Arts

Talking about Landscape Artist of the Year Canada ... with landscape artists from Canada

Get their expert take on episode one. (Fair warning: spoilers ahead.)

Get their expert take on episode one. (Fair warning: spoilers ahead)

Landscape Artist of the Year Canada airs on CBC this fall. (CBC )

It's a reality competition for people who paint and collage and just generally make art about the scenery. Landscape Artist of the Year Canada premiered on CBC Oct. 9 after an initial run on the Makeful channel, and for the next few Fridays, this tournament-style format will introduce viewers to a different batch of artists each week.

Dropped in a surprise location (somewhere in Ontario), these pro and amateur artists are given a mere four hours to make something. (A landscape, most likely — per the title.) And before the credits roll, two of them will score a proverbial golden ticket to the finale's ultimate showdown. 

But really, despite all the reality show trappings — art world judges (Marc Mayer and Joanne Tod), $10,000 in prize money, that championship title — this is TV at its coziest. Think 45 minutes of people being nice to each other while they make art in nice places.

Of course, that's just my take — an opinion informed by an unhealthy amount of reality TV consumption and maybe 12 lifetime hours logged painting. What do actual artists make of the show?

I called Steve Driscoll, Keita Morimoto and Claire Scherzinger to chat about the first episode. All three are Canadian artists, all three have been known to make landscapes — and when asked if they'd ever compete, they gave a unanimous "no way in hell." (No shade, they're just camera-shy.) Still, they were plenty excited to talk about the premiere, and fair warning: spoilers ahead.

The show lays out the premise for the whole series in the first few minutes. Any early impressions? 

Morimoto: It felt like a show that I watched called Work of Art:The Next Great Artist, which was in New York.

This is kind of similar, but more friendly and Canadian. There's not a lot of like, you know, backstabbing. There's no drama — which is kind of interesting. I think it's very Canadian. It's very friendly, you know? They're not trying to be very confrontational or dramatic on the show. Personally, when I watch TV I want to see more drama, but I think it's totally fine.

Scherzinger: I had this idea it was going to be this pastoral-ized version of Canada, like a Canadian pastoral kind of thing. And I wasn't wrong, just based on the first episode.

Also thinking about landscape and Canada I was like, "Well, what landscape? It's such a big country! Is this all going to be taking place in Ontario?"

[Ed. note: Yes.]

Scherzinger: Ontario is gorgeous, of course, but there's just so much more to choose from!

Host Sook-Yin Lee and competitor Tosh Jeffrey in a scene from the first episode of Landscape Artist of the Year Canada. (CBC)

Driscoll: I just got right into it. It just draws you in with the excitement of it, and all the artists have that excitement. They're all doing it full tilt, which is super fun.

And for me, I was like, "OK, I have so much history with the art world, especially within the city in which I live. But I don't know any of these people! Why don't I know any of these people?" So that was interesting. 

I thought the reason the show was so fun is because it kind of stripped out the kind of cryptic nature of the art world. It just thinks about the artist as an individual and how that artist is pushing through their four-hour plight, which is perfect.

About that four-hour plight ... Watching everyone attack the challenge, was there anything about the show that really rang true to you? 

Driscoll: I'd be just as dumbfounded as them when they started! Like, what am I doing?! And how do I make myself not look like an idiot on camera while I'm trying to figure that out?

Morimoto: I think the work in progress shots — like, going around to the different artists and seeing their setup and seeing how they work — I thought it was really thorough.

I appreciated watching their starting point, mid-point, finishing point — I thought that was really informative.

In every episode, a bunch of other artists compete in a "wild card" category. From those wild card winners, the judges will pick one artist to take a spot in the finale's ultimate showdown. (CBC )

Scherzinger: I definitely understood the push toward doing your best possible work, even though it is such in such a condensed period of time. The push to be your best artist self, even under pressure — I did appreciate that. 

Driscoll: Every artist at almost every stage in their life has this need for validation — that the work that they're doing is important and meaningful. And I think they captured that desire within all of the artists, which, I think, is root-level stuff.

Scherzinger: I think being an artist, for a lot of people, is about resilience in many forms. Seeing these artists kind of take this time crunch and their own individual experiences and try to crank out a painting? That's definitely something to be admired.

Was there anyone in particular you were cheering for?

Scherzinger: Oh man, I liked the wild cards the best. I wish they had more on the wild cards.

Morimoto: I knew one of the wild card artists there! Raoul Olou. He's a friend of mine. 

