SYNONYM ART CONSULTATION
Words: Karen Hare / Photos: Janine Kropla
It has been so very cold here, but as I stepped into Andrew’s apartment I was immediately warmed. Through wall tapestry, kindness, and a few cats…my frozen bones were thawed and all I could feel was the deep and genuine excitement of two kindred spirits.
Andrew Eastman and Chloe Chafe have been in each other’s peripherals since elementary. Both growing up in South Osborne they have been slowly entering one another’s orbit until finally colliding into the identity we now know as Synonym Art Consultation. Through several years working alongside each other in the serving industry, these two friends took notice of their ability to work well together and began to recognize a common thread of desires as well as a complimenting set of skills. Together they saw opportunities in empty walls, as well as an immense amount of engaging art waiting to land in eyes and hands.
Now, they sit with me on deep wooden surfaces; share tea amongst cheese and crackers, blueberries, both fresh and dried. They tell stories of how gratifying it is to hand an artist that had never dreamed of having a show an envelope of money because all of their work just sold. We talk about the importance of collaboration and the amazing amount of trust as well as talent they have found in Winnipeg; talk of working with artists and building friendships. They describe the sensitivity of each venue, treating each one as if they are stepping into someone’s home. They speak of handpicking each frame... They laugh, share memories and assure me that not one of them could have done this without the other.
There is something very much alive and special here. It seems as if every ounce of what they do is done with care as well as an incredible amount of passion, not to mention intelligence. They are charismatic, humble and hardworking (and so much cooler than me). But most importantly they are very good at what they do. With venues including The Hive, Deseo Bistro, Bistro 7 ¼ and Fitzroy, they have only just begun to feature an array of local artists, exposing their work in a completely unique way. And so, this year amidst the melt, thanks to Andrew and Chloe, a little bit more of Winnipeg will emerge from beneath the snow.
Muddy Water: How does Synonym Art Consultation work? What is the process like?
Chloe: Essentially we are the connection between artists, musicians, performers and establishments. In both working in the food industry for many years, we have passion and personal relationships with a handful of restaurants and venues we trust. Combine that with surrounding ourselves with artists (in every sense of the word) we see similarities in the two and put them together.
Our process is constantly evolving. Our research varies from studio visits, going to shows and festivals, spending time with business owners and scanning (obsessively) social media for what everyone is working on. The combination of all of these, plus just talking with our talented friends, who at the end of the day inspire us the most, allow it to happen organically.
Andrew: I think that any time two friends undertake a creative project, or business endeavour, there is a huge risk for friction and bad outcomes, but because of the shared bond, there is also the potential for that much more success. I know it sounds sort of hokey, but I think that having love and respect as the foundation of any creative act is very important. Whether consciously, or not, we have built our entire business around these values, making sure to love and respect all the individuals involved, be they artists, business owners, or the public.
C: I adore this man. A big element of our friendship/dynamic is Andrew’s partner Anthony Nelson. With our office essentially being their apartment, he is always with us. Although we are known as the pair “Chloe & Andrew”, Anthony is a main piece to our puzzle and their three cats.
MW: Why is this idea of collaboration so important and what is it that makes Winnipeg such a great place for Synonym Art Consultation to thrive? Does our size affect our willingness to work together?
A: If Synonym were to cease to exist today, the one thing I would take away that I would treasure most, would be the knowledge that through collaboration always comes something greater. This was not an easy lesson for me to learn. I think it is natural for most creative types to keep to themselves, solve problems on their own and make art in solitude. Winnipeg seems to churn out these hermity artsy types. Don't get me wrong, these people are also the loveliest, most considerate people you will ever meet, but the idea of collaborating and losing total control over a project is somewhat terrifying for them. I made the scary leap of faith into collaborating with Chloe a year ago and now know that it was one of the best decisions of my life. Chloe is one of those rare creative types who thrives off of community and collaboration, which is one of the things that attracted me to her. She has converted me from the "do-it-myself" recluse to the poster boy of collaboration. Without collaboration, there is no Synonym.
C: People are what energize me most. There’s a big group of our generation that is all trying to do the same thing so why not enjoy it and support each other? Whatever your medium, you can always grow off of someone else’s ideas. In melding communities you can achieve insights from people you wouldn’t if you were confined to a specific niche.
MW: You have used the analogy of ‘the whole being greater than the sum of its parts’, can you tell us a little bit about how [DEMO] GRAPHIC relates?
A & C: The concept of "the whole being greater than the sum of its parts" really boils down to the same thing as collaboration. Our demo[graphic] show at Fitzroy was us taking collaboration to the next level. This was our first show with more than two artists, which, of course comes with its own set of challenges. With that many creative minds at the table, the chance of something going wrong is potentially higher, but we think the final result was much more rewarding. The six graphic designers were a dream to work with and each brought something unique to our meetings and to the final show. Even though they are all so talented separately, it was the power of all their pieces together, being in the same frames, with the same colours on the same wall and in the postcard book we had made for the show that really made it something special.
MW: Why is it so important to showcase art in new ways, outside of the gallery?
