In this, its 30th year of exhibiting, the Organization of Kingston Women Artists (OKWA)
says that when it comes to public exhibition space, size does matter. “RESTRICTED in size” is the title of this month’s show at the WAG, which accommodates 26 works by OKWA members in its relatively small space. To make a point, artists were limited to submitting pieces no wider than 18”, but there were no restrictions on height.
“How do we respond when we have restrictions,” Mieke Van Geest, Co-President of OKWA, asks rhetorically. And then she affirms, “The exhibition is an example of artists’ creativity in response to imposed constraints.” Small plaques with artists’ statements accompany the artwork and, in reading each one, I learn that “restrictions” have been interpreted and expressed in many ways. For example, Carolyn Marshall, in Shhh! Quiet!, considers the auditory restriction of a visual medium, while Mary Peppard has picked up the theme of censorship as restriction in Fire! Fire! Meanwhile, Donna Brown, in Awakening, has self-imposed restrictions on colour and medium. The clay vessel fashioned by Sue Lyon (Limited Liberty) is, by definition, a restriction on its contents.
Some artists are physically restricted by a small studio where they produce only small works, and Sally Milne (Notre Dame and Chimney Pots), who works for part of the year in Paris, has transport restrictions for her canvases. Michele Reid, whose painting Confined is one of the taller pieces in the show, points to the challenge of verticality for landscape painters.
Peggy Morley (Cornwall Beach IV) and Jane Derby (Study) both agree that size restrictions are not always negative. “Working small is often a freeing experience,” writes Peggy. Jane writes that starting small is a good way to explore new ideas. And Donna, mentioned above, discovered that having fewer options makes for a more relaxing creative experience. I personally enjoyed the intimacy I felt in stepping closer to engage with the smallest of the works in this exhibition.
“But size does make a difference,” concludes Mieke, whose photograph entitled Rainy Night at Morrison’s could be reproduced in a larger size, she points out, with a vastly different impact. “Restrictions discourage full artistic expression.” And space is the issue.
For the last four years OKWA has made use of the new Tett Centre, a public space that suits the group’s needs, but has become prohibitively expensive in terms of rental and insurance costs. These, coupled with administrative complications, propelled OKWA to look for an alternative this year. Commercial galleries were not an option since they support their preferred stable of artists, while the Agnes and the Union Gallery operate with mandates that exclude organizations such as OKWA. “We need a downtown public space funded by the municipality,” maintains Mieke. She looks to the John Parrott Gallery in Belleville as a shining example.
With 13 members, OKWA was founded in 1989 at the tail end of the second wave of feminism. According to co-founder Jocelyn Purdie, there had been advances in women’s rights and freedoms, but the art world was one of many arenas that did not offer an equitable playing field. Now numbering 55, members are accepted by juried application. The group organizes workshops and art talks, and funds scholarships for young artists.
“Is OKWA still relevant today as a women-only organization?” I ask Mieke. “Members like it, and it works,” is her answer, but then she elaborates by saying many women still don’t have the confidence to push into the art world. OKWA provides a forum for mutual support. And provides exposure for women artists by mounting annual exhibitions.
The issue of gallery space is first and foremost on the minds of OKWA board members today. Michèle La Rose (Tribute to Van Gogh), sums up the situation in her statement: “Kingston could do much better."
RESTRICTED in size continues until October 27 with an opening reception on Sunday, October 6, 2-4pm.
Approach the work of Andrée Levesque with calm attentiveness, but be prepared to move as you search for an image in the larger pieces in the artist’s solo show at the WAG this month.
Andrée has turned drawing into a ritual in her art practice. She gets up at 5 a.m. every morning and completes one drawing in her sketchbook using sparse but precise black lines to define her subject. Her daily creations, which are reminiscent of Picasso’s deceptively simple line drawings, depict actual scenes, but more often come from her subconscious memories of human figures.
For this exhibition Andrée has chosen to show a sampling of her pen and ink line drawings of the past year. Some are hung in unadorned black frames, or hung unframed and mounted behind Plexiglass, simple presentations that do not detract from their content. Others, to which colour has been added, are mounted in an even more Spartan fashion on Bristol boards. Andrée decided to use a new medium—pastel—on the latter drawings, working with the chalk like a sculptor in a very tactile way to define the surface of the shapes, or letting her movements create detail spontaneously. In them she has dispensed with her usual colour palette of neutrals, blue and sunrise pink to embrace the entire colour spectrum.
