Four women, members of the Rideau Lakes Artists’ Association, have come together to show their work at the WAG this month. They first discovered their shared passion when they joined “Local Colours”, a small community of artists who paint together once a week in Perth.
Dawn Fortin, the founding member of the splinter group “Four Brushes”, works in watercolour, liquid acrylic and batik. During the hanging of the Four Brushes Fine Art Show she spoke to me about her practice, in particular her love of batik. Because the process involves adding layers of wax, one for each colour, the final result is obscured until the wax is ironed off. “I like surprises,” said Dawn. Working with liquid acrylic offers more opportunities for surprises, one of the reasons she has also chosen this medium.
Barbara Jordan, who runs a photography and graphic design business, Bark Productions Inc. (barkinc.com), not surprisingly creates punchy, graphic images in acrylic. Her favourite painting in this show is entitled Future Past—a large, intriguing, somewhat haunting depiction of the rusting hulks of sea forts built at the mouth of the Thames River during WW2 to protect the city of London. Barbara also works in batik, which she describes as “fun” because mistakes—unintended blobs of wax—can become features. As a graphic artist who can’t embark on a project without a plan, she welcomes a medium that allows her the freedom to change and adapt an image.
Like Barbara and Dawn, Christine Martin has chosen batik as one of her preferred mediums. She likens it to drawing, but with hot wax, and she approaches dyes in the same way as she does watercolours, namely in a painterly fashion. She uses silk, canvas and waffle cotton as supports. Christine also paints with alcohol inks that flow, wet on wet, like the dyes in batik. In this show she has included ink paintings on tile and on smooth-surfaced Yupo paper.
Inspired by sunlight, shadows and colours, Linda Svarckopf makes representational as well as abstract paintings in acrylics. Sign of Spring depicts two swans, harbingers of a season that reminds Linda of her childhood in the Long Point area of Lake Erie, a migratory route for many birds and a favourite stop for bird watchers. Her favourite painting, Red Koi Fish, has swirling shapes emerging from a textured vibrant red background. What appeals to Linda is the movement and the vitality of the sinuous koi.
Four Brushes Fine Art Show runs from July 31 to August 25 with an opening reception on August 11, 1-4pm.
At last Saturday’s Juried Exhibition and Sale reception, awards were given out to 13 artists, among them nine Honourable Mentions (see the KSOA site for these).
First prize went to Paula Whyle for her acrylic painting entitled Clara. One of the judges commented: “This painting moves beyond simple representation … it demands an interpretation and therefore engages the observer. The result is pure enjoyment.” The First Prize was presented by Mike Scrannage who, along with his wife Karen Charlton, has been a long-time supporter of the KSOA.
I asked Paula (pictured left, along with event organizer Margaret Brackley) who inspired her painting. “Well,” she answered, “many of my friends’ mothers are now in their 90s. I wanted to do a series of portraits that highlighted real character traits—anger, gruffness, happiness. Clara is my mother.” And what traits does she express, I wanted to know. “Sadness,” came the unexpected reply. “And anxiety. But she hides it well.” Indeed. Her tuft of textured white hair flying off the canvas suggests dynamism, while her serene face expresses a kind of knowingness. Black contour lines arc and join in the body, and across the face they meander suggesting wrinkles, but ultimately the figure appears ageless.
Linda Coulter was awarded Second Prize for her hand-stitched textile landscape. From one of the judges: “I can feel the gentle breeze on my arms and smell the delicious rain that must have recently fallen on this wild piece of land. Spring Evening is a textured landscape I would want to spend some time in.”
Third prize was awarded to Carolyn Huff-Winters for King of the Mountain, a large charcoal and acrylic piece. One of the judges wrote: “A dramatic work both in size and in subject matter … a nice balance between subject and reflection (or roots) … drawn and painted in a very free, yet controlled, style.”
Leo Jonker won Special Mention for his portrait of Polar Man, a Kingston fixture and “a dedicated super hero. The shift from a white and black ‘costume’ to blue is intriguing … this colour reflects his gleaming and mischievous cobalt eyes. The intense gaze and the half-smile give us a glimpse into the subject … he knows who he is!”