Laura [Zerebeski], I really loved her work. ... It was very interesting to see how she interpreted what she saw, which was very different from, you know, actually taking a photo of the landscape. And also the use of colour, I thought, was very personal and visually impactful.

(L-R) Landscape Artist of the Year judge Joanne Tod and contestant Laura Zerbeski. (CBC )

Driscoll: We were betting in the studio [on] who would move forward. I was watching it with Mike, my studio director, and we were discussing who was going to move forward. We were both cheering for Denise, the woman that won. And I was split between Tosh and Megan, the amateur artist.

Denise — she was able to pull off her painting in the four-hour period where not everybody else was able to do it. And it would be something I'd love to have in my house, really — something I would find very lovely to have around.
 

 

And Tosh was interesting. I didn't love his first painting, the first submission painting where it's like a graffiti landscape of Toronto kind of thing. ... But he was just so comfortable and TV-worthy! And the painting he ended up doing was, I thought, a lot better than his first one. Like, "Oh, that's cool! I wonder what will happen next."

Is there anything you wish we could have seen more of? 

Morimoto: Every artist was introduced by the narrator, like where they're from and what they do. ... But I just felt like each artist could [have had] a much more in-depth background story.

Scherzinger: Not just where they come from, but what has their life been like as an artist so far? More on what the competition meant to them, or something like that. Why does it mean so much to them? 

Like, you know, just delve into their process — do some deep diving on who these people are and what they do.

Also, thinking about the sort of Canadian pastoral image I kind of anticipated, I was like, "Are they going to do a land acknowledgement? Are they?" I was a little dubious, and I was right.

We should be talking about Canadian landscape in a more holistic sense, not just like this one particular portrait or picture of our history. I'm intrigued to see other episodes.

Driscoll: I got pulled into the whole thing, so I'm just interested in seeing the final round.

Morimoto: I think it would be interesting to have more drama from the jury, but I don't know ...

How would you judge the judges?

Scherzinger: OK, so I was surprised to see Marc Mayer there. I just did not expect that. I didn't expect someone from the National Gallery to be involved in this, to be quite honest, and when he was I was like, "Oh wow." And then Joanne Tod, I don't know her personally, but I do know of her in that she has an extensive career.

Driscoll: Marc, I could watch him talk all day. He's got lovely descriptions of things.

(L-R) Artist Marissa Sweet talks with judge Marc Mayer. (CBC )

Morimoto: I mean, I know both of them. I love Marc and I love Joanne Tod. But I think it happens in every Canadian competition I've seen: everybody's so nice to each other. 

It's a really nice change of pace, so I appreciated the Canadian-ness. It's hard to say. More drama might be unnecessary.

Scherzinger: I would have maybe cut some of the judges' deliberation. I just think there's so much potential for storytelling [about the artists] that they really focused a bit more on the judges than I would have liked.

Steve Driscoll: Anybody could be landscape artist of the year.

Claire Scherzinger: Why should there be a competition about this in the first place? They're just so different. I thought every artist had their own very particular style.

Keita Morimoto: [Judging] is really hard, actually. ... I think it's just about the intent and whether it shows through the work. That's something I would personally want to see.

Driscoll: It's so subjective! Who is a landscape artist to start with? And who's the best? Like, I don't know! 

I would hate to be the judge, to have to decide that thing. Like, what are the qualifiers? Is it museum shows? Sales? Is it international representation? Is it changing the idea of landscape or taking on a new vision of landscape and adding to it somehow? Is it contemporizing it?  Then I was like: Am I hitting any of these things? (laughs) Maybe a couple.

Artist Phil Irish pieces together his landscape. (CBC Arts)

So ... final verdict?

Morimoto: Four out of five stars. I was quite entertained by the show; I enjoyed it very much.

I think if it had drama, it would be a five — but you know, that's my personal preference. 

Scherzinger: I give it a 2.5. Yeah, that feels about right. I don't want to say it was bland, but — yeah. I'll say it. It was pretty bland.

Context is important. I'm someone who has been working my entire career so far to try and be critical of art and art in Canada, and the show lacked that, I feel.

Driscoll: Oh, I'd give it a five. It's a lot of fun.

I think it's like a gateway drug to the arts. That's what it is. It's like a little teaser of what might be there and it might give people who don't have any idea of what goes on in the art world a starting point into it.

Landscape Artist of the Year Canada airs Fridays at 9pm on CBC TV and CBC Gem.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leah Collins is the Senior Writer at CBC Arts.

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