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Kate Cino

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  1. Eunmi Conacher strives to communicate the feelings of a place with energetic brushstrokes and saturated colour. SIDNEY BY THE SEA is an idyllic place on a warm summer day. Out on the Salish Sea, there are kayakers and sailboats, a glimpse of Mount Baker amid puffy white clouds, and off-shore islands. Along the seaside sculpture walk there are green parks and flower gardens. If we walk to the end of Sidney Pier, perhaps a seal will surface or an octopus slither past. The long pier brings us to the Fish Market and Pier Bistro, popular places with locals and tourists. Visual artist Eunmi Conacher captured this vista at Sidney Pier. She worked for three hours on her plein air painting, sometimes with a curious passerby peering over her shoulder. Glancing back and forth, the person might have pondered the difference between the real-life scene and the one unfolding on the easel. This is because imagination rules in Conacher’s 16-by-10-inch, acrylic-on-paper artwork. “Sidney Pier” 16 x 10 inches, acrylic on paper It’s an expressionistic interpretation of Sidney Pier. The composition dances with abstracted shapes and explosive splashes of colour. Loose liquid brushstrokes combine with dry sketchy areas, applied with skill and confidence. The market and bistro buildings are loosely sketched, defined mainly by stark white angular roofs. Thin white lines hint at rickety railings. Tilted upwards and foreshortened, the pier lies parallel to the picture plane. The tilted pier is represented by vertical bands of colour that plunge down like a cascading waterfall. These riotous bands of aqua-blue and green are interwoven with crimson, orange and blue-gray. Saturated colours of red, blue, purple and orange pile one atop the other in a shape at bottom left. A low horizon line suggests a watery pool with white splashes of water. I query Eunmi Conacher about the magical transformations in her piece. Why does she do it? “Because I love to paint!” she says. “I’m energized by the vibrant colours and flowing brushwork as I work.” Conacher creates imaginary landscapes that people can interpret and enjoy. It’s important to her that the feeling of the place is communicated, moreso than the physical reality. She strives to make a painting from the heart that resonates with viewers. Eunmi Conacher with “The Westerlies” 60 x 20 inches, acrylic on panel How does she do it? “My use of colour, form and texture is intuitive,” says Conacher. The artist works with colour values (the light and dark of tones) to define areas of positive and negative space, and add a sense of depth. Her under-paintings are washes of acrylic with predominantly warm tones. On this ground, she sketches out the major shapes with pencil or charcoal. In Sidney Pier, for example, she made the roofs a focal point, suggesting the dazzle of bright sunlight with white paint. At first, she paints quickly, with spontaneous pleasure. When the painting is about one-third completed, she takes a more analytical approach, checking shapes and colours, and making changes. Tweaks continue to happen, until she decides a painting is finished. “A successful composition has no sags or lags,” she says. There should be movement, an emotional charge, and room for the viewers’ imagination to roam freely. Conacher, along with other skilled and accomplished West Coast artists, will be exhibiting works at the Avenue Gallery October 17-27, 2019. The group show is called “Our Coast” and features Gaye Adams, Mary-Jean Butler, Susie Cipolla, Lorna Dockstader, Rob Elphinstone, Maria Josenhans, Brent Lynch and Philip Mix. Gallery owner Heather Wheeler describes these coastal paintings as having “illuminated skies, fog-bound coves, and sun-dappled forests.” Conacher really appreciates the chance to show with other artists from the area. She was thrilled