And the winners are … Well, no, I can’t reveal the outcome of Monday afternoon’s judging before the WAG holds this year’s juried exhibition reception on July 6. I can, however, reveal that our three judges—Shannon Brown, Ron Pickering and Raymond Vos—deliberated for three hours to choose 65 artworks from 152 submissions by 73 artists. The submitted works, in all sizes, included paintings, monoprints, pastels, fibre art and mixed media.
See below for some sneak peaks of the works in the show!
Shannon Brown, Program Coordinator at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, has 20 years of experience as an arts educator. As an internationally exhibited artist she is currently working on a series called Portals—visionary art that she describes as modern surrealism. She is also a producer of documentary films that have been broadcast internationally. Intuition played a large role in Shannon’s first picks at the beginning of the afternoon when the submitted pieces were positioned in the back room of the KSOA and around the gallery.
Raymond Vos, the owner and curator of Gallery Raymond, which represents about 20 artists, agreed that he placed his first dots on pieces that jumped out at him. Raymond, a photographer who has been a judge in a number of competitions, concentrates on shooting in Kenya, where he has started a charity. As a judge he considers each artwork on its own merits. He called the process of judging “engaging”, and Round Two, when pieces with one or two or no dots were presented individually to the trio of judges, he categorized as “a warm-up”. Indeed, judges were beginning to solidify their earlier first choices, sometimes changing their minds.
Ron Pickering took into account size and technique as he made his picks. A watercolour artist, he taught at the KSOA for 10 years during the school’s early days. Today he teaches at Loyalist and practises his art almost every day. He admitted that his representational approach to painting affects the way he sees art. In addition, bringing some of the artworks into the well-lit gallery in Round Two, he maintained, led him to revise his opinions.
Shannon also commented that different lighting and seeing works at different levels (on the floor vs. held at eye level) influenced her decisions. Raymond concurred. All three judges agreed that hearing one another’s comments made them think hard about their choices.
Round Three involved using stars to triage the three-dot pieces in order to determine the winners. This was when the friendly tussle started. It went something like this: persuasion, deliberation, analysis, negotiation, winnowing, dissension, deadlock. Six pieces needed to become four. Out came paper and pencil to allow each judge to note his or her rankings. Finally, compromise and agreement.
Round Four, by comparison, was easy. All three-star picks became Honourable Mentions. Ron Pickering summed up the entire show when he told me, “The quality of the work is really good!”
The KSOA Annual Juried Exhibition and Sale runs from July 2-28 with a reception and awards presentation on July 6 from 2-5 p.m. Awards will be presented at 3 p.m.
There’s an intimacy to story telling. As a listener, you have to sit close enough to be within earshot of the storyteller. Even in a group, you feel as though you are being spoken to individually. If you are the teller delivering your personal story, it’s as though you are telling secrets to a trusted listener. At the KSOA earlier this month, this is exactly what happened.
Ashley Clark, the impetus behind this event, has a story of her own. She was born with Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser (MRKH) Syndrome, which means her body has no reproductive organs. Ashley calls herself an MRKH warrior, and so she is, despite her calm and friendly demeanour. The $800 proceeds of the storytelling event will be shared by the Kingston MRKH Conference—a medical meet-up for women with this syndrome—and the KSOA.
In preparation for the dual fundraiser, eight individuals with stories to tell were paired with eight artists who produced work in response to the stories they were told. And so the storytelling fundraiser became a heightened event in four intimate settings created around the WAG. Each one encouraged listeners to gather close, listen, look and regroup to experience another story. As the afternoon progressed, the tellers spoke on a rotating basis in 15-minute intervals to close to 50 listeners.
Tia Gillespie, the illustrator paired with Ashley, created a watercolour entitled Resolute. It is a detailed, almost photographic rendering of two open pages of Ashley’s journal, in which she documented her daily psychological struggle with a condition that, although invisible, made her feel ashamed.
Brie Robertson is the young artist who made an acrylic painting entitled Born This Way. It depicts a pensive man in his early 20s, with expressive eyebrows, slightly unruly dark hair, and multi-coloured eyelids. Rainbow splashes in the background refer to Tyler Anglin’s coming out story, but you have to listen to discover that he also battled cancer as a young child.
