In conversation with student artist Teddy Desmarais…
In experiencing Teddy Desmarais’s artwork, viewers are transported into a mystical, surreal world, one in which puppets, castles, and costuming are everywhere. Creating vivid, intricately detailed characters and a world of the surreal, Desmarais shows expansive imagination within their art, while reimagining reality and their personal environment.
Desmarais is a multidisciplinary artist, who grew up in Victoria, British Columbia, and moved to Montreal two years ago. They are in their second year at Concordia, studying fibres and film animation, through which their practice explores concepts such as personal queer identity, organically made and handmade art, and materiality. These themes are considered through the use of recycled materials, along with a central focus on puppetry and costuming. Their practice includes amazingly detailed fibre works that invoke a sense of the surreal and mystical—a recent work includes a puppet dollhouse castle. The castle, decorated with different fibres and intricate detail brings together puppet and costume forms. It’s complete with a spot for Desmarais to put their face into the form, incorporating the artist’s physical presence into the work.
Exploring different mediums and finding influence from their environment, not to mention their own experiences and identity, Desmarais’ art truly stands on its own.
Currently, what are some of the main focuses, mediums and themes within your work?
“I’ve always been very multidisciplinary and multi-medium based, but for the most part I tend to use a lot of recycled materials for 3D work (fabric scraps, magazines, cardboard, plastic). I do 2D work as well on a regular
basis, but I wouldn’t say it’s the focus of my practice. Right now, I’m trying to make my work a little more meticulous. I’ve been compelled by effortlessness and intuition for a while, but I really want to learn as much as I can—while I’m here in school—about the materials I can use and get better with them or even venture into realms of other mediums I normally shy away from, like resin and moulds and organics.
I’m on a little bit of a quest to build enveloping costumes and environments either through film with stop motion and performance, or with live experiences. This, as the root of my practice, is inherently an expression and exploration of my own queer identity and how I feel I genuinely interact with the world and its speed of demand and explanation. I really believe that handmade objects have inherent magical qualities, and I love the idea of creating something from start to finish myself, especially as industrial habits grow incredibly against that. Puppets really combine all those aspects to me: a melting pot of costume, performance, character design, sets, and movement. So fibres has been definitely excellent for that. I was very starstruck first learning how to hand-dye things and embroider and quilt!”
Have you worked in other mediums and focuses? What was the transition and process to get to your practice now?
“I have always been so absorbed in too many things and ideas that by the time I applied for university it was very difficult to narrow down what I really wanted to do, until I began hyperfocusing my attention on stop motion, puppets and costumes. As far as art-based mediums go, I was always a really good knitter and felter as a kid. I’ve been highly sensitive all my life and I remember wanting to make things that felt sentient and fantastic and captivating. Although I was always obsessed with costumes, sets and decorating, my practice in itself used to be very heavily limited to drawing, ceramics, painting and occasionally silkscreening. Then, I slowly started integrating cartoons and collages and eventually moved to watercolours. I took a sculpture course in fall 2016 and a ceramics course in winter 2018 and I think that was what really started to push me in the right direction. I made a wizard costume in January 2017 and my first puppet in spring 2017, right around when I went down a wormhole of revisitin
g James and the Giant Peach, The Neverending Story and other beautifully handcrafted puppet-based films. I have been in love with exploring puppetry, set building and costumes, and combining the two ever since. My most recent costume, a puppet dollhouse castle that I wear with my face sticking out the middle and my legs out the bottom, is a sincere expression of this growing infatuation with exploring this self-sustained medium.”
How have Concordia and Montreal, vs. B.C., influenced your work, if at all?
“Growing up in Victoria was fulfilling in a mystical way, considering how spiritually charged the environment is, and how a lot of weird stuff happens because of that, but it was also, hilariously, a lot of being bored and creating your own fun. Which lead, curiously, to spending a lot of time with friends galavanting around in costumes, taking photos and sneaking about. This kind of carefree, goofy,
creative habit and attitude is definitely something I feel like inherently exists in Montreal, which makes it a prime stomping ground for authentic exploration and fun, something I feel is a vital piece to the puzzling growth of my work.”
In general, what are some influences within your work?
“I think the things I’m most drawn to are always in flux, but I’m attracted to things that feel like a mirror to my subconscious, and things that appear as endearing surprises. This can be anything that dips into unlearning censorship and encouraging mischief and chaos and involuntary tomfoolery (but coming from a place of tenderness of course!). Specifically, I’ve always been very inspired by goofy medieval art, as well as absent-minded scribbles and children’s drawings. Recently I’ve been really getting into enchanting environmental facets like shadows and lightning and rainbows and old memories and bugs. And I’ll always be in love with teeth and wind chimes and secret passages and antiques and old things in general too! Fairy tales, things that are poorly sewn together, towers and cobwebs and dreams are in my heart and 100 per cent unavoidably evident now as an influence in my practice. I think a lot of things that influence me too are ultimately based on what connects the most to how I see and feel things, trying to understand the foam bubbling in my brain. It’s likely why I’m so attracted to odds and ends that are magically charged, anything that tugs at the intuitive heart strings in my chest is something I try to learn from and pursue.”
Desmarais has participated in several local art shows in Victoria, B.C. More of their work can be found at @goodknight_ted on Instagram.