two years ago when Avenue Gallery invited her to join their talented team of contemporary fine artists. “Now my artwork is seen by many people,” she says, “and selling a painting makes everyone happy.” Conacher was born in Seoul, Korea, the youngest of four children. At the time, it was unusual for females to attend university and study abroad. Fortunately, her parents supported her artistic inclinations, and she graduated in Seoul with a Batchelor of Fine Arts degree. Moving to Australia, she attended the University of Sydney, earning a post-graduate Diploma in Visual Arts. More studies followed, during a ceramics research program at Tsukuba University in Japan. The adventurous woman has travelled widely, savouring cities around the globe with her atmospheric “Cityscapes” series. Conacher emigrated to Canada in 1996. She and her partner married in Whistler, and the couple moved to Nanaimo in 2004, then to Sooke in 2016. She became an active member of the Federation of Canadian Artists in 2008, and an associate in 2015. She became an elected member of The Society of Canadian Artists in 2013. While in Nanaimo, Conacher began taking classes at the Old Schoolhouse Arts Centre in Qualicum Beach. Former executive director of the Arts Centre, Corinne James, took note of her promising student. “Eunmi is a very hard worker,” she says, “and I noticed her skills and determination right away.” During her 21-year career, James helped develop the Arts Centre into a vibrant exhibition and teaching space for artists and musicians, retiring in May 2019. She gave Conacher her first solo show within a year, and several more followed. In 2018, a painting by Conacher took second place in a national juried show at the Arts Centre. "Whispering Wind," 36 x 36 inches, acrylic on canvas James praises Conacher’s fresh approach to painting West Coast scenery, using a vibrant palette and impressionistic style. “Her colours evoke a mood,” says James; “she paints a familiar scene from a fresh perspective.” For example, in “Whispering Wind,” the artist captures the awe-inspiring scale of our landscapes, within a three-by-three-foot canvas. There are towering mountains in the distance, a rocky shore line, and tall trees swaying in the breeze. The lively brushwork creates movement in the turbulent sky and wind-blown trees. “The viewer is reminded of a time and place when they felt connected to nature,” says James, who praises the quality and variety of Conacher’s mark-making and brushwork, noting that the artist has worked hard to hone her skills and develop her strengths and now produces paintings of consistent quality. “Many artists hope for happy accidents to produce special pieces,” says James, “but Eunmi has total control, and knows exactly what she is doing.” Conacher is happy to pass on her skills, and offers sold-out workshops several times a year. Her 2019 weekend workshop at Metchosin summer school (MISSA) was titled “Letting it Go! Abstract Painting.” Helping artists find and express their unique voice and vision is her mission. She hopes to teach at Coast Collective this fall and winter. Her painting “First Glance” received top honours at the 2019 juried “Love Divine” show, co-sponsored by Coast Collective and the West Shore Arts Council. This loosely-painted figural painting of a dancing couple conveys a moment of powerful emotion. Dramatic shifts of dark to light, a lively swirl of brushwork, and saturated colours bring the passionate scene to life. Life, with all its emotional overtones and myriad experiences, continues to intrigue and inspire the brushwork of Eunmi Conacher. See paintings by Eunmi Conacher and other West Coast artists in the exhibit “Our Coast” at Avenue Gallery, October 17-27, 2019, 2184 Oak Bay Avenue, 250-598-2184, www.theavenuegallery.com. Kate Cino holds a History of Art degree from the University of Victoria. Her writing about the arts can also be found at www.artopenings.ca.
