TONI HAMEL, L’ART AU SERVICE DE LA TERRE
by Joffrey De Dios Miguel
Q; Ceci n’est pas un arbre refers to terrorist attacks of Charlie. How the idea comes to you and how do us interpret the picture ?
A: Let me preface by saying that all of my work explores topics of great depth and importance, spanning the gamut from social to political and environmental issues. I express such themes through symbolism, utilizing satire and humour whenever possible. I want the viewer to dig beyond the painted surface, to unlock the hidden meanings and messages I hope to convey.
The “Ceci n’est pas un arbre (Pour Charlie)” is indeed a tribute to the victims of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hedbo. That horrific event effected me tremendously, both as an artist and as a human being. I wanted to create a piece about it since that tragedy happened but had been unable to do so until very recently.
The painting shows two men trying to cut down a pencil but, like most of my work, upon closer scrutiny multiple meanings are revealed. The men also represent the human tendency to reject and/or destroy anything that is different, unfamiliar or out of the ordinary. The solitary pencil, main instrument of an artist’s work, stands for creativity and the individual’s freedom of expression. Since intangible, these two entities (creativity and freedom of expression) cannot be contained nor destroyed, but their bearer (the artist) does have a physical body and consequently it can be attacked and eliminated. A tree however, like freedom of expression and creativity, never really dies. Its seeds are spread far and wide and even if one tree is cut down, many others will take its place. In that sense, the lonely pencil is also a symbol for the artist’s conviction to stand tall and remain unfazed amidst the fury and chaos, somehow offering hope for the future while battling the present. That’s why I applaud Charlie for refusing to close shop after the tragedy and for choosing instead to continue on their important path. Art is a beacon of and for humanity.
Q: I notice that animals are recurring units and often victim of human perfidy. What is your relationship with animals ?
A: In my two recent bodies of work my concerns about the environment have taken center stage. I often use animals in order to reference nature and to illustrate our devious and destructive relationship with it. I foster an incredible respect and admiration for the animal kingdom (I’m the proud parent of two cats and a dog, my constant studio companions). My almost obsessive attraction to animals is also fueled by binge-watching nature documentaries and hikes to local wildlife preserves. Canada is blessed with hundreds of thousands of acres of unspoiled natural land and I try to take advantage of such a luxury. There is so much to learn, yet so little time.
Q: May i consider you like an artist in the service of Earth ?
A: Yes, of course…shouldn’t we all be “at the service of Earth”? I do see myself as an activist albeit one that, rather than protesting in the streets, uses her craft to express her concerns about the state of the world. In a roundabout way my work ultimately seeks to explain reality, to eventually alter its course by means of arguing its very precept.
Q: Do you use watercolour for introducing an sweet atmosphere ?
A: That is not my conscious intention. I want for my work to exert a gentle yet insistent pull. I try to achieve this by adopting either supports of diminutive size and/or a subtle palette (hence the watercolour) so that I can lure the viewer in close for intimate viewing. My images demand a contemplative response. They are not intended to shout but to whisper.
*For French version, please visit Efflorescence Culturelle (France)