Our art curator Leo Babsky interviews contemporary painter Derek Mainella who is exhibiting his work as part of the group exhibition ‘Castor’ currently on view throughout the club.

First question, can you give us a bit of background on your life and career?

Hi, yes I’ve been painting my entire life pretty much, or since I was a kid at least and have always looked at paintings since a very young age in books and such. I’ve been exhibiting since the early 2000’s and have curated ten independent shows and art happenings in that period until 2013. I always consider myself an artist and not a curator per se, and the curatorial thing could confuse people a bit, but I really enjoyed putting on shows and working with other artists. There was a bit of a scene in Toronto which revolved around these activities in the early to mid 2000’s and we even had our own space called Mind Control for a while. Actually, it was quite an environment in those days now that I think about it, we ruled the streets at night (laughs), and there was something going on all the time basically. That started the ‘Queen West’ / ‘Parkdale’ thing over there. I then moved from T.O. to London in 2013, and I’ve been painting over here since then.

You are from Toronto right? What prompted your move to London and can you tell us a little about the scene in Toronto? It seems very healthy to me as alongside yourself, Thrush Holmes (who's work we also have in the club) and Scott Everingham all coming out of Toronto (amongst many others I'm sure.)

Yes I was born and lived in Toronto. Yeah Thrush and Scott are really great painters, and super nice people. There are TONS of amazing artists and gallerists in Toronto and I knew most of them, and now lots of great younger ones are coming up in the time since I left. It’s a great scene there. There are problems of course- there are very few collectors and many of those collectors are very conservative. It is also pretty tricky to get real recognition out of there without leaving, but this is getting much better thanks to the connectivity of the internet of course, and all the fairs and such.

I met my (now) wife here in 2011. She is from London and we actually just had a baby so we’re here to stay. (laughs) It made more sense for me to come here and explore than for her to move to a much smaller market, that I had kind of exhausted every possibility in. London is the number one or two art city in the world depending how you look at it, so it was a no brainer to move here.

Your work is exceptionally well executed; can you tell us your process in achieving such a flawless finish in your pieces (if that isn't giving away too much?)

Thanks. My secrets are very well guarded (laughs), but no, it’s a lot of OCD and a tiny bit of skills perhaps. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way but sometimes you have to invent new methodologies for each painting or perhaps even one passage of a painting. This keeps things interesting unless it all goes very wrong. But I do like to leave traces of the hand, minor flaws. They are still paintings of course and not mass produced objects.

Talking of finish, your work is almost sickly in its execution and level of gloss - are you interested in pushing that boundary between where seductive imagery becomes too excessive and turns into a kind of gluttony?

This is very interesting actually because I really like messy painting as well and have made paintings like that in the past, but my path has led to these somehow. The use of the computer or apps on my phone to conceive the imagery has also led to a more sterile and clean finish. I can design paintings wherever I am or can make the traditional mess of experimentation in the comfort of my living room then render them as traditional paintings. There is also not the time and space to play around in the studio or for things to go wrong. This is a London thing perhaps, or maybe a 2017 thing. Artists around the world are probably encountering these issues so we are increasingly seeing new alternatives in format and media. We’ll see what happens - I could be writhing around in paint and fumes again one day, but I am happy with the current progress. I don’t see them as a ‘Hirstian’ level of bling or anything, but a bit of excess is always a good thing, and they do reference the painting as a - fetishized-object situation.

Further to the above question, in our society now the currency of image or facade is becoming unbelievably valuable with social media, particularly Instagram, is this something that you comment on with your work?

Our society is getting increasingly vapid and sinister in some ways, yet visually sophisticated and stunning and multifaceted at a hyperbolic rate, so that is addressed in a lot of people’s work probably. Image has always been everything of course, but now this is hands on transmittable around the world and all art and culture is responding to that in a way. I have also made reference to an inner world in regards to the figures in my paintings, a retreat from all the noise. There is an increasing sense of utopia I think, or a sense that Trump might blow us all up. It could go either way (laughs)

I see your work as pop art for the technological age, what role does art history play in your works?

Yes, that’s good. Art history is huge- I’ve been digesting art since I was a kid as I have mentioned and it’s those historical works that you would look at early on and always return to as an adult. It’s a window into any era and into their respective futures at any time. In this case history has proved pop art to be much more significant than the modernists had thought was warranted and perhaps even the most significant in our total culture, and my work contaminates and trivializes certain modernist strategies by using them to render basic figures. I am interested in projecting into the future while referencing the history of painting of course, but in terms of history I like all movements, everything.

You are represented by Castor - can you tell us how that relationship came about?

I believe Andy saw my show at Dave Evans’ White Wizard project in Liverpool online and fell in love with them instantly (laughs). We soon after talked about doing something and now we will open my second solo presentation with the gallery on October 3rd. I’m not sure if we would say representation in the traditional sense, which seems to be becoming more of a grey area now anyways, but the great thing about Castor is they have been extremely active, supportive and engaged with my work, while also being very interested in facilitating any kind of installation or concept for a physical show.

Do you have any new exhibitions/ projects coming up that you would like to tell us about?

There have been talks of the Spring Break fair in NYC next year with a very interesting young gallery which I am excited about, and a few other things but it’s all very tba at the moment, will have to keep you posted. And to keep painting of course.

Derek Mainella has a solo exhibition opening at Castor Projects on the 4th of October. Mainella has exhibited extensively throughout Europe and Canada and curated 'Are you alright?’, New Art from Britain at the ‘Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art’ (MOCCA) in Toronto, Canada in 2013.

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