  2. This Coast Salish artist combines traditional training with self-directed studies in mathematics, Buddhism and Islamic art. INDIGENOUS ARTIST DYLAN THOMAS is flying high this summer. Fluttering in the breeze above Victoria’s busy streets are his prize-winning banner series. These four unique images tell traditional stories about the Lekwungen People, including about the salmon cycle and Thomas’ great grandmother, who was one of the last Lekwungen People born in the Old Songhees Village. At Victoria City Hall, his spectacular black-and-white geometric abstraction, “Net Work,” wraps around the circular staircase. And, later this summer, at Alcheringa Gallery and Brentwood Bay Resort, his work will be shown in a group exhibition of 20 Northwest Coast artists. “Surfers Paradise: Northwest Coast Surfboards” will run from August 10 to September 21. Anyone watching the kitesurfers twirl and dance in the air at Dallas Road can attest to the thrill of riding the waves. “Surfers Paradise” is a dramatic extension of boarding’s daring and competitive culture. Each artist has the same canvas to work on: a surfboard made from Vancouver Island western red cedar. On this canvas, each artist defines their relationship to surfing—or more generally, moving across the water. First Nation territories on Canada’s west coast have intimate connections with the ocean. Thomas works on a piece for “Surfers Paradise: Northwest Coast Surfboards” (Photo by Kate Cino) Alcheringa’s new owner and director Mark Loria says: “I believe the artists in this exhibition will bring their own understandings of important cultural, historical, and personal connections with our coastline.” The exhibit will also, he says, likely shed “a light on the colonization of contemporary surfing culture—full of competition, bravado, and corporate branding…[it will] remind us of the cultural, meditative, and practical significance of the indigenous invention of ‘riding and travelling the waves.’” Dylan Thomas looks forward to the group show at Alcheringa. “It’s a chance to enjoy the camaraderie,” he says, “and interact with my peers.” The concept of the show is interesting, explains Thomas, because it uses a traditional medium in new ways. While respecting his heritage, he can explore a contemporary sport. Red cedar is sacred to Indigenous peoples. Made into vessels, cedar forges a conduit between water and traveller. For example, when making a functional paddle, areas touched by the paddler’s hands are left unpainted. Gripping the raw wood gives a stronger connection. Thomas received this teaching from one of his mentors, Delmore Johnny. Qwul’thilum (Dylan Thomas) is a Coast Salish artist from the Lyackson First Nation of Valdes Island. Born in Victoria in 1986, he learned his traditional culture from many sources. Thomas also studied creative writing at the University of Victoria. An avid researcher, he views historic Salish treasures in museum databases all around the world. His detailed examination of Coast Salish iconography includes the study of pre-history and other cultures. Thomas reveres Coast Salish artists like Stan Greene (b. 1952) and Susan Point (b. 1953) who revived the tradition in many mediums. Peer mentors like lessLIE and Rande Cook have been invaluable to the artist as well. As an even younger, emerging artist, Thomas believed that each new artwork required a grand creative vision. Rande Cook brought him back to Earth, saying, “Don’t think too big, it’s all in the details.” Cook advised his apprentice to learn and apply the nuances of the Northwest Coast aesthetics. Simple rules, like, when creating a composition, it's important to keep the weight balanced. If a line turns one way, then add another for counterbalance. “Good designs develop in a natural and organic way,” says the artist. Thomas is grateful to Elaine Monds, the original owner of Alcheringa, who purchased his prints and jewellery in the early days. “You get so much rejection as a young artist,” he says. “Small successes help keep you going.” The artist’s first big break came in 2013. He was included in “Urban Thunderbirds: Ravens in a Material World” which opened at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria that November. Thomas shared exhibition space with Fran Dick, Rande Cook, and LessLIE. In 2016, Thomas had a solo exhibition at Alcheringa titled “Sacred Geometry.” These artworks moved beyond the well-known motifs of Coast Salish art: trigons, crescents, ovals and circles. To build the images, Thomas used mathematical principles instead of traditional symbols. He used only straight lines and circles. “I decided to let my intuitions about geometric beauty guide every creative decision,” he says. Instead of arranging animals in a puzzle-like formation, his new patterns built themselves. He was surprised and delighted to see the remarkable formations taking shape. Within a month of starting his experiments, a range of unique designs emerged. He called his new creative venture “Sacred Geometry.” Sacred geometry emerged