So much of what you teach children when they’re young is outcome related. And art doesn’t have to be that way. It can be about the process not the end product. And I think that’s really healthy for kids. Some kids aren’t very good at things that are outcome related, yet they need to know that what they’re doing has value and that it means something. It’s really important.
A neon sign hangs on the wall of Lisa and Terrence Turner’s doorstep. It says “Ditto.” It’s not your average welcome mat, so I know I’m in for a treat when Lisa answers the door.
Their home is a new build in an old neighbourhood, but you would never know it. The house blends in seamlessly from the outside, but inside, it’s evident that modern architecture has influenced the couple. High ceilings, an open flow from room to room, a gourmet kitchen. Terry tells me that Lisa drew floor plans for years before they built this house. That practice paid off.
Sitting in the living room, I ask Lisa about the building experience. Working with architect Margot Innes was a breeze, she tells me. In her previous career, Lisa was an interior designer, so she’s well-connected to local architects and contractors. That background has also helped her to launch her more recent artistic career.
I’ve always been a function-oriented person. I did a foundation year at Emily Carr to get a portfolio ready to go to design school. There were certain aspects of that foundation year that I really loved and one of them was sculpture.
“I’ve always been a function-oriented person,” she tells me. “I did a foundation year at Emily Carr to get a portfolio ready to go to design school. There were certain aspects of that foundation year that I really loved and one of them was sculpture.”
At a point in life when she wanted more autonomy to create for herself, rather than working only for her clients, Lisa regrouped. “I was very overwhelmed by this massive earthquake in New Zealand because I have a bunch of friends who were there. And it got me thinking about where we live — in an earthquake zone — and it made me feel like I needed to do something that described that, in a sculpture.”
Pointing at the coffee table between us in the living room, Lisa tells me, “This is based off the Juan de Fuca fault line.” It’s both functional and artistic, the balance that she was looking for in her new work. Her pieces are mostly furniture or home decor, but she plays with form and material in a very exploratory fashion.
I always like to play with what we expect materials to do and what they’re actually doing. That is my focus, as well as always trying to reflect on this place where we live.
“Everything’s simple shapes, but the ideas come from a conceptual background,” she explains. Pointing around the room, she shows me a side table that’s based on bark but made of aluminum and another small table made of marble, cut into a filigree pattern. While marble has been used as a building material for millennia, the introduction of patterns challenges traditional expectations. “I always like to play with what we expect materials to do and what they’re actually doing. That is my focus, as well as always trying to reflect on this place where we live. So I really love the geography of the West Coast and that seems to be where I get most of my influence.”
Terry also began his career in a field other than art. A lawyer for many years, he turned his attention to filmmaking to pursue his passions. “From an educational point of view, I didn’t train as an artist or a filmmaker and I’m both now,” he says. “I grew up always dabbling in art as a hobby but never really thinking of it as something I wanted to do. I went to business school and law school and was a lawyer. It’s a little bit too much left brain, so I left the practice of law and started working in film. I taught myself how the film world works without going to film school. You can do that.”
Choosing to be artists mid-way through successful careers, both Lisa and Terry believe in the pursuit of art for art’s sake; they believe in exploration and the ability to choose to be an artist. There are ways to teach yourself how to do art. There’s also an artist in everyone.
From an educational point of view, I didn’t train as an artist or a filmmaker and I’m both now. I grew up always dabbling in art as a hobby but never really thinking of it as something I wanted to do.
Terry’s practice includes filmmaking as well as experimenting with other art forms like sculpture and lightboxes. I ask if they work together on projects. Not really, they tell me. Though they discuss their work and share suppliers, they’ve developed individual practices.
“We used to share an office in our old house,” Lisa says. “It was great for me because I would hear these fantastic interviews that he was editing while I was working. Here, I took the office upstairs above the garage because I was doing interior design and I had all of these samples. It’s not so true anymore. I’ll make prototypes upstairs, out of wood or paper or foam core, but I don’t technically need that much space. Terry is down here, and he likes to keep his office relatively tidy.” It’s her way of saying they maintain their creative spaces differently.
“When I really need quiet time, I just go somewhere else,” says Terry. “I go to the library. It really distresses me with Emily Carr library moving because it’s my go-to.” When Lisa’s trying to work something out, she needs artistic distractions: “The minute I think of what the outcome should be is when everything shuts down. I have to just draw and have fun with psycho-weird collages or sketches that have nothing to do with anything. The minute I start planning the finished concept I go back to my design roots and it’s too forced.”
