“So that’s why I went into abstract – I can paint my emotions”
The sun was shining and the sky was an uninterrupted blue as I drove to do an interview with a local abstract artist in Victoria, BC. After a brief chat, we soon settled on a futon couch, enjoying the ambiance and warmth of a recently-lit woodstove. From parting with children and the effects of cold coffee, to giving birth and the up-side of napping in class, the conversation began to unfold as I delved deeper into the inner-workings of the artist known as Lailo.
LAAH: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started as an artist.
LAILO: I come from Belize and I came to Canada on a foreign student program. But my language skills were terrible, so I had to go to high school for a year and a half. I was in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, and there was this young lady who sat behind me in class. I would tend to fall asleep and she would slap me behind the head and wake me up. Today she’s my wife! I’ve been painting for about 5 years now. I enjoy it, that’s the fun part. I’m constantly re-inventing myself, I never wanted to retire and have nothing to do. I’ve always wanted to know what I was capable of and how good I could be at something, so it didn’t matter what I did, I always strived to be the best I could.
The first few paintings I did, I threw in the fireplace because I knew they were crap. [laughs] Probably around the tenth one, I kept. I put it on the wall, and every year I’d put a new one on the wall to see if I was progressing. I’m self-taught, so that can be an issue. I’m always looking at what other artists are doing. The internet’s a great thing, because we can watch videos and watch how they’re doing things – their perspective, their use of color, brush strokes or any kind of technique. Then you can play with incorporating things without copying.
LAAH: What made you choose abstract?
LAILO: I can look at landscapes, and I enjoy them, but I can see them everyday outside. I didn’t want to replicate that anymore. I started doing that, but I found it wasn’t fulfilling for me, because I wanted to come from a different point of view. So that’s why I went into abstract – I can paint my emotions.
LAAH: Do you have preferred mediums?
LAILO: I love watercolor. It’s not something that’s really marketable though, and I do have to pay for my hobby. The art has to pay for itself. So I do watercolors periodically, just for my pleasure. And I love oils, but I don’t have a ventilated space to do oils, so I can only do them in the summer. So in the winter, when I do most of my painting, it’s acrylic. Most of what I do is drip, pour, splash or spin art.
LAAH: Do you paint from beginning to end or do you paint in stages?
LAILO: I paint from beginning to end, because I don’t want to lose that feeling, so while I have that feeling and that mental vision of what I want to paint, I have to continue. If I stop and come back to it later, it won’t be the same. So it has to be all done at once.
LAAH: How do you know when a piece is finished?
LAILO: Good question! [laughs] You look at it and the emotion is gone. And so, it’s finished. Yeah, once that mental image is gone, then it’s finished.
LAAH: It’s like giving birth!
LAILO: Probably, I’ve never experienced that! I think it might be too late for both of us! [laughs] Well, actually, I think there’s a line in my bio on my website that says that each piece of my art is like one of my children, and some of them are harder to part with than others. And there are a few that I’ll never part with while I’m alive.
LAAH: Where does your inspiration come from?
LAILO: Every night I go into my workshop/studio, which is very small and cramped. I close the window and turn the lights on. I don’t look outside. And whatever happens in my little brain, which is very limited at times [laughs], I will paint. It’s…it’s almost a spiritual thing, because you’re painting from your feelings, it’s what you feel. I hardly ever paint what I see – I paint what I can’t see.
LAAH: On your website, you mention you don’t need people to see your art in the same way you do. In fact, when people are choosing a piece to purchase, you invite them to choose one that reflects their own interpretation and meaning, and that speaks to their soul and their inner emotions. Tell us about that.
LAILO: Yeah, and that’s a hard thing, because if you show your art in a gallery, they want you to title it. So, by titling it, I’m telling you what to think, and I don’t want to do that. You have to appreciate it for yourself, interpret it for yourself, if it’s abstract. It’s supposed to stir an emotion in you, whether it’s happiness or sadness or whatever you see in it, so you can title it yourself. So basically I just number my pieces. If I’m forced into it, I just go to a book of baby names and choose one! [laughs]
LAILO: The solitude…yeah. You can be at one with yourself, with no outside influences. That’s why I paint at night and close the curtains, you know. I turn a light on, and it’s just me and my paint. Oh, and I forgot, my cat and my dog. They’re in there! [laughs]
LAAH: How do you feel your work has evolved over the years?
LAILO: It’s probably just growth. Yeah, learning more – about art, about the use of color, the different textures that are available, the different chemical compositions of paint, how they apply to each other. You’ll go to an art gallery and you’ll see a piece of art and think, man, I wish I could do something like that. So you’ll go home and you’ll endeavor to try to do something like it and see where it leads.
LAAH: Who are your favorite artists?
LAILO: El Greco is probably my favorite. Mostly because of his use of color. And Pro Hart, an Australian artist, I’m really intrigued by his work. And again, because of his use of color. Color speaks to me.
LAAH: If you could pick a favorite piece, which one would it be?
LAILO: My favorite is always the last piece I’ve done, because I still have the emotional contact with that piece. So, I mean, I look at other ones and can say I really like that, but I don’t have that emotional contact with it.
LAAH: Do you have a favorite color?
LAILO: Um…I would have to say no, because we go back to that emotion thing. I have a whole collection of colors and I have a vision. So I’ll choose the colors to match that vision. Sometimes they’ll be very bright and cheerful, sometimes they’ll get a little dark. There’s an example over there of one that got a little bit dark. [points to painting on the wall] Obviously something upset me that day, and it wouldn’t have been anything profound, it’s just that you have that moment where, gee, my coffee’s cold, you know…and ahhh, I’ll put black on this! [laughs]
LAAH: How would you describe that piece to a blind person?
LAILO: Hmmm…never thought of that. I don’t know, I’m going to have to think that one through, because I’ve never given that much thought.
LAAH: Sounds like we may have to do a follow-up interview! [laughter]
LAAH: Any advice for young artists?
LAILO: Just don’t lose your imagination. That’s probably the most precious thing we could ever have. If you can’t imagine it, you can’t do it.
LAAH: Are you involved in any shows or upcoming events?
LAILO: Yeah, there’s a studio tour coming up June 9th & 10th called the ArtSea Spring Studio Tour, I’ll be a part of that again this year. So you’ll see some of my art at the McTavish Academy of Art and then the rest at my studio, Dragonfly Studio.
LAAH: What celebrity do you most often get mistaken for?
LAILO: The one pushing a shopping cart downtown!
Thank you for your time and your candor, Lailo, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about what you do and the process behind it…and thank you again for bringing an extra latté with you!
Here are a few more of Lailo’s paintings:
Photos are © Lailo