A: While I love participating in the more "traditional" gallery side of the art world and have so much respect for it, I feel that art takes on a richer, deeper meaning when experienced in a more organic setting. If you're out at one of our events, or out for a birthday dinner at one of the restaurants we curate for, you're engaging all your senses through not only the art, but the food, wine, music and conversation, creating lasting memories with loved ones. Whether your relationship with a piece of art ends after the few hours you spend celebrating in the same room with it, or if you take the next step of purchasing it and hanging it in your home, I think the art will forever be imbued with those memories, making it that much more beautiful.
Recently, a man who bought a couple of art pieces from us told me that he and his family had a small wedding at Deseo Bistro and, of course, had the loveliest time. Apparently the art was a recurring topic of conversation among all of the guests. He admitted that art galleries made him somewhat uncomfortable and then told me that he was thankful not only to see beautiful art for sale in a more "accessible" place, but also to now own art that has an incredibly special meaning for him. I love that story.
MW: What are some of the challenges that go along with using venues outside of a blank white gallery?
C: There are a handful of challenges that come with being in venue versus gallery. We treat our venue owners as our clients, so it’s important that the venue owner enjoys the art and feels comfortable with it’s content and style; they will have their customers surrounded by it everyday for months on end. This, along with speaking to people who wouldn’t necessarily have a history of fine art knowledge does limit us to somewhat be safe as far as content goes. We also have to be conducive to specific walls/lighting/vibe of an establishment.
The big plus is we are strengthening our curating skills as we continue to get these challenges. For example, on Nuit Blanche at Union Sound Hall, we needed a way for a one-night art show that connected the audience in a “club/night scene” setting. So for this we used video projections, Samantha Halas: a contortionist, the band Hana Lulu and DJ’s. We also teamed up with Graffiti Gallery and the Rainbow Trout Bike Jam so the public could contribute to the art that would be hung for the one night at Union. This was a huge project in how to expand the celebration of culture in our city within a 24-hour period.
A little bit of insanity.
MW: You’ve spoken a lot about the importance of the accessibly of art. Why is this so integral to the mandate of Synonym Art Consultation?
C: YES. Everyone listens to music, absorbs images and colours, expands ideas, and eats food. The idea of art being confined to a certain financial or social bracket is absurd to us. It’s for this reason we are always thinking of ways for everyone to get to experience culture, while supporting artists at the same time.
We’ve moved into selling prints of works, our books and have always kept our events $5 cover or less. We never want money to be a block for anyone to create or be apart of something we are pouring our hearts into.
MW: How do you hope to move forward from this point? It seems as if you are both very open to exploring new ideas and taking on new challenges…
A: The funny thing about Synonym is that after a year it's still such a chameleon, or shape-shifter, or mysterious cloud, or something. It's even hard to come up with an analogy that fits! As much as we have worked really hard to define our brand, our concept, and our goals, the forms this project takes constantly surprise us. So far, things have unfolded in such a natural way and I really hope that things continue in that direction.
That being said, we are always looking months down the road, as you have to when curating multiple art shows around the city. We are constantly trying to one-up ourselves and raise the stakes a bit with every event and every commitment we make. Lately, I have been conceptualizing Synonym as if it were a curated art show, requiring vision to create a cohesive, intriguing, challenging and beautiful whole. But ask me again in a year, or a week for that matter, and I will have a whole new set of metaphors for you.
MW: What about you two? You are obviously both very creative, has this past year helped emerge any art/ ideas within yourselves?
A: It took me a while to come to terms with, but essentially I haven't written any poetry since starting this project. I was sad and confused for a while, until I really started giving Chloe and myself a bit more credit, realizing that what we are doing IS a creative act. While I'm not tinkering with line breaks and assonance at all these days, I feel like I am reaching new heights, creatively, through Synonym. Not only that, but by meeting so many amazing artists and art-lovers, I am thinking a lot more about what it takes and what it is to be an artist. I know that I will get back to poetry someday, and I hope that day is sooner rather than later, but I don't feel creatively unsatisfied.
C: This year has been extremely beneficial for me. I’ve been able to learn how to focus on projects and ideas. It has lead to refining how I create images and look at each project, as its different parts: logistics, concept, visual construction and execution. I have been experimenting in all mediums for the past couple years and this is just another way to practice all of those elements. Creatively, it has definitely become clear how connections (conceptually, physically and social) are my main interest.
MW: Where can we see the next show?
A & C: Our next show, on February 27th, we are trying out a new format that we are incredibly excited about! The doors will open at Deseo Bistro at 8 pm, $5 cover, where you can eat/hang out/have a beverage. The band ATLAAS will be playing a set in the dining room at 9 pm, which is where we have our previous Deseo collection “Thickened With Legend” still hanging. Works by Mat Lacosse & Gabrielle Funk.
Then at 10 pm, Andrew Chipman (Angelfire) will be starting his DJ set in the lounge where Alexandra Ateah and Tamara McKenzie are showcasing new works. "No New Moon" derives from the fact that there are no new moons in the calendar month of February 2014. This is a very rare phenomenon and the lunar theme of the art will pay tribute to this.
The entire night is a concert/DJ set/ two-art collections/eat, drink and be merry.
We will also be teaming up with the beautiful women of Rip/Torn in May…. More to come on that later…