SEAN YELLAND | In Conversation

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Sean Yelland in studio for an insightful conversation on topics relating to his work, the city, What’s the point? and more.

Sean Yelland: I see everything in composition when I look at it…  24 hours a day, looking for stuff. 

I never know what I’m gonna be painting next. I’ll start going through my thousands of photographs and see what sticks out.  

Funny about What’s the point? – nearly all the paintings are from photographs from years ago, just by happenstance.  Nearly every painting in the show is an old reference…  I don’t know why that’s cropped up this time – it doesn’t usually happen like that.

How do you work once you have a reference in mind?

SY: I'm not always satisfied with painting a straight photograph – I like to inject a bit of my personality and make it a little bit more interesting for the viewer, and myself.  Maybe a bit of sense of humour… A bit of a narrative story…  Something that's not always obvious and people don't always see the first time, which is exciting for me because when they come back they get way more into it. 

I look at my paintings as my interpretation of the moment.  Like, I see these things, take a photograph of them, and then I interpret and make it my own.

The idea of change over time seems like a prominent feature in your work.

SY: A lot of the buildings I've painted are gone now, which is crazy.  Maybe I am looking to the past and I find comfort there or something...

I find beauty in all that stuff – it's got a life, it's got stories. It’s got something to say in its derelict state.

I never thought I was documenting and that was never important to me, but now, I like looking back and seeing where buildings were, and what's there now and how things have changed.  I think it'll be interesting twenty years from now.

How long did it take to paint Enjoy the View [60 x 60 inches]?

SY:  I worked on it like six days a week, sometimes ten hours a day for two and a half months. 

It was a big one, with a lot of detail and a lot of little things in there.  But it was really fun and I think I needed that kind of meditation at that time – to just dive into it.  I wanted to do something that would really impress my mum.

Can't wait to see it varnished and framed and on the wall.

The setting of Enjoy the View is remarkable

SY: For that piece, I went back and shot that spot dozens of times but I always had a shitty camera and it never took a good enough night shot that I wanted.  I'd walk home that way purposefully so I could take that photograph.  It never turned out well and I wanted to paint it so bad…

Finally by the time they dug a hole for the condo I got final shots on my phone.  And that's why it was called Enjoy the View – it’s one of my favourite views in the city and now it's gonna be gone.

Birds are a recurring symbol in your paintings…

SY: The paintings are a bit of a journal… And a bird sometimes may just be a bird, or it might be a compositional element.  In another painting, it might be something of that particular time that means something to me…

I've always loved birds and they've always figured heavily in my work.  

The first pet I ever had was a bird.

There he is!  [points to a taxidermied bird in studio]


SY: A green budgie. Dizzi.






Sean Yelland - 2022 - What’s the point?



24 Hazelton Avenue Toronto Canada T.416.929.2220