Our sixtieth interview in this new series of intimate interviews is with talented mobile photographer and artist and our newest editor and columnist to our column ‘Draw the Line – Mobile Art as an Expression‘, Carol Wiebe from Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. This is an interview brimming with lavish and full colour illustrations combined with literature and key quotes that bring Wiebe’s story alive. Enjoy!
To read the other published interviews in this series including artists, Adria Ellis, Rino Rossi, Mehmet Duyulmus, Alexis Rotella, Lou Ann Sanford Donahue, Irene Oleksiuk, Kerry Mitchell, Filiz Ak, Dale Botha, Lisa Mitchell, M. Cecilia Sao Thiago, Deborah McMillion, Rita Colantonio, Amy Ecenbarger, Jane Schultz, Anca Balaj, Joyce Harkin, Armineh Hovanesian, Kate Zari Roberts, Vicki Cooper, Peter Wilkin, Barbara Braman, Becky Menzies, Sukru Mehmet Omur, Sarah Bichachi, Michel Pretterklieber, Alon Goldsmith, Judy Lurie Whalberg, Andrea Bigiarni, Sean Hayes, Oola Cristina, Kathleen Magner-Rios, Linda Toki, Deb Field, Emilo Nadales, Lydia Cassatt, David Hayes, Jean Hutter, Frederic Deschênes, Mark Schnidman, Fatma Korkut, Fleur Schim, Rob Pearson-Wright, Dieter Gaebel, James Ellis, Marco P Prado, Jeronimo Sanz, Manuela Matos Monteiro, Bleu Chemiko, Manuela Basaldella, Stefania Piccioni, Luis Rodríguez, Marilisa Andriani (@mitrydate) Mayte Balcells (@artofmayte), Nicole Christophe, Jennifer Graham, Cathrine Halsør, Paul Toussaint and myself, go here.
All images ©Carol Wiebe
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
I wailed my way into existence in a small city on the Canadian prairies. My parents were both born during the dirty thirties, and they exhibited the hyperactive work ethics to prove it. My propensities towards art and reading, which started early and never abated, were considered a frivolous waste of time—and messy! There were chores to perform, younger sisters to babysit, and school homework to finish. Oddly, music lessons were an exception. For some time, I aspired to be either a concert pianist, or a writer.
I was a child who always had a pencil in my hand—usually a coloured pencil (Laurentian peacock blue was a favourite.) And yet, becoming an artist never really occurred to me. Thinking “artistically” and making things (incarnating ideas) were simply an integral part of me that would enhance anything else I did.
When I was 12, I won a colouring contest, Cappy Dick, where contestants had to color in a winter design. My name was published in the paper, and my prize was a complete set of world Book encyclopaedias, and a set of Child-craft encyclopaedias, as well as a two tiered stand that they rested in. I spent many happy research hours looking things up in both sets. For a few years, my parents even bought supplementary issues.
I won a few seconds in all the piano recitals I took part in, which, even as a child, seemed hugely boring and terrifying at the same time. I can still hear the bell that dinged before I had to make my way to a gigantic piano on stage, and play the 200th iteration of the same, or similar, piano music.
I had the usual babysitting jobs. My first real paying job was in a hospital, where I picked up food trays from patients. I did not eat off those trays, and was one of the few teenagers who did not contract mononucleosis while on duty! Much later, as a married woman and wannabe clothing designer, I was a clerk in a fabric store. I usually owed money as each pay period came around. Jobs such as this greatly spurred my desire for higher education. I finally realised I could use my musical training for something other than being a concert pianist, and taught piano lessons for a number of years.
Private or State school?
I was sent to a Mennonite private school for grades 10 to 12, because my parents were quite concerned about my “independent” thinking, and hoped that such a school might temper it. What my time there did achieve was that it allowed me to meet my husband, who remains my husband to this day. The independent thinking continues to persist, as well. I do not appreciate being told what or how to think.
University or Work?
I was married quite young—age 18—and had my first child at 19 (second at 21). I did not have the education to obtain a job that would make childcare affordable, but at age 30, I started taking University courses. English was my major. Sometime later I added a Bachelor of Education and Master of Library and Information Science to the list. I worked in both public libraries and, finally, a Special Needs School, as a teacher librarian, where I was able to indulge my love of story, with the help of puppets, songs and poetry. When evaluated by my principal, she called me “entertaining.” I said, “Watch how the children respond. What I am is engaging!”
Who was or still is your mentor?
As far as digital art is concerned, Carolyn Hall Young was and continues to be my mentor. Not only her supreme artistry, but also her generosity, inspired me and continue to do so. I treasure the conversations we shared.
How physically fit are you?
My fingers are fit enough to handle an iPad and its accompanying pencil. I can walk, run if I have to, and I stand for hours in my studio most days. So I would call myself fit enough for my purposes!
Ambition or talent: What matters more to success?
I have been obsessed with expressing myself for my entire life. That obsession has not abated. Whether or not I have talent is for others to surmise: I simply do what I must do. As for ambition, I am seldom willing to take the time to erect the scaffolds ambition requires to build upon. I sit down at the computer to add images to a print-on-demand site, or improve my website, and accidentally create another artwork instead.
Eric Maisel said: “Creativity is not a talent or ability. It is the fruit of a person’s decision to matter.”
That decision was made for me long ago. I do what matters to me, and hope it matters to others.
How politically committed are you?
