Artist Interview: Tim Sullivan

(c) Tim Sullivan

This month, I'd like to introduce Vancouver Abstract Expressionist artist Tim Sullivan. Tim and I connected at one of my workshops in 2011, became immediate friends with a deep soulful recognition.

Looking at your portfolio online I can see that you do work in a number of styles - still life, abstracts, landscape, etc. Is there one particular style that you enjoy the most. Why?

I am most partial these days to expressionist abstract works. Who can say why.  I work very intuitively, letting what wants to come forth do so. Not always a smooth process, however. The mind tends to trick me sometimes, lets me think it knows what to paint. This usually results in less successful productions or less than enjoyable experiences. 

However, I have also been exploring figurative work, especially faces and nudes which I then “deconstruct” or situate into more abstract compositions. I feel the urge to explore this more in coming days, among other artistic ‘urges.’  

Looking at your most recent works I see a lot of textures and thick resinous layers. Would you share with us about your painting process.

These works you mention arise from a process of “addition and subtraction.” I’ll explain. After an opening ‘gesture’ which is the initial addition to the empty canvas there begins a process, partly intuitive play, partly aesthetic judgement, of removing parts or ‘subtraction’ then adding more layers...and so on, each more refined, sometimes even desperate, until completion, which is to say when something in me says, “OK, enough! It’s finished.” On more than one occasion, I have put aside a work for months not knowing what comes next, then take it up again with a new inspiration. Other works can be complete in hours.   

Tim, can you tell us how did you passion for painting began?

I believe the passion for painting, and artistic expression generally, was always in me, from an early age. However, through circumstance and other influences that passion was diverted, suppressed even. Other interests dominated, like science, reading literature and philosophy, or relationships, personal growth and spirituality, all these so-called diversions were other expressions of “passion” (it turns out) that worked on me, refined my personality, opened up my vistas and sensibility. Then, around age 48 the passion for painting re-emerged quite suddenly. Bam! I was into it. It was partly catalyzed by a romantic breakup which can also be a dramatic opening. For me it certainly was.  During this time, at the suggestion of a friend I began reading The Artists Way, and just followed the instructions.  

What's your favorite all time favorite art piece of yours and why? of another artist?

I don’t have an all time favorite piece. Sometimes I will return to view an older work and am surprised I still like it, or I see something there I hadn’t seen before that delights me, or inspires. More often though, older works bore me or worse. The favorite really is the one I’m working on that still excites me, still intrigues like a current lover. Yum yum. 

There are many contemporary artists I have discovered through Facebook who’s works are inspiring, intriguing and capture my imagination. I could mention Conny Niehoff  whose process, scale and works inspire me greatly. But there are many others. 

As for modern masters let me mention Klimpt, Egon Schiele, and Turner, not to forget Picasso of course. I could go on indefinitely, for every artist I turn to offers rich vistas. 

What are you working on currently, please tell us about it...

I have been lingering on a series of “dramatic orange-red and blue” abstracts, which I hope to finish up for the East Van Art Crawl. Maybe when its done I will understand consciously what that has been about. It’s a mystery at the moment. 

I have been contemplating putting together a compendium of past and present images of works into a presentation book.  I have quite a lot of work to choose from now. Partly to inform a wider public and of course for promotion of my work to potential collectors. 

I get many ideas, more than I can handle really. It’s about putting these ideas into action, that’s the real challenge. 

For you, What the best thing about being an artist?

When it’s all flowing smoothy, which isn’t always, then the best aspect aspect is the sense of freedom that surounds the whole endeavor. The freedom of being yourself immersed in a creative flow, which is in itself satisfying, and more so when something you create - a piece of art - impacts another, moves them to respond, to reflect. It’s a deep communion, certainly a spiritual one, though not always recognized as such. 

What 's the most challenging thing, for you, about being an artist?

The mundane challenge is being caught up in the fear I won’t be able to sustain my artistic situation. In other words, support myself through sales, to continue working in a studio and stay supplied with materials, paint, canvas. 

The more existential challenge is remaining true to the “artist within.” Resisting the tendency to rest on one’s laurels, or past achievements, resisting the temptation to become a mere image of an artist, the pretense of it. That’s a fine edge. 

How would you define success  for yourself as an artist? What are some success you have achieved thus far on your journey, and what has been a key factor in you achieving your success?

I measure success first in the satisfaction of creating something I and others genuinely respond to, or are deeply affected by. (Art as Personal Revolution, or as Transformation.) A second form of success, more material, I would say, is achieving financial sustainability through sales of works, prints or artifacts of the works I create. (Art as Business Enterprise) Third, would be a measure of public or peer recognition for one’s contribution to the domain of art, either as works, philosophy or process or technique. (Art as Cultural Legacy)

What 3 pieces of advice would you give to other artists -- specifically to other painters?

  1. Play.   (Imagine Yellow It is Curiosity). Practice playing to stay in the moment. Paint like a three year old. 

  1. Steal.   Think Blue. That’s not copying...its being influenced, inspired by others, everything. 

  1. Ground. Feel the Black & the White.  Sense your genitals, no really! It’s the connection to physicality and immediate sensation.  Rock/Paper/Scissors.  

I am, as you know, a big believer in self care - especially for artists! What do you do to nourish your self and soul? to re-charge your batteries so to speak?

Not enough. My Spiritual practice in Open Ended Inquiry into experience arising in the moment. This the most efficacious practice I know to nourish my Self, my true nature.  I have been doing it for more than 25 years now. The experience always returns me to my true being, widens my understanding, illuminates the interior, inspires me to live moment to moment, and loosens the grip of that relentless nagging mind.   

What recent or upcoming shows/and or gallery representation can we look out for or go and see of your work?

I am always exhibiting recent works at the Brushstrokes Gallery at the Quey in North Vancouver. Also preparing for the East Van Art Crawl in November when I will be exhibiting works at Studio 202, 1000 Parker Street. 


See more of Tim’s work:

Tim, Thank you for taking the time to partake in this interview!