In the studio with Andrew Dadson. Words by Noémi Martini

Uniquely, you are not only a paint-based but also a plant-based artist, where does your love for nature come from? Do you have a specific place in nature, which inspires you the most? What are your other inspirations?

Definitely nature is a big influence in my painting practice. I started out working directly with nature as a type of a material and brought different aspects of that into the studio. But I still maintain a practice where I directly interact with the landscape and make works outside of the studio. There isn’t one space that’s special, but it follows me around wherever I’m living at the time. I was always inspired by landscape artists, but I didn’t train as a painter at school. I actually came to painting as a studio practice after school. This was after making works directly onto the landscape. Then I started thinking about what that might look like in the studio.

Andrew Dadson, Green Peace, 2019, exhibition view, Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto

How did it start? When did you know that you wanted to work with nature as a material?

It started basically after moving out of my parent's house when I started making works directly with the landscape. As I moved, I always made works with what surrounded me, through urban or suburban areas, front yards and backyards. Then I moved into under-used industrial areas or places that are in development. I was interested in the plants that came into these areas and how these landscapes were constantly changing. The plants were adapting and thriving in their new environments. My painting practice tries to highlight these areas or bring attention to mundane places. By living, we constantly make marks on our environment, whether it’s building houses on a bigger scale or simply walking in a forest and making a trail.

What kind of paint do you use in your plant installations? Can you tell us a bit about this process and why you choose this method?

People bring exotic plants into their homes to bring a sense of nature into the domestic sphere. Alternatively, I bring those plants to the gallery and grow them in an unnatural way. They need grow lights and gallery staff to take care of them because they are inside a building and they can’t just grow on their own. I mix up natural paint, usually made out of plant cellulose, either milk, chalk or different ingredients depending on the colour.  It’s all natural, non toxic paint that I mix myself. I hand-paint the plants as a method of mark-making and then they grow from there. The idea is that the gallery will grow the paint away so that the plants eventually shed this layer. By painting the plants I mark a moment in the plants life. It’s a magical moment when you can see the new green leaves emerge and push through the painted parts. The plants always have a life after the gallery and are either adopted or I continue to care for them in my studio.

Black Medic and Foxtail Barley (Medicago lupulina and Hordeum jubatum) Pink, 2019, wild clover, barley, milk paint (water, cassein, chalk, limestone, earth pigments, cochineal), Inkjet print mounted on dibond, 58 1/2 x 74 1/2 inches

Do you feel that you have a mission with your work? Specifically, when thinking about your latest exhibition, Green Peace, is your approach more about drawing attention to a current issue like an activist?

I am interested in the idea that I paint on the plant but it doesn’t die. I’m fascinated by how nature can grow and push through the many materials and marks that we leave upon the landscape. The works are trying to deal with different aspects of painting, outside of the gallery and within, while using both traditional and non-traditional materials. In this sense all the works are dealing with the same theme; how the natural world is shaped by human interaction and its ability or inability to adapt.

Where do you start and what kind of processes do you use to achieve the complexity of the surfaces in your paintings? Do you plan it in advance or is it more like an impulsive process, something that comes naturally?

I always look to nature to inform the works I do in the studio. I did these works recently with large scale photographs where I painted directly onto the landscape. That space was outside of the gallery, where a building had been torn down and where the land has been waiting for development to happen. The plants have started to grow on their own, naturally in the cracks of the pavement and amongst the ruins of the building. On that site I painted very small areas of plant life with natural paint that I mixed up and then photographed these compositions. Displaying the photograph after shows the greenery, which is an unpainted space that continues on beyond the edges of the frame. In this case you can imagine this tiny site and what connects it to its surroundings. These are some of the concepts I am trying to bring back to the studio when I paint.

Using three-dimensional, living plants as well as flat surfaces, where is the line between paintings and sculptures? Are you conscious about crossing that line?

For me, it’s an unclear line. I start off painting small brush strokes and as I layer them, over time, the work becomes more sculptural. Even my work with photos or the plant installations, I jump back and forth between painting and different mediums.

Andrew Dadson,, Magenta Grey White Restretch, 2019, Oil, sand and acrylic on linen, 16 x 13 inches

You are using more colour in your latest work, however for long your signature has been a more monochrome look. Is there any conflict between the two? And what significance do you give to colour?

Definitely there is no conflict between the two. In the studio I have always used many different colours to build up the paintings. It isn’t until the final layer that they become more monochrome, letting the end colour be the result of all of the previous layers.

Do you have any upcoming projects or something you’re working on right now?

I did a painted landscape work for an artist prize in Florence, called Artisti per Frescobaldi. Last fall I went toTuscany and I painted a site there in one of the wineries. Not the plants and the grapes that are used for the wine but the ones off to the sides that were forgotten about. I was interested in all the different elements that make that specific region special for wine, from the weather, the plants, soil and wind.Some of that work will be presented in Milan in September 2020.

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Photos by Reuben Beren James