Moving into riskier territory are the medium and large Plexiglass pieces on display. In looking for new modes of expression Andrée has turned to engraving. Here’s how she describes these works: “It’s not like stained glass. It’s just lines filled with colour.” In addition, Andrée has made a transparent black backing that allows the easels, on which some of the pieces are placed, to be seen as shadows. These works are meant to interact with walls, windows, whatever is behind or around. To see the engraved images on the Plexiglass surface, viewers must move from side to side and up and down, searching for areas that capture the light.
The Zen Place runs from September 4 to September 29 with an opening reception on September 19, 5-7 p.m..
ART SAFARI at the KSOA
Safari, n. – an exploration, an enriching experience, an adventure.
The KSOA Art Safari series is given over the course of ten weeks by different instructors who focus on a variety of media. On the last Wednesday of May, eight student artists found themselves in Fanny Cecconi’s mixed media abstraction class, the fifth in the series. Fanny also taught the acrylic abstraction class in Week One.
A native of Terrebonne (north of Montreal), Fanny has a B.A. from UQO (l’Université du Québec en Outaouais) in Art and Design, with a specialization in cartooning. She also took teacher training in her home province. Before coming to Kingston she taught visual arts to, among others, military families in Petawawa. Her courses at the KSOA have also been offered in French.
Abstraction, n. – freedom from representational qualities in art.
Fanny would say abstraction is a translation of reality, one that allows the artist to convey an emotion or a reaction. She stresses the importance of formal elements such as line, form, colour and texture. As a warm-up in this class she gives students cut-out shapes to play with as she explains how these compositional elements can be positioned to achieve depth, movement, balance and tension.
Mixed media, n.pl. – an artwork in which more than one medium or material has been employed.
In Fanny’s class mixed media include markers, acrylic paints--including liquid acrylic paints--as well as other objects such as feathers, shells and beads, which Fanny has assembled to inspire creativity in her students. Also at their disposal are black and white photocopies of an image coated with acrylic gel medium. After a quick lesson in image transfer, students set to work on soaking the paper and then vigorously rubbing it off to reveal the image embedded in the transparent gel layer. “It’s messy,” says Fanny, “but that’s part of the training.”
What drew participants to the Art Safari series? Sheila was familiar with watercolours, but had never tried acrylics. Don wanted to learn new skills as therapy after a head injury. Lucy, a recent graduate from McGill, missed the visual arts and wanted to try different techniques. Suzanne, an elementary school teacher, recognized that Fanny’s class provided her with good ideas for art activities that she could use in her own classroom, but she also welcomed the no-pressure aspect of the class. The emphasis was on process, not producing.
On Wednesday, June 19, the Art Safari series ended with an oil painting class given by Gaetanne Lavoie. The week before, she had also taught the series drawing class.
Gaetanne grew up in a French-speaking neighbourhood of Cornwall. Aside from three years in Montreal, she spent the rest of her adult life in cities in Ontario and the U.S., specifically New York, where she studied, taught and practiced her art. Now, back in Ontario, she teaches several courses throughout the year at the KSOA, courses that could be offered in French.
Oil paint, n. – It’s like butter, according to Gaetanne. “The colours are so brilliant that when I apply oil paint I can feel it in my body.”
Before the Wednesday class starts, Gaetanne instructs me about her chosen medium. To change the viscosity of oil paint, Liquin or solvent can be added as thinners, which is useful for underpainting. (In her class, Gaetanne uses an odourless solvent.) The addition of linseed oil, on the other hand, thickens the paint to a creamier texture, but the more oil is added, the longer the paint takes to dry. In fact, to become completely dry can take six months.
In this oil painting class Gaetanne guides her students along as they recreate a still life by Dik Lui. The students work from a colour photocopy as she gives a step-by-step demo of the process. She begins with the violet background—a blend of ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson and white. Next she adds Liquin to blue to create a thin, transparent paint that she uses to sketch the shapes of the objects and their cast shadows. Gradually, as colours are applied, the painting evolves to reveal the flowers, vase, apple and grapes in their three-dimensional forms. While she is working, she gives tips and suggestions regarding palettes, brushes, colours and technique. She also regularly circulates around the room to offer encouragement.
Don, who has attended all eight Art Safari sessions, is looking forward to seeing the results of his efforts in this class. He marvels at the vibrancy of the colours of oil paint, not only from the tube, but also those obtained by mixing. The series has helped him relax his mind, he maintains. Shelley simply enjoys working in oil, while Carolyn, a professional artist whose chosen medium is acrylic, concedes that mastering oil painting techniques is a challenge. But if she hadn’t taken the class, she would never have had the opportunity to use this centuries-old medium.