The minute I think of what the outcome should be is when everything shuts down. I have to just draw and have fun with psycho-weird collages or sketches that have nothing to do with anything.
Having someone to bounce ideas off of is always a good thing. Not that Lisa and Terry are new to the art scene. In fact, they’ve been board members at art institutions in Vancouver and count many artists among their close friends. That network and community made them more comfortable putting their work out there.
“One of the joys of getting older is [that] you have more confidence in putting it out there and seeing what happens,” says Lisa. “And the biggest thing for me, especially making or designing things, is that one of my tables actually evolved from a mistake.”
While working on a custom commission for a client, the marble Lisa had bought cracked in half. And not in an expected place, so she was left with two skinny pieces of marble. Since it was already a sunk cost, Lisa decided to make something of the broken marble. She split the marble again and made two small side tables. She took them to Provide and they sold within weeks. “There’s something about that shape, that size, something that really glommed on with people,” says Lisa. “Now I’m doing a new series, called High Tide, Low Tide. I wouldn’t have come up with that unless I had made the mistake or had the material break.”
The more artists I meet, the more I realize how focused they are, but also how receptive they are to what happens. The process is as powerful as the outcome.
Terry recalls a time when he took a welding class and his instructor told him he wasn’t welding along the line. While Terry truly thought he was, he took off his mask and sure enough, he was off by half an inch. While hedoesn’t pick up the torch himself anymore — he knows to just outsource it — his sculptural works often require some bending of metal to pull off. A four-foot picture hook hangs on the wall of their dining room, for example.
“We’ve gone and visited a lot of artists and we’ve travelled for art,” says Lisa. “And the more artists I meet, the more I realize how focused they are, but also how receptive they are to what happens. The process is as powerful as the outcome.”
Creating together may not be in the cards for this pair, but they do create for one another. When they started dating, they decided to make a gift for one another at Christmas each year. “I remember thinking that I was going to have this, hands down, because I was going to design school,” Lisa says. “The first year we exchanged gifts, I made a collage book about how we met and I was very proud of it. And he made this incredible pen and ink drawing. The stakes had gone up, immeasurably.”
Some of their gifts are featured around their home. The “Ditto” sign at their front door was a 25th anniversary present from Lisa to Terry. “When Terry and I were dating in Toronto,” Lisa tells the story, “after we had been dating for about four months, I dropped him off and said from the car, “I love you.” And he went, “Ditto.”
Over the years, not every gift has turned out as planned. They laugh about some Christmas Eves when they’re both frantically piecing together something on opposite ends of the house. “I remember one piece I made years ago, a modern interpretation of a totem pole, and I didn’t know how to make it, but I knew what I wanted it to look like. So I backed into it and cut it all in metal and glued it. I tried to weld it, but that all melted, so I had to glue pieces together. I finally go to bed at about two in the morning on Christmas Eve. At eight o’clock in the morning I could hear pieces “clink,” “clink.”
Instead of focusing on the outcome, Lisa and Terry try to free themselves to be creative. “So much of what you teach children when they’re young is outcome related. And art doesn’t have to be that way. It can be about the process not the end product. And I think that’s really healthy for kids. Some kids aren’t very good at things that are outcome related, yet they need to know that what they’re doing has value and that it means something. It’s really important.”
You can be uncomfortable, but you have to be okay to do that. Otherwise you won’t even take the leap of faith. You wouldn’t get 90 percent of the discoveries in any field.
“[Terry] has work from when he was in high school,” says Lisa. “It’s always been a part of his psyche.” Even though he didn’t get good grades in art class, he still loved the process and the exploration. “It’s that thing that I so admire about artists,” says Lisa. “That they do sort of have a confidence in their ideas and their process. And that’s very brave. It’s taken us a while to be as brave as a lot of artists that we admire.”
There’s creative confidence that comes from setting out without consequence of whether or not your artistic pursuits will turn out how you imagined. “You can be uncomfortable, but you have to be okay to do that,” Terry says. “Otherwise you won’t even take the leap of faith. You wouldn’t get 90 percent of the discoveries in any field.”
Lisa and Terry see the benefit of arts education for every field. Terry recalls a case from early in his law career. “It was a child welfare case,” he explains. They were trying to convince the government to release a certain amount of money, something that had never been done before, and Terry came up with an out-of-the-box idea that his principal was wowed by. “I hadn’t been in the business very long, so I thought you were supposed to do that; that you were supposed to look. I didn’t look at books, I just thought about it. And I thought that’s what lawyers are able to do. They’re able to look a little bit further out in every way and that makes them good.”
Or maybe it was the artist in him.