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Rachel Hawkes Cameron | Artist

Rachel Hawkes Cameron is a Toronto based artist. Her abstract paintings are strong representations of emotions like sadness, strength, renewal and joy. Inspired by the natural world around her, Rachel uses bold colours and textures to explore her personal life journey. We sent Lindsay Duncan, a mutual friend and Toronto based photographer to shoot Rachel in her newly renovated home while we delved into her life as an artist and mother.

You spent a lot of time in Nova Scotia, what drew you and kept you anchored to the East Coast?

I've lived in Nova Scotia for more than a quarter of my life, on and off! My family moved to Halifax for a couple years when I was young, I came back to attend Dal and NSCAD in my twenties and then moved back again to Lunenburg with my kids during the pandemic. It's very much a second home, and somewhere I return often, in my memories and through connections to friends and family there.  

You currently work in architecture. How does this affect your art practice?

I studied architecture in university, and my program really emphasized representation through strong studio practice; I remember taking conté and newsprint to sit on the rocks at Sambro, for example. My paintings are built up through a lot of colour and layering, which initially take their own organic form, and are later "resolved" through harder lines to define collisions and connections. I see a lot of parallels between this process and that of the built world; how design, particularly material, can intersect with the landscape and create convergences that feel almost inevitable.

You describe your art as being inspired by both nature and memory. Why are you focusing on this particular narrative?

I started painting as a way to move through grief upon losing my younger brother when my kids were very young. There are a lot of things people tell you to do when you're processing loss; learn a new language, move your body, take up a new skill. I remember feeling quite immobilized and it was only through painting that I was able to move through; at the time I was living in Hamilton, below the escarpment, so I took of long walks in the forest, listening to his playlists and processing. Somehow the act of painting allowed a lot of good memories to resurface, and I started to see paintings on those long walks.

You use a lot of colour in your paintings. How is the use of colour significant to you and what colours do you gravitate towards? 

I never studied art formally, so my use of colour is all based on instinct - sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. I took a class with the incomparable Leya Evelyn at the Chester Art Centre and she commented on some of my colours being "too pretty" so that's definitely in the back of my mind these days - pink is far and away my favourite colour, so I really am drawn to it, as well as muted blues. I look at photos of Hirtles Beach a lot - you can find an entire rainbow of colours in those little rocks, but they are all perfectly muted tones. 

You are a woman in the art biz in one of the busiest cities in Canada, does that present its challenges? And if so how are you overcoming them?

I have been lucky enough to develop my practice over the last 5 years, but I'm constantly searching for that balance between taking on commissions, developing cohesive collections, and of course working full time and solo parenting. Toronto allows me to take my kids to incredible galleries and immerse them in the inspirational and diverse artists that constantly inspire my work and motivate me to keep evolving.  

If you could travel anywhere in the world and paint for a month, where would you go?

Oh my Godddd, I am dying to travel right now, so this question is so spot on. I think probably somewhere like Tuscany would be amazing, where Theo and Charlie could run around and I could paint and eat and it would be warm and sunny. 

You recently bought a house in Toronto and renovated it yourself. Incredible. Tell us about that process. What went into your design decisions? 

Thank you so much! It was definitely a huge goal of mine, and we are so happy to be settled here after a lot of displacement over the last 3 years. I wanted it to feel clean, light and warm - a lot of ashy wood, black details to add some graphic interest, white walls to accentuate bright, colourful art, and lots of light. My mom's partner was here with me every single day through the summer, and he transformed it - I'm a bit of a corner cutter, and he taught me so much. It was a labour of love and we feel incredibly lucky. 

When you’re not painting, where can we find you? 

My kids and I have been busy exploring our new hood, watching movies, making crafts, baking at home and planning adventures. On the rare occasion I have time by myself, I go to yoga, take day trips out of town or just lie on my best friend's couch. 

What inspires your fashion choices? 

Having moved around a lot, I have a pretty small wardrobe by default - what has made the cut is basics that maintain their softness, structure and colour, plus sentimental, well loved pieces I just can't bear to part with. I like to combine high quality staples with vintage stuff (thrifting is like therapy for me). I recently chopped my hair off and it has surprisingly changed my style! I'm dressing more preppy and wearing more lipstick and gold jewelry. 

It’s the holidays, how will you be celebrating?

We are staying in Toronto, starting lots of new traditions in our new home - plus dress up parties and family time. My kids love to skate, so there will be a lot of that, even though I am truly terrible at it. 

To learn more about Rachel and her art, visit her website.

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