid all the time. It’s relieving.”
As an example, Defne looked to one painting titled “Jesus Christ A.S.L.”, A.S.L. standing for age, sex, and location, a message that is used regularly on chat sites in order to uncover information about whomever is on the other side of the screen.
“It’s kind of a joke,” said Defne. “It’s kind of playing on the idea of the mystery of Christ – is she a woman and how old? Where is he? I love religious iconography. I think it’s a really cool motif.”
Another painting that lay just beyond the entrance to Studio 4 outsized any other work that she had hung. Also, dissimilar to much of her work, this piece was painted using a huge, thick canvas.
“When I had my failed attempt at being an art student, that was one of the pieces for a project that had been assigned to me,” Defne explained. “I didn’t do it right, apparently. My professor didn’t like it.”
The idea of “doing” art wrong didn’t sit well with Defne. How can an artist do their art wrong?
“It’s very clinical, isn’t it?” Defne commented. “It was more of a ‘your lines aren’t straight’, ‘stop trying to imply meaning in your painting’ — that was the biggest critique my professor gave me; one of the first red flags for me that I wanted to drop out of art school is when he said “stop trying to infer meaning in your work’, ‘stop trying to use language or text to put meaning into something, just make it about the process’ — which is an actual thing.
A lot of abstract work is about process, technique, and it’s about the skill set that you’re building. I don’t care enough about having a skill set to really care enough about making it technically correct, and that’s always been a struggle for me in art school and that’s why I dropped out. The fact that [they were] trying to make me draw a napkin [made] me want to cry. They made me build the canvas and everything. It’s really rigorous and time-consuming, so that’s why I paint on cardboard — because it’s easy and disposable. You shouldn’t have to have a canvas to create something beautiful.”
Continuing to explain her opinion on canvases, Defne said: “I want to make something and know that it can degrade or that it will smudge over time — or the colours can fade from the sun and that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Maggie Shields, owner, operator and artist of Studio 4, says that she “started rolling with the idea of the gallery space pretty early on.”
“I knew I wanted a tattoo shop,” said Maggie, “but I knew I wanted the local space for artists, too. It took a while to find a building, but we were two years this past August. We’ve been doing it pretty much since we opened. A lot of my customers are artists as well, so I started that way. We’ve done photography exhibits, paintings; this is Defne’s second show. I kind of just tell the artists, ‘do your thing’.
Maggie has been tattooing for thirteen years now, but she says art has always been in her life:
“I grew up with a father for an artist, so I grew up in galleries. He always had his studio in the basement, so I’d be down there in the corner and he’d give me some paint and a brush and say ‘go make a mess’. I do paint, not as much as I should. I definitely focus more on the business and tattooing. Growing up, there was artistic bones in the family and this is something I’ve always wanted to do.
I’ll always support local artists. That’s what it’s all about for me. There are some amazing artists coming out of Brock University and Toronto, and even just local people who didn’t go to school. Like I said, art school sucks.”
As the subject of art school came up again, Maggie elaborated on why she felt that way.
“Who should be able to judge you and tell you you’re a good artist?” She asked. “You go through art school and they teach you really valuable skills, like making canvases — I don’t actually know how to build a good canvas, that’s a skill I would love to have — but, sitting in a class with someone telling me about compositions and values, for someone to tell you that you did your art wrong? That’s not for anyone to ever tell you.
There is always somebody who will like your art. There is always a place for it.”
“Art changes so quickly and what people like as art changes so quickly,” Defne added. “Right now in art it’s all about site-specific installation and that requires government funding, and it’s really hard coming out of school even as a trained painter will never achieve a high artistic status without kind of fitting into what’s going on right now.”
“An installation is a completely different ball game,” Maggie commented. “If you are truly an artist and it’s in your soul, you can watch Youtube videos and figure it out for yourself.”
Both Defne and Maggie agreed: It’s time and practice that truly makes an artist.
“If you truly have the vision to be able to take your surroundings and take your world, and put them down on canvas, nobody should be able to tell you if it’s crap or not,” Maggie said.
“I can say that I did go to art school, but dropped out and went into curative studies, which I find much more valuable, it looks at historical and social issues,” Defne said. “Feminism, racism and you talk about things have changed over the scope of time. If you look at a painting from the 1600s, it tells you part of what’s going on in that century.”
Maggie also discussed the nature of a gallery set up in a tattoo shop.
“There are a lot of smaller galleries where it feels like you’re in an auction house — wall to wall, piece to piece,” she said. “I love art galleries but I’ve always found there’s a feeling of judgment. Where as I feel that if you get out into the community, places like Mahtay, places like a tattoo shop, you break that mould. It’s bringing art out into the community, as opposed to bringing the art world to you. I get asked about the artwork in here all the time. One of my biggest motivations is to bring art out of that structure and into the world.”
Elaborating on that, she continued, “If people don’t get tattooed, or they’re not attached to our world, they would never walk into a tattoo shop and think that you could hang art on the walls. So, that was another bridge that was very important to me to gap.
That kind of stigma of a tattoo shop has always been gangsters with their faces tattooed and drug dealers in the back, which still exists, but there is a great divide right now in the tattoo world. There are so many people who are doing amazing paintings and installations, and tattooing at the same time. You have this full range of artists that tend to be involved in a lot of different mediums and not just tattooing, and I definitely think we deserve to be recognized in the art world a little bit more.”
The gallery opening was a success and Defne’s art will be up for the next two months. Maggie’s enthusiasm for local art was clear.