KT: First, we need to hear some of your backstory. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Gordon Coulthart: I grew up on a dairy farm near Morewood Ontario in a family of nine kids. You can see from my art that growing up on the farm had an impact on my art and humour. I was always creative, and I watched my sisters and brothers paint. I went to Algonquin College in the 70s to study Commercial Art. I was always a big fan of Norman Rockwell and advertising art.
In the late 70s, I heard about a cartoon studio here in Ottawa and I met Lee Atkinson, whose father Vic owned the studio. I started as a cel painter on a Christmas special called “The Little Brown Burro.” My world changed forever. I was working side by side with great animators and artists. I was most interested in background painting, and slowly worked my way up to become a background painter on many many TV series and a few movies: The Raccoons, For Better or Worse, Dennis the Menace, and Heavy Metal to name a few. I have always made Ottawa my home, but worked in LA and Vancouver for periods of time on shows like The Chipmunks, Where’s Waldo, and Sonic the Hedgehog. In 1992, I became partners with Funbag Animation, a studio that did service work for Toronto and LA. It is there I created King, an animated series of 56 episodes that ran on Family Channel for five years. While my career in animation was moving along, I was also co-creator in the syndicated cartoon called Farcus, which ran in The Ottawa Citizen and The Ottawa Sun as well as 250 other papers worldwide. I have worked on over a thousand titles in my 35 years in the animation world.
Your work is really unique, and ranges from snowy landscapes with a Group of Seven vibe to cartoony robot fish and penguins. Where does your inspiration come from? Tell us about your process.
I combine my two loves: cartooning and painting. I used to marvel at Mad Magazine and National Lampoon Magazine as a kid. I see everything as a cartoon or with a funny angle. Sometimes my paintings are just doodles, but taken to another level. I never discount an idea that pops in my head. I write it down or draw it out. I have books filled with crazy things. I paint a lot, and fast, so I can take chances and am not afraid to make mistakes with a crazy idea. And there are lots of crazy ideas! When I paint landscapes it is like putting a puzzle together using light and colour. I am constantly trying to fit all the pieces together. It’s like a training exercise. I switch back and forth all the time. Lots of times I will work on three of four cartoon and landscapes at a time. I just flick a switch in my brain.
What do you do when you’re not painting?
I love to do carpentry and handyman work. I am currently the manager of the seasonal department at Rona, and that gives me the freedom to paint.
One of your biggest works this year is at Dovercourt right now, at the bottom of the wading pool. Have you ever done anything like this before? How did it come about?
The Dovercourt pool was a lot of fun. I sold a painting to my friends Trish and David, and Trish [Stolte] works at Dovercourt. She suggested doing an art show there and it went very well this past spring. John Rapp, the Executive Director, loved my work and set up the pool job. It’s a big hit with the kids and their parents. I did a 16”x16” painting first, got the go ahead from John, and painted it in one afternoon.
What’s the reaction to this piece been like so far?
Super positive. I have seen the kids playing games with it, trying not to get eaten by the giant metal fish.
Where else can we see your work right now?
I have landscapes at the Wellington Eatery at 1012 Wellington St. I also have work hanging in Blueprint Home at 1301 Wellington as well as the Carleton Tavern. I will be showing new work in September at Living Colour Art Gallery at 412 Dalhousie St.
You seem to make good use of social media. You’re on Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook. Does it help or hinder your work? How does it affect your process, if at all. Or does it just provide the means to procrastinate?
I use Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, and Crated for exposure. It’s like having a wall to hang my work on. It gets it out of my studio and in front of people, which gives me immediate access.
Do you have any advice for artists who might just be starting out?
Get into an art group or class, you will learn the most through others, and competition is good. It pushes you.