This Canada Day marks the beginning of Artfest Kingston, a four day art festival that takes place in City Park and features the work of 150 Ontario artists. In addition to visual art, clothing and jewellery, the festival also includes music, dance, children’s workshops, theatre workshops, an interactive mural project, a community arts tent, an international food area and more. The festival runs daily from 10am-6pm and all programming is free to the public.
This year marks Artfest Kingston’s fourth anniversary. We recently caught up with local artist and Artfest exhibitor Steve Lawrence. As the appointed cycling and ecotourism advisor for Ontario’s Great Waterway provincial tourism district, Steve is known for his work advocating for cycling in Kingston and his work promoting urban cycling and bicycle tourism. He also has a deep interest in science and nature and this comes to life through his vibrantly coloured and incredibly detailed Well Bred Fractals. Steve will be showing his work at this year’s Artfest Kingston, which runs from July 1st-July4th.
1. Tell us about yourself, your background with respect to the arts, schooling and how you landed in Kingston.
I’m originally from Toronto and am one of those people who came to Kingston just to go to Queen’s but ended up staying because of the discovery that Kingston is a wonderfully beautiful and interesting place to live. As for the reason for my going to Queen’s in the first place, the School of Business was attempting to get more arts-oriented people in the program at that time and I received an offer based on my undergraduate success and the proactive volunteer work I had been doing with the Toronto City Cycling Committee and other organizations in Toronto. Even though I’m a rather holistically-oriented left-hander I somehow survived the first year with its many diverse courses and did just fine in second year when I was able to focus more on marketing. Since graduating I have been a serial entrepreneur with start-ups as diverse as Well Bred Fractals, Complexity Awareness and bicycling-related businesses such as Kingston by Bike!
The great potential for cycling in this city was a key reason that made me want to stay and I soon joined the Kingston Bicycling Advisory Committee and have been working towards making Kingston and region a better place for cycling residents and tourists pretty well ever since. I’m currently the appointed advisor for Cycling and Ecotourism to the Great Waterway (RTO9) provincial tourism district and my informative and fun guided bicycle tours are still in demand and I continue to really enjoy taking people from all over the world cycling around town or up to Kingston Mills on a beautiful summer day.
2. Your work primarily centers on fractals, a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays the exact same way at every scale. What drew you to this very specific art form? Do you pursue or have you ever pursued any other creative mediums?
I have always been interested in the natural world and the natural shapes that are all around us but things really coalesced in the 1980’s when computers with graphic capabilities came along and mathematical pioneers like Benoit Mandelbrot were able to show that the incredibly complicated shapes that we see in nature do in fact have a cohesive geometry to them. When Windows came along and fractal programs that anyone could take advantage of became available, I for one was off to the races. Had you asked me back then whether my directed evolutionary approach to creating fractals would lead to some worthwhile things I would have said probably, but I confess to having no idea of the beauty and intricacy I was to encounter in many of the mathematical universes I have created and explored.
My fractals often mirror shapes found in the natural world and this implies rather strongly that they have evolved through a purely mathematical form of the same sorts of dynamic processes which in this universe have created everything from spiral galaxies and clouds to trees and sea shells. Human beings are also complex fractals down to our very thoughts and dreams and we are hard-wired to have deep emotional and intellectual responses to fractal forms. An interest in the science and mathematics behind my fractal universes has led me to a keen interest in the comparatively new science of Complexity, an umbrella term which encompasses everything from Chaos Theory and Turing patterns to complex adaptive systems like the weather and financial markets. My interest in capturing real world examples of Complexity in nature has led to be an avid digital photographer, specializing in images of plants, animals and scenic vistas such as my Elevator Bay lakescapes.
3. What is your process for creating fractals? Is it entirely computer generated, or do you incorporate elements by hand?
I joke at art shows that the computer and I each get half the credit because it couldn’t create these fractals without me and I couldn’t make them without it. As for our mutual contributions,the computer’s bottom-up number-crunching combines with top-down rule-based decision-making provided by me in a directed evolutionary process. I have used this objectively subjective decision strategy, a menu of mathematical formulae provided by the fractal program, a good sense of colour and design and classical framing techniques to create an amazing variety of beautiful and interesting fractals. I don’t post-process the fractals so you see them exactly as they were calculated and generated on the computer screen.
4. What is your favorite part of being an artist in Kingston? What aspect of the arts scene has kept you here, and otherwise do you feel most strongly about?
I like being surrounded by the abundance of natural and cultural beauty that Kingston possesses, as well as being a part of a very well developed artistic community. Kingston has some really good art galleries, though there could always be more, and one example is Taylor Studios gallery, which proved to be a wonderful venue for a Well Bred Fractals show I did in October of 2013. Events like the Kingston Arts Council’s Juried Art Salon are very popular and have been good for showcasing regional talent.
5. This is your fourth year showing your work at Kingston Art Fest.. As a seasoned participant, what aspects of past festivals do you admire the most? What are you most looking forward to checking out while away from your station?
I’ve been an ArtFest participant since the show’s first year and was involved in getting the show off the ground in the first place. The event has been successful from that first year and it has been gratifying to watch ArtFest Kingston grow and diversify over the years since then. As for the sorts of things I like to look at when wandering around an art fair, I tend to be attracted to natural materials like wood and minerals and I’m not surprisingly quite partial to organic forms. I also enjoy talking to creative people like painters, sculptors and photographers about the works they are showing.
6. With 150 artists and artisans participating in Artfest Kingston, the overall program is diverse and otherwise ripe with local representation/content. What can first time attendees and exhibitors expect?
The Artfest organizers have consistently tried to offer something of quality for a very broad range of tastes and I believe they have to a great extent managed that. From experience I know that both visitors and vendors can expect a well-run and enjoyable show, and hopefully the weather will cooperate, as well. It’s also interesting that this year’s Artfest will start on Canada Day and end on the Fourth of July and that should be fun.