Aidan Urquhart: Heaven and Hell

Published in The Beat Arts in London Magazine December 2009

It’s 8 p.m. in London and artist Aidan Urquhart is getting ready to work.

His wife Wendy is putting their daughters Meika, 4, and Kiana, 2 to bed and the cats Bobbi and Zoots have been fed. Urquhart puts on his favorite outfit, a ratty old T-shirt and some comfy paint-stained track pants, and heads to his home studio in the basement.

He flicks on the Television for some background noise and sorts through his materials: paintbrushes, acrylic paint, newspaper and magazine advertisements, MDF boards, containers from chain restaurants and franchise stores, and photographs.

For the next four hours Urquhart is in the refuge of his studio playing with bright colours, recycled objects and cutouts that will become his next project. “Its like a bad rash that won’t go away,” Urquhart, 41, says laughing. “If I go more than three days with no studio time I panic, I need to be doing something creative.”

At the moment Urquhart is busy satisfying his creative urges as he prepares for the first survey exhibit of his work at Museum London. The mixed media exhibit, which was also held on display at Regina’s Dunlop Art Gallery this past summer, open this month and runs until March.

The show documents some of Urquhart’s most notable bodies of work from the last 20 years, as well as some new creations that have been produced especially for the exhibit.

His newest series Heaven and Hell, a chaotic illustration of how images can be seen as both good and bad, will be shown in London for the first time. Audiences will also get a chance to view the humorously irritating fax, mail, and street art projects that have been sent to art councils and galleries across Canada, the United States, and the rest of the world for years.

“Work, work, work, dammit” is Urquhart’s motto. It’s his passion to share his artistic commitment and stimulate audiences. Urquhart enjoys the business side of his art working with interested curators, reaching new audiences, and exploring new ways to market and present his pieces.

It’s a lot of work, but Urquhart can’t see himself doing anything else.  “There’s a fire in my belly for it,” he says.

Urquhart’s life as an artist began at a young age. As the son of renowned Canadian artist Tony Urquhart and stepson of acclaimed novelist Jane Urquhart, he has many fond memories of working on his own creations alongside his father in the studio.

“I saw I could make a pretty good living with art while enjoying the process,” Urquhart says. “It’s nice to know you are leaving behind physical objects like some sort of legacy that people can see after you’re gone.”

Urquhardt began his formal training at Fanshawe College, earning his Diploma in visual arts in 1991, followed by an Honors BA in fine arts from The University of Western Ontario in 1997.

Although Urquhart says his artistically inclined family does not directly influence his ideas and career path, they are always aware of what he’s working on next. “We’re constantly talking about our projects and what we have going on,” he says.

The entire Urquhart family was definitely aware of Aidan’s recent studio visit from the National Gallery of Canada. After inviting them to come preview his new work and keeping them informed about gallery exhibits and new projects over the years, the NGC’s assistant curator of contemporary art came to visit Urquhart at his home studio in October.

“It’s always a good thing when they come to see you,” Urquhart says.

But Urquhart still makes it a point to focus his progress on the artistic vision rather than monetary success. “I do this to communicate my ideas in unusual ways,” he says. “I want to spark talk and debate and get people thinking even if they don’t get my pieces.”

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