ART SAFARI au KSOA
La définition de safari? C’est en même temps une exploration, un enrichissement et une aventure. La série Art Safari comprend huit sessions, chacune concentrée sur un moyen d’expression artistique particulier, et donnée par une artiste différente. Le dernier mercredi de mai, huit étudiants artistes se sont présentés au cours d’abstraction mixed media de Fanny Cecconi, le cinquième cours. Ouverte à tous les médias, Fanny enseigne aussi le premier cours, la peinture à l’acrylique.
Originaire de Terrebonne au Québec, Fanny a un baccalauréat de l’Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO) en Arts et design, profil bande dessinée, et a suivi quelques cours en enseignement. Avant d’arriver à Kingston, elle a mené des ateliers d’arts visuels destinés aux familles militaires à Petawawa, entre autres. Étant donné qu’elle est bilingue, ses cours au KSOA peuvent être offerts en français, s’il y a assez de participants intéressés.
La session Art Safari du 29 mai, en anglais, commence par une question. Qu’est-ce que l’abstraction? Ce n’est pas une image venant du domaine de la réalité. D’après Fanny, il s’agit plutôt d’une traduction de la réalité. On met sur la toile ce qu’on voit dans le but de transmettre une émotion ou une réaction. On joue avec des lignes, des formes, des couleurs et des textures. Fanny nous donne quelques exercices de réchauffement qui nous apprennent à créer du mouvement, de la profondeur, de l’équilibre et de la tension.
Afin de nous familiariser avec les possibilités des techniques mixtes, Fanny a ramassé divers matériaux, tels que des plumes, des coquilles et des perles, aussi bien que des couteaux et des éponges—objets et outils intéressants pour créer de la texture. En plus des feutres, des peintures acryliques et des brosses, nous avons à notre disposition de la peinture acrylique liquide, qu’on fait couler sur la surface d’une toile en manipulant la position du support. Finalement, Fanny nous montre comment transférer une image photocopiée au moyen d’un médium gel acrylique. Son objectif dans la salle de classe, c’est d’encourager la créativité.
Une fois au travail, les étudiant(e)s se servent de tous les outils pour peindre, même leurs propres doigts. Intrigués par le transfert de l’image imprimée en noir et blanc, tous frottent avec assiduité le papier pour obtenir la peau de gel transparente qu’ils peuvent ensuite coller à la toile. “It’s messy!” constate Fanny. Mais ça fait partie de l’entraînement.
Pourquoi participer à la série Art Safari? Les étudiant(e)s répondent: Sheila, qui travaille avec des aquarelles, veut essayer une technique différente. Don désire développer ses habiletés après un traumatisme crânien. Quant à Lucy, récemment diplômée de l’Université McGill, les arts visuels lui manquent, et elle a envie de mettre à l’essai des médias variés. Quant à Suzanne, enseignante au primaire, elle trouve certaines activités appropriées pour ses propres élèves. Elle apprécie beaucoup l’atmosphère décontractée des cours et se concentre sur le processus au lieu de la production.
Le mercredi 19 juin, Gaetanne Lavoie a enseigné la peinture à l’huile, la derniére session d’Art Safari. Comme Fanny, elle s’est impliquée fortement dans la série. La semaine précédente, elle avait donné le cours de dessin.
Gaetanne a grandi dans un quartier francophone de Cornwall. Elle a passé la majorité de sa vie d’adulte dans des villes anglophones en Ontario et aux États-Unis, en particulier à New York, où elle a fait ses études et a pratiqué son métier d’artiste. De retour à Kingston, elle enseigne au KSOA tout au long de l’année plusieurs cours en dessin et en peinture qui peuvent être offerts en français.
Je suis arrivée un quart d’heure avant le début de la dernière session Art Safari pour parler avec Gaetanne au sujet de la peinture à l’huile, son medium préféré. “L’huile, c’est comme du beurre,” m’a-t-elle expliqué. “Et les couleurs si brillantes--quand je les applique, je les sens dans le corps.” Elle continue sur un plan plus pratique. On peut ajouter à la peinture à l’huile des médiums tels que le Liquin ou le solvant, qui la rendent plus transparente, un état qui convient pour peindre des sous-couches, par exemple. (En passant, dans la salle de classe, Gaetanne utilise seulement du solvant sans odeur nocive.) Par contre, l’addition de l’huile de lin sert à épaissir la peinture et à la rendre plus crémeuse. Cependant, plus on ajoute de l’huile, plus la peinture tarde à sécher. En fait, sécher complètement, cela peut prendre six mois.
“Connais-tu l’origine du mot vernissage?” m’a demandé Gaetanne. Vers la fin du 19e siècle, les artistes invités à exposer leurs oeuvres au Salon de Paris se rencontraient six mois après qu’ils avaient complété leurs peintures pour aborder la dernière étape, soit l’application du vernis.
