Portrait of an Artist: Jesse Toso
Vancouver chainsaw carver Jesse Toso is known for transforming large logs into works of art, like a menacing, 16-foot-wide spider he recently created. However, an exhibit of his smaller-scale carvings, titled Chisels and Chainsaws, takes places at the Beaumont Gallery [316 West 5th Ave.] from September 7 to October 3.
The Straight reached Toso by phone to talk about his work.
How did you get started with chainsaw carving?
Every year there’s a contest in Campbell River that’s called Transformations on the Shore. It’s a chainsaw carving competition and I’d been seeing them do it for years and years. And in 2005 I picked up the chainsaw for the first time. I’ve never actually used a chainsaw up to that point. And I carved a phoenix, a big bird coming out of flames, out of a huge log, probably a seven-foot-tall log, old-growth fir. And I won first place in my category and that came along with a cash prize and I was really excited and I said, ‘I’m going to do this every year.’ So I have been doing it every year and I’ve kind of moved up in the categories. I’m now in the professional category, and now that I’m really getting into it I’m doing more and more different work.
What do you like about chainsaw carving?
I really love wood. I like the properties of wood and that you can take it away and sand it and can see the grain. The use of the chainsaw just makes quick work of removing wood.
What do you look for when selecting a piece of wood?
That’s a good question. Character, often. Like if there’s a knot or if it’s an interesting shape I’ll try to use that…. The wood definitely speaks to me as far as what’s inside.
How long does it take to create a piece?
At the competitions we have a week to do it. That’s pretty typical for a large piece like that. I’d say about a week. That’s probably fair.
What does the process entail?
I kind of like to have the shaped blocked out with the chainsaw, kind of on the first day, to get a basic idea. And if pieces have to fit together then I want to get everything fitting together. Then I move on to a smaller chainsaw to get rounded edges and curves and a little bit more of the detail. And then I start sanding and putting [on] all the finishing details. And then actually I often burn, use fire to colour the wood, to give it a distinct look. Or I’ll stain depending on what it is.
Portrait of An Artist is a regular feature on Straight.com that profiles local visual artists. Suggest an artist to profile in the comments section below or by sending a message via Twitter to twitter.com/thomsonreporter.