GO ‘The idea’ was to seek out many of Canada’s leading artists and photograph their studios
JOSEPH HARTMAN GREW UP in his father’s art studio. He remembers it well, the smell of oil paint and linseed, the feel of the brushes, the texture of the canvasses and the heft of the tools. He smiles when he thinks of the many cupboards, each with its own hidden secrets.
Hartman’s dad is one of Canada’s most renowned painters, John Hartman, and the studio was — still is — in the Georgian Bay community of Lafontaine.
The father encouraged Hartman, his brother and his two sisters to hang out in the studio while he worked. They could even nose around when he was away. It was a wondrous place, part of their home.
Eventually, Hartman would establish his own studio, a photographic one, on Sherman Avenue in downtown Hamilton. But the memories of Lafontaine lingered.
Nothing tells more about artists than the studio in which they work, perhaps even more than their finished work. It is an intimate place, an open door to the act of creativity.
Spatters on the floor, brush strokes on the wall, charms and mementos litter the desks. Some studios are well-ordered, others a mess. Foibles seem to find homes in every niche.
Hartman was reminded of how special a studio can be a few years ago when he was doing a commercial shoot at artist Chris Temple’s place in Toronto.
“He had this amazing habit of dabbing his brush on the wall before he would put it on the painting so his wall had this beautiful abstract pattern of abstract brush strokes on it,” Hartman recalls.
“I asked him if he would mind if I took some shots of the wall. That’s sort of where the idea got going.”
“The idea” was to seek out many of Canada’s leading artists and photograph their studios, sometimes with the artist included, usually not. He started in 2013 and continued for much of the next four years, travelling to both coasts, across the Prairies and to the Arctic.
In all, he shot the studios of more than 120 artists. Thirty of these largeformat photos are on display at the Art Gallery of Hamilton under the title “Joseph Hartman: The Artist’s Studio,” which runs until Dec. 31.
The complete collection is contained in a coffee-table-style book published by Black Dog Publishing ($34.95), also available at the gallery.
Among the studios featured are those of Christopher Pratt, Mary Pratt, John Scott, Robert Davidson, Kent Monkman, Attila Richard Lukacs, Gathie Falk, Wanda Koop, Shelley Adler, Pierre Dorion and the late Tim Pitsiulak (whose work is featured in an adjoining exhibit at the gallery).
It would be easy to think of this exhibition as a documentary or journalistic project, but Hartman’s goals were much higher.
‘The idea’ was to seek out many of Canada’s leading artists and photograph their studios, sometimes with the artist included, usually not.
“I try to tell the story of the artist who works there, try to paint a portrait of them through their creative space,” says Hartman, 39, who studied kinesiology at McMaster before turning his back on a career in medicine and becoming a fulltime photographer.
Sometimes the artist is part of the picture. But more often not.
“I was interested in exploring the idea of making a portrait of someone without their presence in the photograph,” says Hartman, who lives on the Mountain with his partner Sarah and their six-year-old daughter Clara.
“Can you take the objects that surround them in this very intimate space and use them to paint that portrait?
“Of all the spaces that we occupy, the studio is a perfect space to do that, because it’s such a personal space, very intimate, and the artist controls everything that is in that space. Everything there serves a purpose for their painting and their art-making …
“Or it is something that they have on the wall that they love, maybe someone else’s art work, or a funny trinket. It all works its way into their artwork somehow.”
In some cases, the artist’s style became part of Hartman’s composition.
This is most striking in the case of Christopher Pratt. Hartman’s photo appears almost two-dimensional, capturing the signature of the renowned Newfoundland painter.
“A lot of the best photographs, I feel, are me responding to the artist’s artwork,” Hartman explains.
“This is a good example where I’ve composed the photo to be a bit like one of his paintings. I struggled a bit in his studio finding a composition that worked.”
Hartman, of course, had to return to Lafontaine to take a photo of his father’s studio. “I always had a love of my dad’s studio,” he says.
“I have a lot of fond memories, poking around and looking at things, sticking my fingers in the paint.
“That’s really when it all began.”
Hamilton photographer Joseph Hartman with his exhibition of photographs now on display at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. The show features shots of studio spaces of artists across Canada.
Joseph Hartman’s view of Wanda Koop’s studio in Winnipeg.
The studio of Vanessa Maltese in Toronto — shot by Joseph Hartman.
Left: Intimate and unique — Hartman’s view of the studio of Charles Meanwell in Hamilton.
The studio of Christopher Pratt in Salmonier, Newfoundland and Labrador.
The studio of Mary Pratt in St. John’s, NL.
The studio that started it all — John Hartman’s in Lafontaine.
Above: A digital chromogenic print of the studio of artist John Scott, photographed in 2014. Call it “busy.”