En guise d’introduction à la peinture à l’huile, Gaetanne guide ses étudiant(e)s artistes dans la création d’une nature morte d’après le peintre Dik Lui. Ils travaillent à partir d’une photocopie en couleur, mais Gaetanne démontre étape par étape le processus. Elle commence par le violet de l’arrière-plan, une mélange de bleu ultramarin, rouge alizarin et blanc. Puis elle se sert du Liquin pour donner une fluidité à la peinture bleue, la couleur avec laquelle elle esquisse les formes et les ombres portées de l’avant-plan. La peinture évolue jusqu’à ce que les fleurs, le vase, la pomme et les raisins se manifestent en couleur et en tridimensionnalité. Pendant qu’elle travaille, Gaetanne donne des conseils sur des palettes, des brosses, des couleurs et des techniques. Et elle circule dans la classe pour encourager les apprenant(e)s ou leur offrir des suggestions.
Don, qui a suivi les huit cours d’Art Safari, me dit qu’il a hâte de voir le résultat de ses efforts dans cette classe. Il aime beaucoup les couleurs vives de la peinture à l’huile. En général, la série lui a offert une façon de se reposer l’esprit. Shelley constate qu’elle s’amuse dans ce cours, tandis que Carolyn, artiste professionelle qui crée ses oeuvres en peinture acrylique, estime qu’elle éprouve de la difficulté à maitriser les techniques de peinture à l’huile. Mais si elle n’avait pas assisté au cours, elle n’aurait jamais connu ce moyen d’expression ancien.
In the last class of her fall course, Debbie Ottman-Smith set up a complicated still life, then, referring to a vibrant painting of objects outlined in yellow, she described what the day’s project was all about.
Debbie has been teaching acrylic painting at the KSOA since 2000. A successful portrait artist, she graduated from the St. Lawrence College art program in 1978 with honours and a major in painting. She considers herself a “normal”, not “gifted” painter, and when she conceived a title for her course, she considered “If I Can Do It, Anybody Can”. But the title was already copyrighted. So she settled on “Anyone Can Paint & I’ll Prove It!” Debbie good-naturedly but determinedly smacked her fist into her hand as she said this. Because she has proved it. In her 19 years at the school, after teaching almost 500 students, there have been only 2 or 3 deserters. “I keep teaching because the rewards are so great,” she said. As her students discover and nurture their painting skills, she explained, they build confidence on many levels, including outside of the classroom.
Helen MacIntyre was one of the student artists in this class. She admitted that some days during the course, while experiencing beginner’s frustration, she thought she would prove Debbie wrong in her choice of title. Ultimately, however, she learned a great deal from Debbie’s practical tips about paint and technique. Helen’s painting entitled Time for Reflection (after American artist Christina Dowdy), pictured here, is a testament to her progress. During this last class she was fully engaged in the Yellow Line project.
Debbie told me that her students have the opportunity to work on five projects during the 10-week course. The first, which she calls Grisaille, involves value studies and an introduction to the colour wheel, as well as to under painting and glazing. The second, Learning Tree, allows students to explore different painting techniques before they move on to the third, Copy Cat, which encourages students to emulate their favourite artist. Debbie calls this one an apprenticeship. Project Four, called Textured Canvas, involves the creation of faux impasto. And then we come to the final project, Yellow Line*.
Serving as a teaching tool is Debbie’s still life called My Little Corner, composed of objects that are important to her—among them an apple (for the teacher that she is), a plant in a basket (from her uncle’s funeral), a heart-shaped candy dish (indicating a new beau) and, of course, a tin of paintbrushes. The colourful objects and luminous yellow outlines give the piece a tropical look, full of energy, magical, almost like stained glass. As Debbie described the
painting and how the afternoon would unfold, she punctuated her instructions with “Does that make sense?” or “Are you with me?”
Shelagh McDonald was in Debbie’s class for the second time and, although she was working on her own projects in oil, Yellow Line intrigued her enough to participate again this time around. She told me she enjoys working at her own pace alongside like-minded individuals. Debbie, who sends the class copious handouts via email, acted as her advisor in class and in the virtual world.
In this acrylic painting course Debbie aims to teach what is relevant and what will allow student artists to continue on their own. She explained further: “I’ve taken all of my own good and bad experiences with professors, made sure I emulate the good ones and leave out the bad.”
As we began our detailed yellow contour painting, Debbie encouraged us to feel relaxed with the brush. And as we started adding colour intuitively, she reminded us, “Don’t listen to spouses or friends when you’re making art. Always please yourself.”
*adapted from an exercise in Betsy Dillard Stroud's book, Painting From the Inside Out.
Anyone Can Paint & I’ll Prove It! is being offered again starting Sept. 16, 2019.
Details and registration.
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.