Chatting with Edmonton-based fine artist John Labots will take you places you never thought you’d go. It will force you to reflect on and ponder some of the many things you take for granted in life.
And that’s a good thing.
I hope you enjoy our unique conversation as much I did.
[Featured Artwork: “Tell-Industria” by John Labots.]
The following responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
01. Rock, paper, or scissors?
My answer to that is stapler. I’m contrary.
02. What are three interesting facts about you?
A. I’m a graphic designer by trade. In light of the art world, that’s interesting because it defines how I look at art. It’s very instrumental in how I do my art. What I’ve discovered is that graphic design is more about organization than it is about art because we’re organizing content. But it is also taking that content and assembling it in an attractive format.
B. I used to be a musician, but I have some hand problems so I can’t play the piano anymore.
C. I’m a believer in Jesus Christ. A lot of my life rotates around that, except I don’t go to church anymore. That kind of throws some people for a loop. My relationship with God is still very much vibrant and alive, but it’s no longer defined by the institutional church.
03. Is art your career or a hobby? Something else?
I’m a career graphic designer, but I’m a hobby fine-artist.
I used to paint when I was young and then I started painting again in about 2008. We had a crisis in our family in 2006 and I had stopped all my volunteering including playing the piano at the church. Coming out of all that two years later, I basically had a clean slate. I thought to myself that if I wanted to change direction on anything, now was the perfect time to do it.
I did a watercolour course and decided I didn’t like watercolour and that I was going to go to acrylics. That’s how I started painting. I ended up painting with a group from our church. I had a fairly high level of interest in my artwork and I started selling it almost before it was finished. There was some success at the beginning. I’m having less sales now than I had before. And that’s alright.
I started out thinking, “Oh I can make some money at this.” But I began to realize that I was trying to commodify a hobby. One thing that I’ve established now is that it’s definitely a hobby. I’m not necessarily pursuing it as a career. It’s meant to be enjoyable and I don’t want to have any pressure.
04. Are you more productive at night or in the morning?
Oh, definitely night time for painting. I do better in the evenings. Work-wise, I start at 9:00 a.m. And, therein lies the problem: I’m creative as a graphic designer all day long and… then in the evening, you want me to sit down and paint?
And I like painting, but it has to be the right environment. I do not like painting by myself. So, I have a painting group I meet with every Wednesday night and we do about two or three hours of painting.
05. What is the main medium you use in your art?
The main medium I work with is acrylic. I’m exploring mixed media collage right now with my work, at least for the Goop of 7 (a collective of abstract artists in the Edmonton region).
06. Where did your passion for art start?
I think it started when I was a child. My biography reads that I was born a graphic designer and as a child my colouring books were full colour with shading and the whole works. Everything was colored inside the lines and many of my school reports were typed and, to some degree, laid out. I took some painting lessons when I was 7 or 8. It’s been part of me my entire life.
07. What is your go-to band or artist?
If it’s secular, it would be ABBA. If it’s sacred, it would be Annie Herring and Second Chapter of Acts. I’ve read somewhere that the music from your late teens and early 20s will be your happy space, so that music — ABBA and Second Chapter of Acts — is my happy space.
08. What would be the most annoying thing about having yourself as a roommate?
I’m way too opinionated. I probably tell my opinion way too often.
09. What inspires your art?
Anything and everything.
My wife just piped up: She said nature. That’s very much true. Nature does inspire my art.
I’m basically doing two things: One is landscape and the other one is abstract. For the Goop stuff, I do abstract and for my own personal work, I do landscape. There’s overlap, but every once in a while something else comes along. For instance, if I have a commission for a portrait, then I am doing a portrait. And then the next time, I have an idea and it just needs to be put down on canvas.
But I’m not a prolific painter. The painting that’s sitting behind me only took six months. *laughs* I think one year I did 14 or 15 paintings. That was when we had a show for the Goop, but normally I only do three, four or five paintings per year.
It’s interesting. I did a series back a few years ago that was inspired by trees. I love trees. There’s something about the vertical lines of trees that there’s a rhythm to it. I love nature and I love trees in nature so I ended up exploring the vertical line and doing a series of paintings on the vertical line. I pushed the trees to abstract. The landscape informed it but more into an abstract feel.
10. What is the most unique thing about the city you live in (Edmonton)?
The river valley. I go cycling in the river valley. It’s the largest greenspace in North America of any city. I love to hike and cycle in the river valley.
11. What is one common misconception about being an artist?
That it’s easy to do. I always remember the story where people come up to an artist and say, “Oh, my kid could do that.” Art is not easy to do.
I think another misconception is that you don’t need education. I did the University (of Alberta) Faculty of Extension Visual Arts Certificate even though I was already, to some degree, an artist. But by going through the university program, I filled in some of the holes. I learned a wide variety of things along the way. A lot of things I learned I now apply regularly in my approach to art.
12. What household chore do you actually enjoy?
Depends on the day. Enjoy? *laughs* What kind of question is that? Are there any household tasks that you actually enjoy? It’s out of necessity. You have to tolerate it. Would I go out of my way to vacuum the floor? I don’t think so.
13. What app do you use most often?
Let me look at my apps here. *pulls out phone*
I use Qwordle. I have a Planet Fitness app I use a fair amount and I have a Holy Bible app that I use.
Oh, and the camera.
14. What would be your first question or thought after waking up from being cryogenically frozen for 100 years?
This isn’t heaven?
15. What’s something you’ve been meaning to try but just haven’t got around to?
I don’t really have a bucket list. What I would love to do is some exploration in Europe. I don’t know if that will ever happen. But I would love to explore Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. England is another one I would love to see. And most of that is just because of culture and landscape. More travel, but that’s a question of affordability and where things are at in the world – about whether it’s wise to try.
16. What is your favorite drink?
Diet Caffeine-Free Coke. And my wife is telling me I have to quit. It used to be straight Coke. Not Pepsi.
17. What do you hope people get out of your art?
That’s an interesting question.
I’m not sure if I’m really demanding anything of anybody to get something out of my art. I do art because I do art and if somebody sees something in it, that’s great. If someone can see my abstract art and can put their own thoughts into it without me having to explain it — whether they get it right or wrong doesn’t matter — I just like that they’re engaging with it. That’s what matters. The ability for somebody to actually engage with it rather than casually glance at it as they walk by.