Interview: Enda Bardell

Enda Bardell

Name: Enda Bardell

Where do you live: Vancouver, Canada

Known for:
Acrylic hard edge abstract paintings on canvas and loose expressionist watercolours on paper.

Currently working with:
I am currently working as a visual artist painting in watercolour and teaching wet in wet watercolour part time.

When did you realize that you were going to work with this/in this area?
I’m not exactly sure when I realized I was going to be an artist as there were many stages before now.

When I was about 6 years old, living as a refugee from Estonia with my parents in Sweden, I admired a 12 old girl’s artwork and wanted to draw like her, to which my Mom replied in Estonian “You have to start drawing and practice”.

There was another time too when I was age 13, after we immigrated to Canada, when my parents no longer felt safe in Sweden.

Stalin convinced Sweden the return of the Estonian refugees, considering them now to be the property of the Soviet Union, promising to give them back their jobs and homes, which did not happen. The refugees ended up in the GULAG, Siberian labour camps, where they perished due to harsh condition. A few were executed.

Sweden also had a difficult time absorbing all the 300,000 (80,000 from Estonia) refugees from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Swedish people did not welcome the Baltic refugees. In some areas where we lived, the parents would not allow their children to play with Estonian children because we were a lower class citizen, refugees. I felt excluded. The teachers were unkind also, not allowing me to go the toilet when I needed to go.

My Mom worked in a paper factory where I had unlimited access to cardboard and paper. So I turned to art and made back and front paper dolls and designed clothes for them.

Life was completely different when we arrived in Vancouver, Canada, via Winnipeg.

The children were friendly and the teachers were kind.

One teacher, Mr. McLaughlin, at Admiral Seymour Elementary School, encouraged me to submit a coloured drawing of a family of dogs looking out of the window of a barn to an interschool art competition, in which I won a book for the school!  I was delighted! From then on in I considered myself a true artist.

However, life interfered. Or at least it did not allow me to practice art full time with a young family and working outside the home, but I was still doing some creative work on the side such as painting and fabric art.

After many careers (about 8 I think) I decided that I wanted to go back to my first love, the strongest, art!

I was influenced by a few major artists.  First, Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Carr, Lawren Harris, Toni Onley and Joan Balzar, all in that order.

When I got tired of being a realtor working with people day and night and seeing beautiful art in people’s homes, I decided to leave the business world and paint watercolours.

I became friends with Toni Onley who taught me watercolours. But before that, I was a student of Joan Balzar, an iconic Vancouver abstract artist, who became my mentor.

So I can say that I had about 3 starts in becoming an artist.

If you could choose one place only to live, where would that be and why?
Having traveled to 34 countries, this becomes a tough question.

My feet are in Vancouver, near my close family and friends. I love living in this beautiful city, with the ski mountains on one side, and the beach just a few steps from my townhouse overlooking English Bay where I can swim in the ocean, view the evening sunsets, smell the salty air, see the freighters come and go from faraway lands, where the political climate is stable and the natural climate is mild, not extreme and, and there is an abundance of international cuisine.

There is also my homeland, Estonia, the country in which I was born, where I still have relatives, the language and culture, where my heart belongs, where I lived my Utopian childhood before the age of 5, before the Soviets occupied our little country of 1 million people (at that time), from where we had to flee because my father’s crime was defending his country.

Then there is also Italy, the country of beautiful art, beautiful architecture, wonderful music, delicious food, great climate, romantic, beautiful and friendly people living a civilized life by eating their main meal in the middle of the afternoon followed by a siesta. And they express their feelings about everybody and everything.

How would you describe your creativity?
My creativity is basically experimental whether it be acrylic hard edge painting or loose and free watercolours, where I interact with the watercolour, allowing it to paint itself, more or less.

The hard edge paintings require measuring, taping, sealing the edges of the tape, making sure the paint goes on smoothly. Total precision and opposite to watercolour painting.

How and when did you start to work with this in a serious manner?
I had 2 serious starts.

The first one in 1968, with Joan Balzar, painting hard edge abstracts, when my first marriage was failing.

The second and last start was in 2002, with Toni Onley beginning with watercolour, which is what I had not tried before.  I had painted in oils when I was a teenager and acrylics later.

What do you do at the moment?
Right now I seem to be teaching a lot of watercolour art with 2 – 3 hour classes per week, 6 weeks at a time with 3 month breaks in between. My classes are very popular.

However, my main work is painting watercolour outdoors when weather permits and exploring faster and looser methods of painting watercolour on paper.

A recommendation for those who think about starting and running a creative business?
Do the work and the opportunities will appear.

In other words, take some lessons from someone you respect and whose work you admire and keep practicing, not forgetting about the business side of art.

What is the most important thing in a workplace/studio for you?
Music! Jazz and classic and everything in between. I do need light of course too. Painting on location I have the fresh air and environment, sun, trees, water, sky and just being there!

What is your favorite film?
“Babette’s Feast” 1987, Denmark.

Who would you like to invite for a dinner and why?
I’m a typical Libra, both creative and pragmatic. There are a few people I would like to invite for dinner. However, most of them are dead.

Toni Onley, watercolour artist, now deceased. We were friends and he did come for dinner. Toni was very open about his thoughts and experiences and shared ideas of which he had many. He was a great Canadian artist, brilliant business person, a good friend, good company, friendly, and generous.

Mahatma Ghandi. He had the brilliance to lead the people by following them.

He said “I must follow the people. I am their leader”.

As far as live people go, there is Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, because he is my age and still rocking.

My cousin Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the current president of Estonia for nearly 10 years, because he is truly a genius, having created Estonia into the world’s leading country in e-technology.

