Artist knows no other way

Eric Simard was born artistic.

“Not everybody spends hours of their day, or hours of their week, diving into their own thought processes and their own emotions,” confesses Simard, undergraduate program advisor for sociology at The University of Western Ontario. But through his art, he provides us a lovely showcase of who he really is.

As a child on vacations, he followed his father – a professional photographer – across Canada, loading film, learning how to operate equipment, acting as an assistant. He has since dipped his toe in portrait photography and weddings with success, although throughout high school, there was little uncertainty. He aspired to be a professional artist – a painter, in fact.

It was his high school art teacher who introduced the method of his present-day pieces. “She actually introduced me to the medium in high school,” Simard says. “She suggested that I go look up this word encaustic and bring something back.”

Simard explains encaustic is a term widely used. Egyptians, for example, painted mummy portraits in beeswax. Bronze molds were formed from heads or busts created in wax. To experiment with this medium, Eric stole his mother’s paraffin candles, melted crayons and applied it to canvas.

“Of course that’s not the correct technique,” he says. “But the result came out pretty good.”

In 2010, Simard had five solo exhibits, one in his hometown of Woodstock. Suspecting his former art teacher may attend, he hung his first encaustic piece alongside his most recent painting. “It was interesting for me to see the contrast between where I was and where I am: the crayon and candle painting to a professionally framed image,” he says. A mere 20 minutes before the show ended, his teacher did present herself and was pretty amused to see it still in his collection.

After high school, Simard enrolled in an art program at Sault College, Sault Ste Marie. His decision to attend post-secondary school eight hours away from mom and dad was rather calculated. “I think that was a great, great thing for me, to go spend that time and to develop a little bit and to mature,” he adds.

But “the art world is so subjective,” Eric explains. Struggling with the reality of painting for his instructors’ likes and dislikes and having to create works for marks, Simard – disappointed – left after one year.

“If art is a creative process based on what I’m thinking at that given moment,” he said, “then it should be fluid and should be where I want to take it, not necessarily where I think so-and-so wants to see it.”

As a result (and even while attending Western, graduating in 2009), Simard has been creating his own world of wax in a variety of different ways.

“I buy wax in cases of 60 pound blocks that I melt down,” he says. For colour, he pre-makes dyed paraffin pieces using acrylics and oil-based paints, applying it to the canvas in multiple layers. “I say canvas,” Simard says, but “it’s not actually canvas. It’s actually a board, sometimes Masonite, sometimes birch.”

It’s a delicate process and there are different additives added to the wax which makes it harder and more elastic. Instead of cracking, it will stretch slightly and then go back to its original position.

“If the painting dries and hardens too quickly it will crack all by itself so in some cases I’ve done that intentionally…for effect.”

Although his paintings definitely start out with an idea, or a feeling in a moment in time, they seldom end up with his preconceived notion. “I paint about the people that I care about or about the people in my life,” he says.

Simard consistently reveals his inner self on canvas. His outer self is also unfailingly busy. He’s married and holds his full-time position at Western. He is involved with the Professional Photographers of Canada, owns a small business, paints, teaches and attends his exhibits. He’s all out there.

“Yes, I like to be kept busy and find I’m more productive when I’m swamped,” Simard says. “It feels great but it’s stressful in itself just to have that much on the go at any given moment.”

There are, however, two of his pieces the public can’t have – and they hang on his apartment wall. For the time being, they’re a part of Simard that’s only for family and friends to see.

A Father and Son Show runs May 20-June 19 at the JMR Art Gallery in Bayfield. For information, visit the gallery’s site.