Image courtesy of the the Royal Canadian Mint.

January 4th, 2016
Jesse Gussow

I first noticed artist Maskull Lasserre’s work on a coin made by the Royal Canadian Mint, which is a pretty odd place to see artwork. I don’t think many people appreciate how much work goes into the designing of a coin. Upon finding out who designed the coin I saw that Maskull might be one of the most varied artists I’ve ever seen. Not relegated to one medium, Maskull does it all: wood carvings, sculptures, paintings, drawings, and full installations. He was even asked to be part of UK street artist Banksy’s Dismaland show, which is a huge honour. He’s one of my favourite artists and I’m glad I wanted to find out who designed that coin.


Where are you from?

I was born in Calgary, but grew up in South Africa as a child (my mother is from there). It's definitely an inspiration to my work and approach to things in general.


How did you first get started in artwork?

I’m not sure that I ever did. I was born into a household where creative problem solving and output was a natural product of living; my mother is a painter and my father a research scientist.  I grew up taking things apart, inventing their derivatives, drawing and modelling - exactly what I do to this day, just with bigger tools.


I saw your work on many of the Royal Canadian Mint's products. How did you get into designing numismatic coins?

In 2010 I went to Afghanistan as an artist with the Canadian Forces Artist Program.  It was through my involvement with the Directorate of History and Heritage who administrate the program that I became involved with the Mint and their series of coins that commemorate the First and Second World Wars.


What was it like being part of Banksy's Dismaland? How did this event come to be?

Out of the blue I received an email from Banksy expressing interest in my work and an invitation to participate in the Dismaland exhibition.  I am grateful to have been involved in the project, and for the opportunity to visit Weston-super Mare where the show was held. Truthfully, my attention and interest through all this remains on my work and research - despite where my objects end up, I do not lust after much of what the art world has to offer.


Where do you find inspiration for your work?

I mine the most common and unremarkable things for the unexpected potential they hold. The more modest the subject, the more surprising its potential for inspiration.


I really like your wood carvings of animal skeletal systems. Where did you come up with that idea? How long have you been sculpting with wood?

I have been carving, on and off, for a little over 10 years. Finding skeletal remains in wooden objects infers an unimagined past life that the object might have had. I enjoy the mystery that this exposes.


What are you working on now?

I have recently relocated to Squamish, BC. With renovations of a new studio almost finished, I am looking forward to what this new environment will contribute to my practice. I try not to carry my old life and ideas with me when I move. Being open to a new context and stimulus keeps things interesting, and hopefully the work fresh.


Where might we have seen your work?

My work can be found in a fairly wide variety of places. Occasionally certain pieces - the Outlier series of footwear with animal treads on their soles in particular - make their rounds on the internet, otherwise it can be found in galleries, museums, public art installations and coinage.


What do you do when you have free time?

Free time is such a rare commodity in a life where  work, hobby, passion and indulgence are all the same thing. There is almost nothing I do that doesn’t feed back into my work, but gathering fresh experience and input is essential for my creative process. The experience of nature, especially, has always been a valuable teacher for me.


Are there any new art mediums you are working on learning?

I hope that I am still near the beginning of what I will come to know. Learning new materials and techniques is often the process of research that results in my work. My objects are really the byproducts, the accidents of discovery.


Who are some of your favourite artists right now?

Tom Waits. For someone who spends as much time looking and analyzing as I do, my visual experience is rarely one of recreation or pleasure. Attention is a limited resource, and when I have any to spare, I’d much rather spend it listening.


What is it like having your artwork on a coin?

It was a real honour to be able to make a small contribution to posterity in this way. The subject of soldiers leaving for and engaged in conflict is a difficult but important one that I hope I did justice. Beyond that, it feels like having a very large and widely distributed edition of a very small and very flat sculpture.


Regarding your sculptures, what is the entire process from start to finish?

I never know exactly where they begin. Some material or object - or thought or idea - that has been in my orbit for a while with everything else suddenly collides with something else - a process maybe, or a question. A resonance is struck up and it calls my attention to clear the clutter from around it to examine it closer. Clearing the clutter might involve carving or welding something, casting or taking a mould. I follow what the work asks of me, try to give it what it needs. I try to have the courage to do what is right even if don’t understand or feel capable, and do my best to keep myself and my ideas of what should happen out of it. This helps me to listen which is the most important thing. A third of the way through it feels like the thing might just be exactly what the world needs at this precise moment. Two thirds of the way through I realize that it will never live up to its potential. One third later I have reconciled myself with my own limitations, take stock of what I’ve learned, and admit that there is nothing more I can do for the work, or the work for me. It's done.


What kind of music do you like?

I can appreciate and do enjoy most types of music. I’m an equal opportunist.


Oreo or Fudgee-O cookies?

Fudgee-Os with a slice of salami spliced in the middle. Hit most of the food groups that way.

If you want to see more of the absolutely amazing work of Maskull Lasserre check out his website.

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