How do you like to spoil yourself?
By swimming, dancing and experimenting with foreign cuisine, cooking and eating, enjoying a couple coconut macaroons, chocolate, having shot of Cognac, having coffee in bed while reading the newspaper.

What is luxury for you?
Freedom. Freedom to do what I want to do without an agenda. Freedom from financial concerns, chores, and obligations such as the business part of my art. Freedom to explore the world, spend time with my family and friends. Freedom to express what I feel and ask for what I want without judgement.

What is the nicest compliment you’ve received for your creative work, and from whom?
I receive great compliments from my watercolour students. They like the way I teach which is talking my thought process. For one class in particular, people get up at 6 AM to be able to sign up online by 8 AM. By 12 noon, the class is full!

Another compliment in a different form is from Dr Pille Bunnell, who in the publication Cybernetics and Human Knowing, volume 17, no.4, 2010 quoted “Enda works from an implicit and intuitive instantiation of second order of cybernetics”.

It is a bit esoteric but compliments my thinking, planning and observing thoughts and subjects, whether it be landscapes or abstracts from inside my head.

Definition of cybernetics: The scientific study of how people, animals, and machines control and communicate information.

What do you fear most?
Exclusion. My basic fear is not being accepted.

What is a happy life to you?
Being with my family, (children and grandchildren), and friends, being accepted, cooking foreign cuisine, entertaining, in my home, seeing great art, hearing good music, being outdoors, having had a good swim, good health and having no financial worries.

What does a regular day look like for you?
My regular day begins around 7 AM with reading the morning newspaper with 2 cups of strong coffee, both of which my husband brings to me in bed.

This would be followed by going swimming at the local swimming pool in the cool season, or swimming in the ocean if there is an incoming high tide in the warm season or driving to teach watercolour painting.

If there is no class, I check my emails, opportunities to submit artwork, work on my website, edit reference photos, photograph artwork, plan events, search for opportunities, write proposals and submissions, accounting, make blueberry muffins on Wednesdays, make soup, eating lunch on the go, followed by painting in my studio around 1 PM when the good music is on CBC radio2 until 3:30.

Then it is back on the computer to load up images, write on my art news and beginning to cook dinner around 5:30, dinner at 6:30 or so while watching the 6 o’clock news, then back to painting or writing or preparing for an exhibition around 8 PM until 10 PM, hot bath and bed by 11 PM. In the Spring and Summer, I go to paint outdoors around 10 or photograph my art work, write proposals and submissions.

Tell us about your dream project.
My dream project would be to have a big studio in a safe location, with a little gallery in front within walking distance from my home.

I would explore many different methods of painting landscapes in an abstract style and architectural images in a hard edge style. Basically keep on exploring and learning about how I can make better art. I would love to be represented by several international galleries.

Who is your professional role model/inspiration?
My professional role model would be now deceased watercolour painter Toni Onley, who knew how to connect with people, make changes for artists, paint good watercolours, and was a good business person too.

There are other artists, like Jack Darcus, whom I have known for about 35 years,very supportive, focused, who said “Do the work and the opportunities will appear”. He has been an artist and filmmaker all his life, working away in his studio, painting in egg tempera, all day long.  ,

How would you describe your work style (academic field or fashion style, or both, or something entirely different)?
I have 2 work styles, loose expressionist watercolours and hard edge acrylic abstracts. When I get tired of watercolour after a few years, I switch to acrylics.

However, this is not a practical way to create “branding”. I have not been able to settle down in choosing one over the other.

Which is the one thing you can’t live without?
My family, friends, coffee and music.

What inspires you?
What inspires me is looking at great art, whether it be by famous artists or emerging artists with great ideas. When I feel down, I go to art galleries to get inspired.

What also inspires me is being outside breathing fresh air, viewing patterns created by light and shadow in nature, hiking in the woods in autumn, painting outdoors.

A book that has changed/made the most impression in your life?
The book that has touched me the most is a catalogue EESTI KUNST PAGULUSES, (Estonian Art in Exile) from KUMU, the National Art Museum of Estonia in Tallinn, which is a catalogue of paintings by Estonian artists who were either born in Estonia and fled to other countries when Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, or were artists when they lived there before the occupation.

It was a great honour to be invited back to the country from which we fled when I was almost 5 years old, to participate with 2 of my early hard edge abstracts which are now in the permanent collection of the national museum of the country of my birth.

When the curators were in Vancouver, searching for Estonian artists, I became friends with them, while touring them around looking for a now deceased artist, Enn Erisalu.

When I arrived in Tallinn for the opening, the curators invited me to KUMU to preview the work of 72 Estonian artists from all over the world, mostly from Sweden, Canada and USA.

Walking into the Grand Hall at KUMU was an overwhelmingly emotional experience for me, bringing me to tears! Seeing the work of artists, all of us whom had fled our fatherland, to escape to freedom, took me to a place where time stood still. I was alone in the Grand Hall with the art of my fellow country artists, some of whom ended up in German displaced people’s camp, continuing to do art with whatever materials were available.

I was finally connected! I was back to where I belonged and now recognized in the National Museum of Art in the country of my birth, Estonia!

The opening reception attended by 600 Estonians, was opened by the President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who also happens to be my cousin.

Twenty two of the guests were friends or relatives, having traveled several hours across Estonia from the south and west to honour me at this very significant opening reception! It was an experience which is indelibly placed in my heart!

I was the only artist from Canada to attend the opening reception. The rest were too old to travel or deceased.

So the catalogue from this event, EESTI KUNST PAGULUSES (Estonian Art in Exile) is the most important book that has an everlasting impression for life!

Check out Edna’s awesome website


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