Derek Beaulieu is now past the half-way mark into the first-ever artistic residency at Lougheed House. Every Friday since the start of May, Derek has been working on his craft of visual poetry and interacting with the public at Lougheed House. You can most often find him in the Senator’s Study, on the main floor. The residency has given Derek a chance to work in a quiet space with a dedicated block of time. Read more about his dry-transfer lettering technique, the benefits of space for artists, and what he would do if he could go back to the time of the Lougheeds!
Derek Beaulieu working in the Senator’s Study.
Q: What inspires you to create visual poetry?
DB: I’m inspired by the street-signs and logos that we all see on our daily commutes – the way that language and letters are being used creatively to make us stop, look and remember. I love the way a good logo provides an “a-ha” moment, a moment of recognition and surprise — and I strive to have that same effect in my writing.
Q: Could you describe your creative process?
DB: The work I have been making at the Lougheed House is made exclusively with dry-transfer lettering (best known under the trademark of “Letraset”), rub-down letters which permanently stick to surfaces. This plastic lettering was made from the 1960s to 1980s and became obsolete with the advent of personal computers. I usually create my work without a plan or a sketch – I place a few letters and consider how adjacent letters will create a visually-intriguing tension or playful moment of juxtaposition. I make it up as I go along, treading a tight-wire as once each letter is placed, it can not be moved or replaced. It prioritizes a sense of poetic instinct.
A page of Letraset letters and a work in progress.
Q: How has Lougheed House or its history inspired your work?
DB: What I find so exciting about working in the Lougheed House is the opportunity to represent Calgary’s vibrant arts community in places where it doesn’t normally reside. There have been a number of conversations that I’ve had with people attending lunch or a tour of the House who have stopped and talked about poetry and poetics, about Calgarian arts and to learn more about the position of Poet Laureate. Its been a great opportunity — not to mention the opportunity to focus on my own craft once a week in a house which has seen so much change over the last 124 years.
Q: Why is it important to have residencies and spaces for local artists?
DB: An arts practice requires time, dedication, inspiration and hard work. It also requires physical space—the room—dedicated to one’s art. Like many artists I wear several hats in order to pay the bills and dedicate time to fostering community and my own practice. And, of course, I am also a husband and dad. All those roles mean that our apartment is an active hub, with teenage homework, with dinner on the go and with growing stacks of books. Across Calgary studio space is at a premium. Rental rates are notoriously high and vacancy rates are oppressively low. One small room is all it took. This residency might not sound like much, but it has made all the difference. I encourage artists and corporations across Calgary to seek out new ways to collaborate, new ways to enable and facilitate the arts in the city. Even the smallest of gestures, the smallest of spaces, creates discussions that we won’t even see coming.
Q: If you could go back in time and live life as one of the Lougheeds (who lived at the House), who would you choose and why?
DB: I don’t know that I would isolate a single family member, but I would love to have been in the conversations related to the building of the Lougheed Building downtown and the establishment of the Grand Theatre – such a wonderfully evocative space (and now so lovingly transformed) which presented so many exciting musical and theatrical acts, not to mention films and serials. The conversations that have occurred in the rooms of the Lougheed House stretched throughout Calgary’s, Alberta’s and Canada’s history – and the arts have been a part of that conversation since the beginning.
Visit Derek Beaulieu at Lougheed House every Friday from 11 am – 4 pm until the end of June.
Derek Beaulieu is an instructor at both the Alberta College of Art + Design and Mount Royal University, edits a small press dedicated to experimental poetry and serves on a number of committees and programs that focus on the fostering of Calgary’s arts scene. In addition to all of these roles, he is also Calgary’s Poet Laureate. As Poet Laureate—a position supported by the generous donations of the Calgary Foundation, the Calgary Chamber, First Calgary Financial, FirstEnergy Capital, Transcanada and one anonymous donor—his mandate is to support the growth, exposure and discussion of the literary arts across Calgary.