This January, the Gladstone will be launching the 15th annual Come Up To My Room alternative design exhibition. It’s the hotel’s longest running exhibition, bringing dozens of new ideas and breathing new perspectives into Toronto’s art + design world. Mixing mediums, experimenting with bold ideas, and bending the conventions of art and design is always encouraged.
Cole Swanson’s upcoming project—Terraflora—is a stunning example of the kind of unique work we just can’t wait to see at Come Up My Room 2019. It’s an ephemeral mural made up of regional clays and soils. Each pigment is being hand-rendered and extracted to reveal a range of mineral colours, including hues taken from local sites near the Cheltenham Badlands and the peaks of the Scarborough Bluffs.
Cole started foraging these local landscapes in the summer in preparation for the show, and that months-long journey is a critical part of the exhibit. Cole explains that “really the work is about material; it’s about the multi-stage process that one has to go through if they want to work with earth materials.”
It’s a considered and delicate process that’s required to bring each of these unique pigments to life as paint. There are specialty tools and equipment involved alongside knowledge of the the materials and paint-making, all things that Cole Swanson has in spades.
While setting up a station in front of a specialty glass grinding surface, with his raw materials alongside, Cole explains a process that he’s been working on for months in the lead-up to the Come Up To My Room: “There are basically three steps involved in getting the pigment that much richer and finer” he explains as he shows the pigments in each of their different stages of preparation.
This work takes a lot of elbow grease too. Using the example of a shiny dark charcoal powder, Cole shows us how “the charred wood is ground up with a pestle and mortar (a dry process) and sifted of all the unwanted matter—if you burn anything there’s a lot of by-product. In order to render a pigment from something this colour of black, you want it to be as pure as you can get it.”
Even after all the grinding is done, the new product still isn’t ready to be painted: “a fine dust is what we’re looking for, but to get a quantity that you can actually use, you also have to go through a wet process of bathing the pigments in the water.”
Finally the pigment needs to have a binding agent mixed-in for it to stick. The paints that Cole is preparing for Come Up To My Room are getting a custom finish though: “The binding agent depends on the purpose of the piece—in this case I’m going to be looking for something that’s not a permanent binder at all. I’m going to lean a lot of unrefined pigments that use clay as a natural binder. That way it’s easier to clean up when the project is done.”
While there’s in-part a practical purpose to this approach, the ephemeral nature of the materials used also brings many layers of meaning to the work. Terraflora is based on previous projects conducted in Ilhabela, Brazil and Rajasthan, India wherein natural colours were used to illuminate the growth of bacteria, fungi, algae, and lichens upon human-made structures. In this iteration, the artwork evokes those natural processes of growth and deterioration that would befall the hotel if devoid of human intervention.
The work is about the connection between material and memory too:
“This soil colour is rich. It gets on your clothes and shoes. A lot of people when I was talking about the show said that their earliest memories of Caledon were of having paint all over their clothes and they’d track it in the house and their parents would get mad at them. When you tell people you’re working with materials from certain places they come back to you with stories of growing up there. I like how the material has the ability to recall memory and form identity. Hopefully some of that will come into the work when people come to the show.”
Curious to see more of Ontario’s colour palette? Join us at Come Up To My Room 2019 and see Cole Swanson at work in the hotel’s halls throughout the exhibition!