When Teri Wing was asked to participate in this endeavour, she chose to illustrate Leah Riddell’s story. Riddell, who is deaf and speaks in American Sign Language (ASL) through an interpreter, has fought all her life to overcome the myth that people with deafness can’t be successful. She currently runs her own business educating those with hearing about those who are deaf—their language, their culture and their capabilities. Teri’s portrait of Leah, entitled Butterflies are Deaf, is based on a little known fact: Butterflies “hear” through vibrations. The portrait presents a side view of Leah, in which a monarch butterfly is blooming in place of her ear. At the margin of the painting, in subtle gray, Teri has rendered the sound wave created when she used an app to translate the artwork’s title from spoken word to symbol.
Malasia, by Queen’s Fine Arts graduate Leigha Stiles, is a large, chaotic abstract acrylic painting that speaks loudly not only about Malasia Liston’s mental health journey, but also that of the artist, who has experienced psychotic episodes herself. In this case the pairing of story teller and illustrator enabled an expression of shared experiences. The dominant red of Malasia aptly symbolizes fear and mania.
Fahd Abou Zainedin is a Syrian refugee whose family was brought to Kingston by artist Gaylan Fitsell. When Gaylan was offered the opportunity to illustrate Fahd’s story, she gladly accepted. Her mixed media piece, entitled Took 3 Countries, combines realism and symbolism to depict Fahd’s flight from Syria, where he was captured and held for 10 days in a cold dark 3-foot by 3-foot cell, to Jordan, Finland and, finally, Canada. Elements in Gaylan’s artwork include the figure of Fahd’s wife in a tree, crying; the flags of the first three countries in his journey; the maple leaf and helping hands of our own country; and spreading orange tree branches symbolizing new life and hope.
“He’s a daredevil in the biggest sense of the word,” remarked artist Sherry Pringle, a friend of 80-year-old Franz Moeslinger, who tells a story of living out the war years and their aftermath in Germany, Denmark and Austria. Sherry was familiar with Franz’s life story and knew how much he loves fast cars, downhill skiing and mountain climbing. And so she created Conquer, an acrylic painting of purple-hued, snow-capped mountains rising out of the clouds—a metaphor for Austria overcoming the dark days of war while the Austrian people embrace the light to reclaim their lives.
Bathed in luminous golden light, Layna, by Natasha Jabre, expresses the culmination of a process of self-realization by Layna Reise, aged 23, a transgender woman since January 2017. There is the beginning of a smile on Layna’s lips, but the faraway look in her eyes hints at a past filled with teenaged anger, depression, stress and confusion about gender identity. A fortuitous news broadcast in 2016 about legislation governing sex change surgery spurred Layna to research and learn more about the physical alteration that finally brought her relief.
Poverty, depression, anxiety and sexual assault marked Hannah Ellsworth’s young life. She was a lost girl, paralysed by a fear of relationships, school and then employment. Sara Perosa’s large abstract oil painting called Inner Longing swirls with turmoil as impressionistic rivers of blue curl through the surface, but two circles of calm, the opposite of whirlpools, offer respite, a safe place, a place where Hannah can find herself by working hard, accepting defeat and persevering.
These personal stories and the accompanying artworks have been compiled into a book entitled Show and Tell: The Art of Story Telling. It’s available at the KSOA for $20.
Students in Shelley Glenn-Hawley’s Grade 4 class spent a week in early May at the KSOA/WAG looking at art, thinking about it, writing about, talking about, and making art. Always at the back of their minds was The Big Inquiry: How does knowing the context, histories and traditions of art forms help us create works of art?
Here's a photographic summary of the week, thanks to photographer Ken Fuller.
Daily entries in the young artists’ journals evolved during the week as they experienced and appreciated the artistic process. Here’s a sampling.
Student artists capped off the week by mounting their studio work in the gallery and then welcoming parents and fellow Welborne students to the exhibition. The watercolours, masks, monoprints, etchings and terracotta pots clearly demonstrated the students’ efforts, their enthusiasm, and their newfound knowledge.
(Photos by Ken Fuller)
When Wayne Westfall looks at art, he asks himself three questions: Do I like this? Can I do this? How? These questions are particularly poignant for Wayne, who in 1979 broke his neck in a mountain climbing accident in Alaska and is now paralysed with limited upper body movement.