Politics has to do with the governance of people and places. I believe in personal governance, which for me includes being artistically and spiritually active. Art is an integral part of my spiritual path, and I am dedicated to pursuing all it uncovers in my life with as much courage, intelligence and self compassion I can muster.
Artists and writers with souls are our prophets, who speak and show us the truths they uncover. Living by such truths makes us, I believe, good citizens and helps us not only to redeem society, but experience true joy.
“And when you face a politics [or situation] that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
I have what I call my “2 a.m. ideas,” which invariably infect me with a burning desire to manifest. I am fortunate to have a partner who is an expert at supporting and empowering others. He also has extensive building skills, and has constructed scaffolds to support many a “crazy” project.
This has been the master pattern for what I would like to own—the materials I need for my current 2 a.m. idea.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Courses. I enrol in them constantly. I love to learn, but can no more keep up with these than I can with my reading list.
In what places are you happiest?
Relaxing in a comfortable chair, with a book and my iPad, plus a nice cup of tea (or glass of Kombucha), is a very happy place for me. All three keep aiding and abetting each other. Spending the majority of my time making art, reading, and writing is my crime—and very thirsty work!
But my studio is the happiest place of all. It is my private Shangri-La, where the Muse is welcome and magic and mystery envelop me. My husband built it out first, when we bought a fixer-upper over a decade ago, because he believed “A happy wife equals a happy life.” How fortunate am I?
What ambitions do you still have?
Mostly, I love interacting with people around the art we both make. I revel in the insights, the jokes and puns, sharing tips, and even the darker realisations of what is being revealed. To that end, I would like to see my work disseminated as widely as possible. On the other hand (and there always is one), a fairly small, intimate group also fulfils these needs satisfactorily. I guess you could say I can make my home just about anywhere on the range (where seldom is heard a discouraging word).
What drives you on?
Spurring the interactions I just mentioned is paramount. But I know that I can, and need to, go for fairly long intervals of solitude. I keep making art with the same intensity at such times. I am quite comfortable as my own witness, and enjoy my own inner dialogue. Of course, the inner conversations are not always pleasant—they can be quite challenging—but they are always revelatory.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
I made a conscious decision, decades ago, to concentrate on the positive aspects of life in general and mine in particular. I felt undue pressure towards adopting negativity and cynicism, and could not foresee anything but misery in following such a path. Part of my rationale was to be mindful of how others were practicing creativity, joy, generosity—attributes I believe a positive life outlook emphasises. I vowed to speak about what I witnessed, as encouragement both to them and to myself.
I consider this deliberate character overhaul as my greatest achievement.
That, and my lifelong friendship with my husband, Ted, the longevity of which is most likely due to the aforementioned overhaul.
What do you find most irritating in other people?
It is easy to be negative and criticise others. I find people who constantly engage in such activity most irritating, especially when accompanied by a supercilious attitude. On the other hand (there we go again), false praise is just as off putting.
If you 20 year old self could see you now, what would she think?
She would be quite impressed that I made it this far, and kept up a practice of following my creative urges all along!
Which object that you’ve lost do you wish you still had?
My hard drive crashed, and I lost years of poetry I had written, along with many images and photographs. I find snippets every once in a while, but large swathes of feelings and observances have been laid waste by that crash.
I like to think they are fertilising my present art and writing endeavours.
What is the greatest challenge of our time?
It grieves me terribly that in these crucial times, when the activities of humanity have put the very earth at risk, we have leaders with great hubris and little, if any, humour. Those with a sense of humour are able to laugh at themselves, but those with an overweening sense of hubris seem obsessed with assigning blame and seeking revenge for anything perceived as a personal slight. They are dangerous people, and when they become leaders, they are actually misleaders. They are capable of inflicting great harm all around them. We must observe closely and consider carefully what we are told to be facts or truth. There is much at stake.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
Yes, I do. I can no sooner offer proof for that belief than I can prove the existence of love or goodness. But I feel it as a presence, as something I catch momentary glimpses of out of the corners of my being. My heart bears testament to it. It is something like this—you are in the presence of a person whose goodness is palpable. Just by being there, they make you want to be better, not to impress them but because the goodness is so amazingly desirable and beautiful that you want to be part of it rather than separate or even to detract from it!
Our soul is like that person, and I feel my soul’s longing for “home.” That home is in quite an undisclosed location, and I fully accept that “location” may be an entirely unsuitable and inadequate term for “where” the soul will be drawn to. But I fully anticipate an “after life” adventure.
I think Mary Oliver expressed, perfectly, what I am trying to say:
THE WORLD I LIVE IN – MARY OLIVER
I have refused to live
locked in the orderly house of
reasons and proofs;
The world I live in and believe in
is wider than that. And anyway.
what’s wrong with Maybe?
You wouldn’t believe what once or
twice I have seen. I’ll just
tell you this:
only if there are angels in your head will you
ever, possibly, see one.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life, so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Satisfaction is a fickle thing. For me, it is intimately intertwined with meaningfulness. When I perceive relevant meaning in my life—through dreams, art, reading, reflecting, meditating, conversing—I am exhilarated and satisfaction is high. When it dips, I stalk meaning, knowing from past experience that I must not let satisfaction dip so low that it becomes difficult to stay awake. When I am awake, I can perceive gifts of meaning all around me, and interact with them. Meaningful work and relationships flow forth. Satisfaction soars.
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