By Tony Martins / Paintings by Drew Mosley
Drew Mosley is wandering through the woods. The terrain is at once familiar and somehow changed, shifted. He’s been through here many times … or has he? He glances over his shoulder, seeking reassurance and finding none. Everything feels hyper-real, slightly larger, more pungent and more exotic than he remembers. He is vaguely unsettled and slightly thrilled. The animals are peering at him with knowing looks, as if expecting some kind of action … but what? Then he turns and holds out his hand, inviting you to grasp it.
Before his recent emergence as a largely self-taught artist who explores mythological nature, Drew Mosley had built a career as a timber framer, a niche vocation that involves design and construction using large wooden beams and traditional joinery called mortice and tenon. It’s a throwback. He often tears down old barns and converts them into homes. It comes naturally to him.
“As a child most of my weekends and summers were spent at my father’s old log cabin which he’s been working on since the year before I was born,” Mosley remembers. “I started just helping out and then eventually I began doing the work myself. So when it came time to make a career for myself it was like, ‘Oh yeah, I know how to do that, I can swing a hammer’...”
Soft spoken yet exceedingly present, Mosley radiates the solidity and the traditional ethos of an outdoorsman. “I have a huge appreciation for old buildings and old tools marked with the years of abuse,” he says, “they’ve became my other obsession, my other life’s work.”
Other life’s work? Mosley is aware of a duality. Despite his success as a timber framer, he is increasingly compelled by something else.
“No matter how hard I would work at my day job, I would still come home most nights and just paint,” Mosley says. “Paint what I had seen that day, or at least my version of it.”
A contemplative pause, Drew Mosley, 2013, acrylic ink on wood panel, 18” x 24”
Mosley knew how near-constant exposure to the natural world had become part of his own expressive nature.
“It’s impossible for it not to seep into your skin,” he explains. “All the fresh air and open fields, deer, bear, and the birds. All of it really slows down the pace of life. It definitely has a huge influence when it comes to my art work. These are the things I would see every day, the barn owls during a barn restoration, bears running across a field at the farm where we cut our frames, eagles flying over head, bison at the bison farm, it all ties together in some way.”
But what way? Mosley is deeply into that kind of discovery. It shows through the spiritual feeling in his work, where woodland animals take on human attributes and humans don animal masks in seemingly ritualized settings.
“I think I arrived at this mythological state with my work during my time on Vancouver Island,” Mosley explains. “Native American art and their traditions are everywhere and are celebrated through public art, be it murals or totems. The whole island is absolutely saturated with both, which serve as vehicles for legend and folklore.”
And from folklore come principles to guide us through life: “Sometimes these stories would have these creatures personified and helping out humans in times of woe or want,” adds Mosley. “So I guess I began imagining my own scenarios; animals anthropomorphized or not, usually in a situation helping out humans or each other without anyone knowing, doing good deeds, or something more serious such as cleaning up after us and all the crap we do to this planet.”
An unlikely friend, Drew Mosley, 2013, acrylic ink on wood panel, 18” x 24”
After a few attempts at formal art training, guidance from his wife Izzy helped Mosley at long last wear the clothes of a painter.
“She has been a painter all her life a comes from a family full of beautiful and talented artists, fashion designers, actors, writers and musicians,” said Mosley. “I had never been exposed to such an existence where their whole outlook had an artistic eye and mind about it. It was Izzy who taught me how to really see what I was painting, she helped me with color theory. Everything. She has seen me do a lot of really terrible stuff and has always been super encouraging.”
Mosley had a breakthrough experience this March when he mounted a highly successful showing call Wild Country at the Grey Area gallery space attached to Julian Garner’s Five Cents tattoo studio in Ottawa’s Kitchissippi district.
“Julian is an artist I really admire,” said Mosley. “He has built his life off of his work and is really well respected.”
Mosley was determined to make the most of the opportunity, but the exceptional results did not come without a price.
“I was really blown away with the positive responses I got during and after the show,” he continues. “I think I put about five months of serious prep into it and after it ended I was totally depleted. I never get sick, but after Wild Country opened in March, I was bed-ridden for over a week, just totally spent, but it was so worth it.”
Now drawn deeper and deeper into his burgeoning artistic self, Mosley has been on the brink of a full-time commitment to art. In addition to being included in a several upcoming group shows in and around Ottawa, “I have been working hard on a number of commissions and collaborative projects with some super inspiring and locally active folks,” he reports. “I am already looking forward to the next time I do a solo show at Grey Area—probably not for another year or so, though—I have a bunch of ideas. I really want the viewer to be fully immersed in the show with sights, sounds, and smells. Not just stand in front of a rectangular image centered on a white wall, an experience where you actually enter into another world.”
The artist, it seems, wants you to follow him into the woods.
TWO CAPTURED MOMENTS COMMISSIONED
I waited, and watched, and finally Drew Mosley came along.
For years I had held onto two diamond-shaped panels purchased at a furniture and décor shop. The were designed to function as serving trays but I always mounted them on my wall and imagined commissioned portraits painted onto them.
Then I saw Drew Mosley’s Wild Country show at Gray Area/Five Cents tattoo in March and I knew I had found my man. I have a thing for owls, you see, and Mosley has a thing for painting them in an eerie, haunting style that speaks to my taste for things eerie and haunting.
When we hooked up and I showed him the unusual panels, Mosley’s mind kicked into gear.
“Oh, I was flooded with ideas,” he recalls. “It was more of a challenge to nail down just one idea! I really loved painting on these panels and the uniqueness of the shape gave me some ideas for other paintings. I’d like to build some of my own, but experiment with more shapes and depths of the box.”
Mosley says that during the planning process for his works he always asks “what's the story within the piece?” In this case, “Given that these panels are set back like a shadow box,” said the artist, “it feels like a window, looking through to this captured moment.”
In the days before giving me the completed paintings, Mosley acknowledged that he would have a hard time seeing them leave his studio—almost as if he were giving away pups from a litter.
“I obsess over these paintings and so I get pretty attached to them and always feel a sense of loss when they leave,” Mosley said. “But when friends or new friends buy these pieces it’s nice to know that they are going to good homes.”
— Tony Martins