For the current show at the WAG, Wayne looked at watercolours by international artists on Pinterest, notably Australian Robert Wade and Indian Milind Mulick. His intention was to create a series of 40 paintings, one for each year of his disability. An important component of his art practice is that it allows him to forget external circumstances four or five times a week. “The magic of art is in the process, in the relationship between the painter and his or her materials,” he told me. Such intense focus is a blessing. Copying is not something he’s concerned about.
Colour and technique define the paintings in this exhibition. Vibrant hues, pure washes, and luminous whites from the watercolour paper left blank. Subject matter includes florals, people and places (often exotic), with inviting views down city streets, down canals, along paths and over rural roads. The paintings exude confidence.
Wayne has been painting watercolours off and on since 1988 when his sister gave him his first brushes and paints. After a long “sabbatical” beginning in 2008, he started practising art again in earnest in the spring of 2018. He felt he needed to reach another level in his work. “There are buckets of information about watercolour technique on the internet,” he explained. “I know I have to get in and out without overworking.”
When I visited Wayne in his living room/bedroom/studio, he showed me how he sets up his water container and metal palette containing small blocks of paint. They sit on a prosthetic arm that can swing out from beside his bed. A large computer screen with the chosen image is positioned beside his knees, which are tucked under a blanket, and his paper is taped to a board on his lap. The largest size he will work in is 11x14”. Only recently has he discovered that by taping his brushes a certain way, he can grasp them more easily. He is able to move his wrists, but not his fingers, and his brushwork is propelled by his shoulder. Three different-sized brushes lie within reach in the blanket folds. They are rounded because he can’t manage using flat brushes effectively. Since his dexterity is compromised, one of the hardest manoeuvres for him is changing brushes before the paint dries.
Back in the gallery, complementing the watercolours, a patchwork of line drawings on 25 pages hangs on the exposed limestone wall. For years Wayne did technical pen renderings of people in cafés, at the library, at bus stops, densely covering a page and using what one friend calls a line unique to Wayne. “I had a printer make a special sketchbook of smooth coated papers because I couldn’t control the pen over a rough surface,” he told me. Even so, each page on view took hours to complete. Wayne included words in the images, words that express positivity. These drawings are a testament to his persistence.
Wayne credits exercise and meditation with providing him the positive affirmation he so needed in the early years after his accident. “I never imagined I would feel pretty good about life and produce beautiful art.”
Colours of My Life continues until June 23.
If I were to succinctly describe the exhibition at the WAG this month, I would have to say “an abundance of riches.” On first seeing the fabric collages, I was struck by the profusion of colour. Next I was drawn to the evocative and varied subjects, which are often presented in a playful way. Then, taking a closer look, I became aware of the richness of detail and texture. Every piece in the show entitled Fabrications merits a period of concentrated looking, longer for the large panels, but equally focussed for the smaller framed pieces.
Pamela Allen began her artistic practice in 1982 as a painter and then moved on to collage and assemblage before considering fabric art, which involved a new skill: sewing. She has been working in this medium since 2002, has garnered numerous awards, been included in four books about quilting, and shown in Europe, Japan and the United States. Early on in her career she also taught Painting and Drawing in Queen’s Fine Art Department, and then in the late 90s in the North, as part of the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (ATEP).
“Quilting” is a word that Pamela defines loosely, given that her finished work, as well as the process she uses to make it, demonstrate a painterly approach. She begins with an idea, then covers her entire panel with swathes of three colours in dark, medium and light tones. Next she draws with scissors, that is, she cuts out the shapes of her subjects and layers them intuitively, choosing from a relatively small selection of textiles she has collected from commercial sources and thrift shops. If she doesn’t like the colour of a fabric, she will overdye it, which still allows the patterns to show through. Pamela likes to use what she has on hand, thereby setting herself parameters—and challenges. “I work like an artist, not a quilter,” she said.
There are 10 large panels in this show, illustrating a variety of lived and imagined experiences, from urban life in the Kingston area to outport life in Newfoundland; from the life of modern-day women to that of medieval women and that of women in rural Africa; from the life of farm creatures to that of wild creatures.
Pamela’s favourite panel, made in 2018, is Ellys in Malawi, an image of two elephants facing one another in a whimsical landscape. “The elephants’ front legs are backwards,” Pamela explained with a laugh. In 2017 she had spent four weeks in Malawi teaching drawing as part of a project for the rural poor. One of the boys in her class had drawn the backwards legs on his rendition of an elephant. As an homage to the young artist Pamela used distortion in her own piece. In order to determine where machine stitching has been done on quilted fabric, one has only to look on the reverse side of the panel (which visitors should not, of course, do). In Ellys, there is no machine stitching. The myriad patterns of lines and textures have been created by hand.
