Martina Edmondson begins each new piece with an internal investigation.
MARTINA EDMONDSON’S HOME STUDIO is in full production mode for her upcoming show at the Gage Gallery. Titled Nature Bound, her exhibit will present nearly 30 pieces in a variety of media including collage, sculpture, wall-hangings and assemblage.
Projects, ongoing and completed, cover her studio’s walls, shelves and over-sized tables. As we chat, one wired sculpture goes “ping” and slips out of place, causing balls on strings to bounce up and down in the air. “That one’s not quite finished,” says the artist, calmly pinning the wire armature back into place.
Martina Edmondson (Photo by Kate Cino)
Peering closely at her artworks reveals feathers, driftwood, pebbles, animal bones and fragments of glass and metal. Some objects are wound tightly in wire. Hand-made books are expertly stitched, some bound with clasps of wood or bone. Eco printed scrolls and wall hangings glow with warm, textured hues. Fragments of text, unusual images, a yellowed dictionary page collaged with scraps of fabric, all create order out of chaos.
Edmondson is an avid collector of all kinds of treasures, both natural and manufactured. “Whenever I begin a new project,” she says, “I unpack a box and begin to investigate the contents.” The artworks evolve slowly from working with the materials. By reassembling words and objects, new meanings are shaped. On a creative level, the repetition and fine detail work are both meditative and informative for the artist. For instance, her collages utilizing dictionary pages are done intuitively, without regard to meaning, yet on completion, notes Edmondson, can usually be related to a word found somewhere on the page.
An award-winning artist, Edmondson is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design. While living in Toronto, she participated in many solo, group and juried shows in Canada and abroad. The variety, depth and technical excellence of Edmondson’s mixed media artworks are admired by both colleagues and collectors.
This will be Edmondson’s second solo exhibit at Gage Gallery Artist Collective, which she joined a few years ago after moving to Victoria from Toronto. She has enjoyed ongoing support and inspiration from her fellow artists at the gallery.
The artist, sharply tuned to social issues and the collective human experience, often incorporates her musings on such subjects into her work.
In January 2018, O Canada’s lyrics “All Our Son’s Command” became “All of Us Command” after a 38-year struggle. Before the change, in 2017, Edmondson protested the sexism with a multi-faceted paper sculpture for the Canada 150 show at Gage. It was then titled “All of Us.” To celebrate the gender-neutral language correction, she took apart “All of Us” and reassembled the paper pieces into “All of Us—Rebound.” “As a mother of daughters, I am concerned about equality and inclusion,” she says.
“All of Us—Rebound” now resembles a neck ruff. A ruff is a stiff, starched collar, fashionable with Dutch nobility during the 17th century. The artist transformed this traditional symbol of wealth and power to one that symbolically includes all people. Edmondson emigrated from Holland in 1966, and feels passionate about being Canadian. “We are bound together,” she says, “by a common gratitude for being able to live in this country.”
Another work in the upcoming show, “All of Us—Manipulated,” is a stack of eco-printed papers, crumpled then stiffened with starch. The papers appear to float aimlessly, lacking order or purpose. This refers to the artist’s concerns about individual autonomy in the face of political, corporate and media manipulation. “We are not always told the truth about situations and events,” says Edmondson.
“All of Us—Manipulated” by Martina Edmondson
The artist has a lot of experience with eco printing, and does this work in her studio kitchen area. Eco printing (or botanical printing) uses vegetation and found materials to imbue paper with rich earthy tones. Edmondson gathers windfalls like blossoms and leaves, adding cuttings and flowers from the garden, and employs all kinds of papers—oriental and watercolour, as well as various kinds of cloth. These ground materials are treated with a chemical binding agent called mordant to assist the image transfers. Once her collected treasures are laid on the prepared ground, they are tightly bound and put in a dye bath or steaming tray. The artist makes her own dyes from kitchen scraps (onion and avocado skins, rooibos tea and coffee) or plants harvested from nature. She also purchases natural dyes in wood chip form from a company in Vancouver.
“The Present,” a scroll-like wall hanging, will also be in the fall exhibit. The layers of its eco printed papers include Taiwan oriental paper, Japanese Washi paper, and Masa paper. The word “present” means “here and now”—but it can also mean “a gift.” By using this homonym, the artist adds a second poignant association. The dried spray of roses attached to “The Present” was a meaningful gift. “I went back and forth,” she recalls, “trying to decide whether or not to include the flowers and their special memory. Finally, I decided they needed to be added.”
“The Present” by Martina Edmondson
Two of Edmondson’s recent artworks will not be part of the upcoming show—they are travelling across Canada with the 2018 Art of the Book exhibition. This year, the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild celebrated 35 years. The anniversary coincided with a juried exhibition including members’ work. This international travelling exhibition includes entries from Australia, China, the UK, USA, France, Spain and Singapore. Edmondson was honoured in two ways. First, her scroll book Nature’s Bounty was selected for the frontispiece of the catalogue and featured in the Paper Decoration section. Second, her pamphlet of original poems, Tree Poems, received the Colophon Book Arts Award. Jurors praised Tree Poems as an outstanding example of using decorated paper for inner pages as well as covers. The judges also praised the artist’s practice of eco printing.
“Nature's Bounty” by Martina Edmondson
“Tree Poems” by Martina Edmondson
The poems themselves were composed at an artist residency in 2016. This week-long event on Toronto Island with Monica Bodirsky reawakened the artist’s connection with the natural world. “I found my voice,” she says, “and composed these simple words that celebrate trees.”
Many artists at the Gage Gallery exhibit smaller works in its back room. In her series “Unbound,” Edmondson presents eco printed miniature squares in lovely muted earth tones. These small gems can be displayed in group settings or separately, and will be available throughout the exhibit’s run.
Sometimes, the artist’s experiments end with exasperation. Edmondson shows me a hand-made book with a humorous title: Manipulation and the Artist’s Frustration. Spilling out of the open side of the book are many crumpled pieces of brown paper. “These are eco prints that didn’t work out,” she says. “I do try to keep my sense of humour when I’m working.”
So it’s OK to chuckle at Edmondson’s witty inventions and alchemical wizardry. She won’t mind at all.
Nature Bound runs from November 20 to December 8, 2018 at Gage Gallery, 2031 Oak Bay Avenue. The opening artist reception is November 25 from 1-4 pm.
Kate Cino writes about the arts for Victoria publications and her own website www.artopenings.ca. She has an Art History degree and Public Relations certificate from the University of Victoria.