Libraries have figured prominently in your career, from the first NSCAD project to “File Card Works Hidden in Books” at the Fogelman Library in New York, to the current Halifax installation. What draws you to them? I was brought up by working-class parents who took us to the local library. I love libraries for lots of reasons, and early on I was imprinted with a deep passion for public libraries. I read myself out of the Dartmouth library, and a little later I read everything in the Amherst, Nova Scotia, library. But when as a teenager I visited Mount Allison University’s library across the marsh from Amherst – I knew I couldn’t ever read myself out of that. So I would spend my free time paging, for example, through every issue of every bound set of art magazines in Mount Allison’s collection in a hopeless attempt to read everything they had on art.
The Raymond Fogelman Library is on Fifth Avenue in New York City, and I got permission to hide drawings in books there, which I did on regular visits to New York for many years. I loved the idea of giving away art in the art-market capital of the world, and also the idea of doing something that is both secret and public.
Do you have any library-inspired work on the horizon? Most things I’m doing now, even though I paint and draw every day, are retrospective things, as you might expect of someone who is 60 years old. I also have a serious lung disease called Sarcoidosis which gives me an incentive to get my ducks in a row. I just finished, for example, preparing my archives to give to the University of Manitoba and am assembling sets of works as a kind of retrospective activity.
This interview has been edited and condensed.