An earlier panel, a kind of transition piece reminiscent of assemblage, makes extensive use of embellishments—items that have been sewn onto the fabric. In The Snake Charmer, coloured safety pins, beads, bells, clothespins, fish lures and a painted cast of lips embellish the female figure. Two further items point to the idea behind the work: a row of old-fashioned metal curlers and a vacuum cleaner head, which protrudes from a quilted fabric snake-like hose. This is a statement about women’s work. To emphasize, Pamela stated, “I hate housework!”
Cinderella Making Her Getaway, a scene in a Gothic setting inspired by illuminated manuscripts, presents the well known fairy-tale figure on horseback, exiting stage right, leaving her ordinary-looking—old, even—prince, apparently not in a romantic frame of mind. “Did they live happily ever after? No, probably not,” said Pamela.
One of my favourite pieces is a vibrant panel entitled 11 Birds. I found myself trying to count all 11, some of which are large, intricately stitched farm birds, others unidentifiable ones in trees and on the ground. This piece was inspired by the art of “outsiders” whom Pamela saw during a trip to Florida. These self-taught artists create far from the art market and from formal artistic traditions, traits that appeal to Pamela, who prefers to follow her own rules.
In the case of the 22 smaller works in the exhibition, Pamela determined that the repetition of a formal element would act as a point of departure. She developed every image from a square of fabric printed with art taken from the public domain or from her own designs. If a viewer looks closely, her or she can find the square and see how cleverly Pamela has incorporated the subject to create a new composition, whether a still life, a portrait, or a whimsical scene such as Little Girl Walking Her Chicken.
Fabrications continues until May 26.
In the real world, April is considered a prelude to spring, but for those obsessed with the two-dimensional world of digital imagery, April is the month that members of the Kingston Photographic Club get a chance to show their work in the club’s annual juried exhibition at the WAG.
Bruce Millen, a long-standing KPC member, coordinates this event, which begins when club members submit three photos. These, in turn, are shown to a panel of three judges who pick the image they feel will best represent the photographer in the exhibition. Thirty-three members participated this year. Full disclosure: I have been a member of the club since last September and my image is in the show.
One of the perks of a photo club is that it gives a budding (or seasoned) photographer the opportunity to shoot a variety of subjects during organized outings. The club also acts as a motivating force. To keep everyone on his or her toes, the club runs a large number of competitions in-house and organizes club entries in Canada-wide competitions. Feedback from these comps can be interesting and stimulating. During the fall and winter the club holds two critiquing sessions. Small groups of members look at each other’s images and offer comments--suggestions, advice, praise. The club also invites speakers to present slide shows on topics as diverse as choosing the right lens, body painting and photography, shooting wildlife, and painting with light.
The current open-theme show at the WAG represents the efforts of those who are passionate about their craft. Included are landscapes, city scenes, flora, wildlife, human subjects, subjects in the universe, and abstracts: varied, colourful and, as it turned out, a nice challenge for me as the club member responsible for mounting the exhibition.
Arranging and hanging is a two-day, two-part affair, Bruce had explained to me. On the Tuesday night before the opening, all the entries except one were in, propped against the walls of the gallery and I, after deliberating and rearranging, frowning and rearranging, was on my way to determining the position of each. Imagine a video game in which an intensely focussed character surrounded by a puzzle bounces from wall to wall, moving objects until every piece fits. In truth, I did a bit of tweaking the next morning before continuing with Part One—spacing and finding the centre point of each framed or mounted photo—in preparation for Part Two.
Hanging. Now imagine seven worker bees methodically attaching plumb bobs, measuring, taping, hammering and levelling as they move from one image to the next, with only Timbits as fortification.
By mid-afternoon we had an exhibition, one that by all accounts will please visitors and members alike. The Kingston Photographic Club 2019 Juried Exhibition continues until April 27, with a reception on Sunday, April 7, from 1-4pm.
Eight three-hour weekly sessions of drawing with colour. What a great way to spend winter afternoons, I thought. And so, near the end of January, along with six others, I began a journey that gathered steam as we moved from one project to the next.