from the artist’s study of Coast Salish practices. However, while researching those, he became interested in other art forms, including the Tibetan mandala and Islamic tessellations. Mandalas represent the cosmos in Buddhist and Hindu cultures, and are tools for meditation. The symmetrical mandala design often includes a circle enclosed by a square, with four “gates.” Tessellations are repeatable patterns consisting of a series of identical shapes. Muslim artists excel at decorating rugs, ceramics and architecture with these intricate arrangements. That Thomas thinks deeply about art is evident in his artist's statement for the Sacred Geometry exhibit. “As I continue my studies of visual art, it seems as though the more I learn about aesthetics (i.e. the nuanced details create and emphasize beauty), the less I intellectually understand the concept; this is likely because beauty doesn’t operate on the intellect and is, by nature, not rational. But it wouldn’t be appropriate to call beauty irrational either. A far more accurate term, one used by the philosopher Ken Wilber, is trans-rational, because it seems to operate on something much deeper than the intellect, what some might call the heart or soul or spirit.” A visit to Alcheringa Gallery reveals a number of works by Thomas (besides the surfboard to be on exhibit in August), each demonstrating his unique philosophical approach. “Sun and Stone,” for instance, is sand-blasted yellow cedar painted with acrylic using shapes and patterns from both Tibetan and Coast Salish styles. The palette is warm, using pigments found in nature, traditional red and black, along with pastel blue augmenting the woodgrain background. The basic shape is similar to a mandala, being a circle surrounded by a square, with four “gates” touching the edges. The interconnected spirals suggest a five-petal flower shape, or five-pointed star like a pentagram. The number five is believed to have regenerative and transformative power. Spirals carved in stone are found on some historic spindle whorls. The artist says he liked the juxtaposition of warm sunlight illuminating cold stone. “Sun and Stone” by Dylan Thomas, 24 x 24 inches, yellow cedar, acrylic paint “Colours of Spring” introduces a new palette, using pastel tones of blue, purple and pink. Thomas appreciates how the softer shades augment the shapes in his new geometric paintings. The artist wanted a change from using saturated tones of red and black. He experimented with gouache, an opaque medium which is thicker than watercolour. But is was acrylics that delivered the warm complementary tones in “Colours of Spring.” The patterns in this work come from intertwining circles of various sizes and form a tessellation. This came as a revelation to the artist, referencing his favourite Islamic art form. It’s also interesting to see how the trigon shape has reappeared in the new paintings. "Colours of Spring" by Dylan Thomas, 48 x 24 inches, acrylic on canvas A dramatic acrylic painting called “Serpent Circle” on a 36-inch circular canvas echoes a drum shape. Imagery for “Serpent Circle” comes from rattles and spindle whorls found in museum databases. Thomas made subtle alterations to the iconography, changing, for instance, the central humanoid face to a moon motif. A double-headed serpent connects at the top of the drum. The serpent legend comes from the Cowichan area, and the teaching encourages bravery in the face of great danger. Serpent Circle (Wolf and Moon), by Dylan Thomas 36-inch diameter x 2.5-inch depth, acrylic on canvas Finally, the acrylic painting “Whale Spirits” has a carved silver pendant in the centre. Two whales are breaching, but pinned between a boundary, perhaps feeling the stress of life in our changing oceans. The carved silver pendant reminds the artist of his early days designing jewellery with mentor Delmore Johnny. It adds a sense of circular completion to his artistic journey so far. His path continues in new directions as he pursues the wonders of sacred geometry. “I have discovered a new creative world space,” he says, “that I can return to over the years.” And that will, no doubt, be a rich and rewarding road to travel for this talented and inquisitive artist. “Whale Spirits” by Dylan Thomas, 24 x 24 inches, acrylic on canvas Surfers Paradise: Northwest Coast Surfboards runs from August 10 to September 21, Alcheringa Gallery, 621 Fort Street, 250-383-8224, www.alcheringa-gallery.com. Other artists exhibiting include Coast Salish artists Maynard Johnny, Margaret August, Chris Paul, Chazz Elliott, Andrew Dexel, Bear Horne; Kwakwaka’wakw artists Chris Lines, Francis Dick, Jason Hunt, Trevor Hunt; Haida artists Ernest Swanson, Corey Bulpitt, Roger Smith; Heiltsuk artist KC Hall; Wulkinuxv artist Wuuhlu (Bracken Corlett); Nuxalk artist Nusmata (Jarrod Saunders); Gitxsan/Cree artist Trevor Husband; and Tlingit artist Dean Heron. Kate Cino holds a History of Art degree from the University of Victoria. Her writing about the arts can also be found at www.artopenings.ca.
