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Portfolio: Carly Waito's
An interview with the Toronto artist, whose exquisite, meticulously detailed oil paintings of semi-precious gems and minerals are now showing at Narwhal Art Projects.

Don’t let your eyes deceive you. Carly Waito‘s exquisite, meticulously detailed oil paintings of semi-precious gems and minerals might make you do a double-take. Or a triple-take. Then, a long stare. Waito’s current solo exhibition, Specimens, is on display at Narwhal Art Projects till October 2. She paints childhood-rock-collection-favorites like amethyst, sphalerite and smokey quartz, more or less to scale, but more beautiful than you remember them. The 30-year-old, Toronto-based artist is no-nonsense and objective in her approach, replicating each specimens’ physical qualities with the utmost precision. If you stop by Narwhal, leave at the door any New Age ideas about the supernatural healing powers of gems and minerals; in Waito’s world, nature is super enough as it is. Nature seems to be this non-stop reoccurring theme in your work, both in the ceramics you co-produce with Alissa Coe at Coe&Waito and obviously, in Specimens. Why do you consistently navigate towards natural sources of inspiration? The geometry, intricacy… I don’t think anything man-made can ever really achieve the perfection of what exists in the natural world. I’ve always felt compelled to strive for that, even to the point of attempting to replicate natural objects in as much detail as I can manage, whether by sculpting pine cones in porcelain or painting images of mineral specimens. Nature has always inspired such awe and curiosity for me. Part of my motivation is that I want to capture a bit of that effect in the work I make. This summer, you participated in a group exhibition called Plus 1 at Sloan Fine Art in New York. Each artist was asked to invite another artist and Montreal-based Brad Woodfin chose you–easy to see why, considering how strong a role nature plays in his work as well. Do you admire any other artists who use naturalistic subjects? I love Brad’s work. It was really exciting to be chosen by him to participate in that exhibition. Some of my favourite artists do deal with natural subject matter, but I think it is their approach more than the content that I appreciate the most. Vija Celmins and Andrew Wyeth are two artists I’m especially fond of right now. Do you think artists are ever entirely concerned with depicting reality to the fullest extent? For example, when you were painting gems and minerals, were you only concerned with capturing what was in front of you as realistically as possible or did you, say, exaggerate colours or make aspects more aesthetically attractive for the viewer? For me, it’s important to capture the truth, but it’s not just a matter of depicting what can be seen at first glance. There are different ways of seeing a subject. I look for what I find beautiful or interesting, and try to capture that for the viewer. I can use light to bring out colour or emphasize translucency, or magnify tiny objects, but I never paint something that isn’t there. How did you determine the scale of the paintings? I want them to be big enough to capture lots of detail, but small enough to still be ‘small.’ I’ve always been drawn to little things. They can possess an intimacy and preciousness that I don’t find in large things. The prices of semi-precious gems and minerals have become astronomical in recent years due to popularized, pseudoscienctific claims of their healing powers. Do you buy them all, or use pictures as references? I collect the actual specimens, which I photograph, and use the photos as reference. I buy my specimens from dealers who cater to mineral collectors, rather than the New Age market. I focus mostly on tiny “thumbnail” specimens, which are pretty reasonably priced–usually between $7-$20 each. Occasionally I’ll splurge and spend $40 or $50 for something really special. I haven’t had a need for larger specimens, because even the tiniest pieces can have incredible structure and details, which I can capture with my macro lens. I’ve actually never painted a specimen larger than about an inch. Any future plans or projects you can share with us? I have so many new mineral specimens that I’m looking forward to painting. Some will be traveling to Miami and some to London, England. And I think I may start to veer away from my consistent object-floating-on-a-white-background format. Things are starting to evolve a bit, in my mind anyways. I’m curious myself to see what might change with the next work I make. During the first week of December, Waito will be showing her work at Aqua Art Miami during Art Basel Week.

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