I admire Marta’s relaxed teaching style, but I also admire her thoroughness. In the first class we started by reviewing materials: soft pastels comprise pure pigment and binder; papers should have some tooth, but not too much, and Ingres is one of the most sought after brands, but is hard to find because it was bought out by Canson; a soft rag makes an excellent blending tool, but so does a tortillon. I was reminded that in the arts, including the culinary arts, French has a firm grip on vocabulary.
Then Marta talked about safety. Safety? Yes. Some colours, such as cobalt blue, cerulean blue and all cadmiums, contain toxic compounds. The better quality the pastel, the more chance of toxicity. To mitigate the danger of breathing pastel dust, Marta had us fashion for our drawing supports a pocket out of aluminum foil, much like a baby’s bib. “Do not blow,” she admonished.
Our first still life looked easy enough. A trio of eggs—one white, one brown, one black (actually a shaker used as a percussion instrument). These she had lit with a small desk lamp, having placed them on a white sheet of paper. Before we began drawing, in an engaging way, she made us look hard at the subtle variations in tone. Marta has a way of asking questions that makes you want to shoot up your hand as though you were in primary school. And thus we talked about light: the primary light from the source, the secondary or reflected light on the shaded side of the eggs, and the tertiary light, which is the reflected light bouncing back onto the cast shadows. Got that? And did you know that a lit egg (or lemon, or other rounded object) has an equator?
Although none of the student artists in the class were beginners, we agreed during the second class that creating a colour wheel would be useful. Here was a chance to mix pastel hues like paint. But wait… What happened to the primary colours we all know? No longer red and blue, but rather the magenta and cyan that, when paired with yellow and black are used in commercial colour printing. As a former graphic designer I’m familiar with process colours but was surprised by their new role and elevated aesthetic potential.
At every turn, Marta gave us drawing options. For our colour assignment we were encouraged to draw the aforementioned lemon, or an orange, or some grapes, or a Bosc pear. Or a conch. All of which Marta had lit and arranged against a blue background. What next, I wondered. In fact, during the first class Marta had handed out small cards on which she had asked us to write what we wanted to draw in this course. Class three, then, saw us working on simple floral arrangements from reference material we had brought to the studio.
The art of pastel combines drawing and painting with the added excitement of working on coloured paper as a kind of under painting. Marta encouraged us to try different papers—including black—and to allow them into our pastel drawings.
With every new assignment Marta did demos. For the demo in the third class Marta had prepared a tonal drawing of an iris, which she wanted to recreate in colour. “How should I start?” she asked. “Well, I don’t know what colours you’re planning to use,” countered a student. “Neither do I,” rallied Marta. Such is her strength as a teacher: using her knowledge of colour and technique, but experimenting as she goes along, and encouraging us to do the same. Presenting drawing, in other words, as an adventure. Small wonder that four of our group of seven, myself included, took this course, in part, because Marta was teaching it.
In class five, while reproducing the work of a well-known artist of our choice, we experienced a poignant moment when Marta responded to the preparatory work Carol Lynne had done on a ballerina by Degas. She had laid down areas of pale pastel that evoked the tones and movement of the dancer. “It’s exquisite,” Marta said more than once, while Carol Lynne blushed and maintained she really should start all over again. “ Allow yourself to accept that this is an exquisite piece of art that deserves to be framed,” Marta insisted, with emotion in her voice, understanding that Carol Lynne had reached a milestone.
For our second-last class Marta organized a field trip! We spent a relatively balmy afternoon on the 20-acre property of one of Marta’s friends. Trees, rocky outcroppings, patches of snow and a pristine white lake—a setting worthy of the Group of Seven. And I certainly had that in mind as I sat on a granite ledge, feeling the warm sun on my face as I attempted to recreate the scene in front of me on blue paper (sky and shadows). Some student artists walked around the point, taking photos, and then moved indoors to draw. Before heading indoors herself, Marta made a tour of her protégés’ plein air efforts. She reminded me that I don’t have to use the colours I see: Why not pick up the pink in the granite I am sitting on, or make that distant shoreline purple instead of dull gray?
