Room Portraits, Still Lifes and Landscapes: An Interview with Sophie Edell

Sophie Edell

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Sophie Edell’s paintings give us a peek into the practice of painting in Quebec townships by collecting rooms and landscapes as symbols of a quieter life. Edell chats with us about transitioning from urban to rural, developing a personal style, and the intersection of illustration and painting.

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Yolk began as an electric conversation around a picnic table in Saint Henri Square.

Our scruffy pioneer and present prose editor had previously approached each of us with an idea, a vision: We would establish our own literary magazine in Montreal. And so it was, or so it would be. After that original encounter, eight individuals devoted to the word resolved that they would gather bi-weekly, on Sundays, and bring something new into this busy, manic world—something that might slow its spin down somewhat and cause its patronage to say: “You know what, it ain’t so bad, is it, Susan?”

We are undergraduate, graduate, and graduated students of writing. Some of us learn our craft formally from accomplished authors in seminar courses, and some of us learn by looking out the window of the world and onto the streets that sing below. Some of us learn from screaming squirrels, old curtains, departed grandfathers, and bowel movements. We learn from old lovers, long winters, imperfect mothers, and from the deep internet where a musical genius remains entombed.

Yolk is cold floors on Sabbath mornings, home-brewed ginger beer in the endless afternoon, and downpours of French-pressed coffee in assorted artisanal mugs. Our first official gathering was scheduled for a duration of two hours; most of us remained for six, departing only to attend to the summons of our own beckoning realities. Together, with time suspended, we talked endlessly of contributing something to disrupt Montreal’s literary ecosystem. Something unparalleled, something true.

But what? There was nothing to discuss. There was everything to discuss.

We volunteer our time, hounding some elusive beast composed of combustible words and works. We are hopeful, truly hopeful, that we can give something new, a new way, a new light, and that if we cannot, we might at least uphold the traditions of our predecessors, cast star-wide nets to capture their echoes. We are a thousand decisions. We are a sanctuary for the orphaned word, the solitary writer, the cereal-eating artist who yearns for company, for the comfort of a like mind; we sit together with them at foggy dawn, it rains a baptism, with our arms and hands intertwined, we form an umbrella—underneath, they scribble madly, the perfect picture.

Yolk in no way presumes to be superior to its contemporaries, but its contemporaries should not presume yolk to be anything other than loud—quite, quite loud. We are yippidy jazzed to address the oh-so-technicolorful magnificence of the human experience, but we are prepared also to address the ugliness, to stare at its wet, hairy snout and into its square depth and to roar in return at the things that yearn to devour our skin, beset our ethos, and dig graves in our own backyards.

There’s so much to say, there’s so much we don’t know, but together, with you, we can placate that ignorance, render it peaceful, tolerable, and perhaps even, fucking beautiful.

And Susan says, “Amen.”
 Green Chair, Gaspésie, 2021. Acrylic on paper, 9” x 12”

Guest House Living Room, Gaspésie, 2021. Acrylic on paper, 17” x 14”

Morning Time, 2021. Acrylic on paper , 30" x 22"

Seder at the Condo, 2021. Acrylic on paper, 30" x 22"

Sarah Piché, yolk visual arts editor: Your paintings of domestic spaces remind me of the absence, and inadvertent presence, of the human figure. With ruffled sheets, washed mugs, uneaten food, the body is present in the traces it has left. And so I wanted to ask you what has brought you to these spaces as subject matter? Why interiors and why the found still lifes?

Sophie Edell: I started painting these subjects during the pandemic, while I was living in a very small house in the country. A lot of my time was spent alone in and around this space, and I began to notice the way we leave an imprint on our surroundings in unique ways. Levels of messiness, aesthetic choices, evidence of what we've consumed... these are clues that tell a story about us as individuals.

SP: In regards to landscape painting, and particularly the tradition of painting en plein-air, how do you see your work fitting in the genre?

SE: Although I have always liked landscape paintings and found them to be beautiful, it wasn't until I began to paint them myself that I understood the personal relationship the artist has to the painted subject.

I work en plein-air sometimes, but mostly I work from images that I take while I'm out, usually of places that I frequent often.

Regardless of my approach, I feel a connection to the subject simply from having experienced that ephemeral moment I'm trying to capture. That experience and connection feel like the most important factors in landscape painting, and therefore the links between my work and landscape painting in general.

SP: Moving from Montreal to the townships in 2020 seems to have influenced your style quite a bit. In doing so you have managed to create a prolific body of work within the past two years. How has the new environment impacted your practice, style, and approach to artmaking?

SE: I'd worked in the service industry for many years before my move to the Townships. I moved right as the pandemic started, and therefore I was forced out of that type of work for an unspecified amount of time.

This was my first time living outside of the city, and after a few months of exploration and unemployment I began painting again. I'd avoided painting for years due to lack of inspiration and drive.

My new environment inspired me to paint anything that I found to be beautiful, which helped me to reject the art school notion that your work needs to be new, unique, and deeply conceptual to be of any interest.

This made painting so much more fun! Since then I've been working in a style and frequency that is completely new for me.

Mini Landscape XL, 2021. Acrylic on paper, 6" x 4"

SP: I imagine these series of paintings coalescing into a sort of self-portrait as you paint the spaces you’ve moved through, do you think of your work through an autobiographical lens?

SE: Definitely! These works have come to be a sort of visual diary, documenting my life over the past two years. Although they feel personal to me, I think they depict pretty relatable scenes and that's why they resonate with people globally.

SP: As someone who also works within illustration, how do you see the two practices influencing each other?

SE: Illustrations don't often focus on true realism, and neither do my paintings. Even though I'm painting recognizable subjects, they are always a little off in terms of colour and perspective.

I don't focus on perfection, and I try to have fun with it, so I think this is where my illustrations and paintings intersect. I'm not sure if one influences the other or if it is that they are both branches of the same tree.

Wading Room, 2021. Acrylic on paper, 17" x 14"

SP: Is there any advice you would like to share with artists?

SE: My advice would be to focus on creating what you enjoy making, and to try as much as possible to create it for yourself first and foremost. Have fun! I think people recognize this when they see a piece made in this way, without even realizing it.

Another piece of advice I would offer is to try and give yourself as many opportunities to focus solely on your art as you can. I know first hand that it's hard to do this when you aren't generating income from your work, and that forces us to get secondary jobs in order to live.

Keep an eye on grants, and other opportunities that give you the chance to develop your work without other distractions

Mugshot, 2021. Acrylic on paper, 12" x 9"

Flowers and Strawberries, 2022. Acrylic on paper, 30" x 22"

Bedroom Vanity, 2022. Acrylic on paper, 11” x 14”

Sophie Edell is a visual artist based in the Eastern Townships region of Quebec. She grew up in Toronto and began creating art from a young age, which led to her enrolment at Concordia University in Montreal in 2007 where she received her bachelor of Fine Arts in 2011. Edell has explored many avenues in the time since graduation, from drawing and painting, to textiles and design. She returned with focus to her love of painting in the summer of 2020 after a move from the city of Montreal to the more rural setting of the Townships. Her work can be found on her website, www.sophieedell.com, or Instagram, @dittoecho.

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