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.
“Risky business” is how Mary Lou Jaansalu describes what she does when she spreads her large Mylar sheets on the floor and starts squeezing tubes of liquid acrylic. Her gestural contours in primary colours coalesce to produce human forms. When she repositions them on a canvas of subtly articulated architectural backgrounds, they take on a new life. The figures complement the structural fragments, interacting and moving in different ways—standing, pulling, swaying, teetering, balancing, reclining. While working, Mary Lou takes on the poses of the figures to get the weight distribution right. The success of the works also relies on the contrast between line and tone, between spontaneity and calculation, between intensity and calm. There are eight images in this series, which forms part of the exhibition now at the WAG.
When I question Mary Lou about the figures in her series, she explains that she chose primary colours because of their purity and energy. For the architectural motifs—bridges, towers, cranes—she chose water-soluble graphite, which allowed her to define shaded areas in a painterly way. In fact, this series clearly reveals a dichotomy in Mary Lou’s artistic practice.
A selection of more traditional drawings and paintings makes up the balance of this one-woman show. Pivotal for the artist is an acrylic painting entitled Self-Portrait With Personal Imagery. It combines painterly elements with stencils and gestural line elements. In this piece, created a year ago, for the first time, Mary Lou tells me, buildings make an appearance, in this case in the form of fenestrated blocks of colour in the background. Mary Lou has a degree in architecture. No surprise, then, that she now uses Mylar in an inventive way and has incorporated built structures into her work.
At architecture school, life drawing was a requisite course, which, ironically, Mary Lou did not enjoy. Why draw people, she thought, even though she understood that humans populate architectural spaces. Perhaps as a counter to the exactitude of drafting, I suggest. Indeed, today Mary Lou loves life drawing, for the looseness of line it can afford, for the rapport she establishes with a model through intense observation, and for the energy a living being (versus a still life) embodies.
Mary Lou’s groupings of life drawings include black and white sculptural renderings of parts of bodies—forms suggesting a whole—as well as overlapping coloured lines that search out shapes in order to create a whole. The former are a nod to the technique she uses in her architectural fragments, and the latter are precursors to the human figures she draws on Mylar. By combining the two techniques she has taken greater risks, but also evolved in her search for meaningful ways of extending life drawing into her studio practice.
Dynamic Figures Static Forces in on view from February 13 to March 3, with a reception on Saturday, February 16, 2-5 p.m.
Barb Carr and Jane Hamilton-Khaan each came to printmaking via a host of mediums, but in 2013 their artistic lives began to intertwine. Individually, these two artists are explorers.
In 1990, Barb was piqued by a watercolour course, the first step in her art practice. She then moved on to acrylics, focussing on painting close-ups of textured granite. “After all that grey, I craved colour,” she told me. Collage provided an outlet for more varied expression. Today Barb pulls prints using multi-hued inks. Not content with only one medium, in the current show at the WAG she has included among her large monotypes a series of small prints to which she has added pastel.
By profession Jane was a commercial artist concerned with precision and clarity. But gradually she explored mediums that allowed for more spontaneity. In 1984, pottery offered a welcome change that eventually led to her use of raku firing, a technique that involves many variables and unpredictable results. Jane then experimented with collage, but finally settled on printmaking, which she approaches intuitively. Three of the works in this show, however, also include an element of collage.
Hanging their work at the WAG on Thursday morning, Barb and Jane are clearly having a good time. I want to know which of their own pieces is their favourite. “This one,” says Barb, drawing my attention to an image that references a landscape, but stands out because of its graphic components. Contours is a study in contrasts: rich black vs. luminous gold and pink that camouflages subtle botanical forms; vertical shapes vs. curved shapes; opaque colour vs. transparent colour; hard edge vs. ripped edge; serendipity vs. planning. Barb passed Contours through the press four times to achieve the result she wanted.
Jane, for her part, takes me over to the gallery’s dark grey wall where Walking Man hangs. She credits a painting by Kandinsky that she saw in the Tate Modern in England for her choice of colour and composition in this, her favourite monotype. On a blue and yellow background, which constituted the first pass, I see whimsical irregular shapes as well as geometric shapes in bold colours, positioned to draw the eye to the centre. The shapes became part of the composition when Jane carefully placed inked cut-outs on the dry ground and gave the print a second pass.
What was the trajectory that led these two artists to launch a duo exhibition, I want to know. The story goes that shortly after they met, Jane took a course in collage offered by Barb at the KSOA. Barb suggested Jane try printmaking in the school’s Friday Open Studio, where Barb had been working for several years. Jane plunged in. Both artists thrived as they worked alongside one another, experimenting with coloured inks, resists and stencils. Then, in 2016, along with a friend, Barb and Jane took a trip to Ireland, where they enrolled in a printmaking course together. What did they learn? “A foolproof registration system for overprinting,” answers Barb. “The Guinness was great!” laughs Jane.
More Pressure presents prints by two artists working in the same medium while exhibiting very personal aesthetics.
The show opens on January 4 with a reception on Sunday, January 13, 3-5pm.