What else did I learn in this course? Which colours to mix in order to create skin tones; which palette can result in pleasing florals; how triangular shapes affect composition; when the Golden Mean first made an appearance in artistic expression; five ways to create aerial perspective. And much more.
At the end of eight weeks, our small group of pastel artists—Barb, Carol-Lynne, Diane, Jacqueline, Margaret, Mark and I—had made a range of images on different-coloured paper. Will we continue our exploration of this medium? A resounding yes!
In one well-lit corner of the living room of her condo, Margaret McLauchlan has set up her artist’s studio, complete with barriers to prevent her long-haired cat from entering. A paint-spattered table holds, among other items, small bottles of liquid acrylic paint, small containers for mixing colours, latex gloves, and a large plastic bottle of a murky-looking substance. This is Tri-Art Liquid Glass, a recently invented sticky acrylic medium that, when mixed with acrylic colours, can be poured onto a wood panel to produce sinuous masses and striations akin to marbling, but also textured patterns of all kinds. Each colour of paint, when mixed with the glass medium, has a different weight; some colours sit on the surface, some blend, others create sharp edges. There is randomness but also precision.
Missing from the artist’s table are brushes. Margaret has a tremor that prevents her from using exacting tools. She props a 16x20 panel on a plastic tub on the floor, starts pouring and tilts the support as she goes. “Sometimes I make a mess,” she says with a laugh. “I might trip, or drop the paint, or the panel flips upside down.” For Margaret it’s pure play, with often stunning results.
The actual creation of a painting can take as little as five minutes, but the preparation—applying gesso (not easy for her), opening screw-top bottles (a challenge), mixing colours (another challenge), deciding the order in which to apply the colours (really the only form of control she can exercise)—can take up to two hours. At this point she usually takes a walk.
Margaret calls herself an accidental artist as she tells stories to explain her trajectory from dabbling to launching a one-woman show. She had always created images, whether by using collage or paper maché, or by painting with her hands, but she had never felt she was a “real” artist. Three years ago she won a trip to any destination in Canada, and so with five other artists and two instructors she flew to a city in B.C., from which she took a helicopter to the Bugaboos. After this adventure she was encouraged by an internet site to create a painting—any size—every day. With discipline, she did it. And then she discovered liquid glass. Here was a medium that gave her complete freedom. “I just wasn’t afraid anymore to try,” she says. In fact, she was so mesmerized with the technique that she couldn’t not paint. “Maybe the next one will be exceptional,” was a thought that propelled her. In Margaret’s condo, hanging on the walls in every room, propped up on the floor or on an easel, and covering a grand piano, is a sampling of the 200 paintings she has created so far.
On one wall I also notice several black and white photographs of northern scenes: a husky, dogsleds, glaciers and an Inuk woman ice fishing in traditional dress. These are images taken by Margaret’s father, Don, an RCMP officer who was stationed in small remote communities across the Arctic in the mid-1900s. Margaret was born in Baker Lake and spent eight years in the North at a time when the Inuit were still nomadic. Her playmates were the children of the two Inuit RCMP special constables, the only sedentary inhabitants in the hamlet. Margaret’s father’s photos offer a clue to her inspiration.
Baker Lake sits at the confluence of five rivers, but the only access remains by plane. From her earliest childhood Margaret remembers flying over the winter tundra. When, after retiring from her job as a kindergarten teacher, she re-established her connections with the people of the North, she again found herself in tiny planes, glued to the window, marvelling at the massive skies and endlessly interesting landscapes. In her work, to reference these scenes, she uses a colour palette limited to blues, black, sepia, green and white, the latter in all its iridescent variations.
Why does Margaret use numbers to title her work, I wonder aloud. “Giving my paintings names is too limiting,” she responds. She prefers that her abstractions work their magic on the viewer without the constraints of a descriptor. The work can be evocative, though, of black rivers, calving glaciers, cracking or melting ice, moving masses, and even sealskin. “Look at this little part,” she says to me delightedly as she points out an iridescent patch of dark blue. Under the intense light of the kitchen, it swirls and sparkles enticingly.
Many of Margaret’s paintings have found their way back to Nunavut among the Inuit, a fact that greatly pleases the artist. Those that remain are her constant companions, a connection to the vast and distant landscapes that keep calling her back.
North of Ordinary goes from March 6-31, with a reception on Sunday, March 10, 2-4pm.