  3. The artist, an immigrant from Iraq, proves the creative spirit can rise above the brutal ugliness of war. Hashim Hannoon’s painting “Colourful Seaside” looks a lot like Victoria. But it could be elsewhere. Summer is in full swing in this impressionistic vista of a tourist town. Multicoloured umbrellas dot the causeway; sail boats bob in blue water. Cheerful flags flutter above a palatial hotel wrapped in misty colours of mauve and ochre. A bright red tour bus toots along the roadway. There is joy in the zingy palette of reds and yellows, and peaceful shelter in cool patches of emerald green. This idyllic painting is not unusual, but knowing the history of the artist, to me it appears miraculous. Hashim Hannoon was born in a Basrah, Iraq, a shipping centre located on a river in southern Iraq, close to the Persian Gulf. In 1979 the artist was 22, a recent graduate from the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad. That year he received a Golden Sail Award for work shown in the Fourth Kuwait Biennial. The future looked bright. Basrah was a beautiful bustling city with a network of freshwater canals and walkways along the river. One year later, in 1980, war erupted between Iran and Iraq. Basrah’s strategic position near shipping lanes caused it to come under missile fire and chemical warfare attacks. Hashim Hanoon with his painting "City Colours" (48 x 48 inches, acrylic on canvas) The emotional toll of Basrah’s bombardments on the artist’s psyche are seen in many of his earlier artworks. Explosions, fire and fragments rip across canvases; burlap and distressed surfaces form the grounds. The burlap fabric refers to the sandbags piled near roadsides and buildings to buffer attacks and shield civilians. Between 1980 and 1988 thousands of people on both sides lost their lives and the entire region destabilized. “I witnessed the war during my twenties,” says Hannoon, “therefore the impact of the conflict manifested in my paintings for a long time.” In spite of the war, Hannoon continued to produce art and attend various exhibitions in Baghdad, Turkey and Yemen. Medals and awards also continued for the talented artist throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1999, he completed a Bachelor of Sculpture at the College of Fine Arts in Baghdad. His rough-hewn expressive figural pieces are cast in bronze. In 2007, he produced a series of pen-and-ink drawings included in a major exhibition at the O. Gallery in Saudi Arabia. I ask the artist how it was possible for him to continue to be so productive. “I managed to keep doing art because this is my profession and how I express my feelings,” he says. He declines further comment on the war because it brings back sad memories. In 1999, Hannoon and family moved to Jordan. In December 2008 they moved to Winnipeg, and two years later to Vancouver. In June, Victoria’s Madrona Gallery will feature Hannoon’s “City Life” exhibit. “Colour is paramount in Hashim Hannoon’s artwork,” says gallery owner Michael Warren. “Shapes and patterns define the imaginative spaces he creates for viewers.” In 2016, Madrona Gallery featured Hannoon in a solo show. People were refreshed by his palette and technique, and sales were brisk. “The artist chooses to look at the good side of humanity,” says Warren, “in spite of past experiences.” "August" 30 x 30 inches, acrylic on canvas Landing in Winnipeg in the middle of winter proved a chilly welcome for the family. Hannoon records his experiences in the painting “Icy Roads.” A subdued palette of grey-brown predominates the canvas. The spidery trunks of leafless trees flank the white icy roadways. A textured background suggests drifts of snow and a windblown sky. Looking closely, there are glimmers of gold leaf in the sky, and silver leaf shines on the icy roadway. Welcome dashes of red, yellow, lime and cinnamon vitalize the canvas. “Adding colours adds depth to the artwork,” says Hannoon. “I often use gold and silver leaf to add light and beauty to my work.” Over his long career, Hannoon has experimented with many materials and methods. He often uses mixed media to build a rough ground for his paintings. “Every surface and technique provides a different sensation and outcome,” he says. Works completed for the show at Madrona Gallery include acrylic on canvas, paper, and board. “Wonderful World” is a 24-by-20-inch acrylic painting on paper. The placement of colour fields in a puzzle- like formation makes a lively abstraction. A rainbow of hues, arranged with skill and confidence, move our eyes around the composition. Hannoon deftly uses shape and colour to create emotional impact and narrative content. The artist explains his exceptional abilities with a few simple words: “When I add well-mixed shape and colour masses, this brings a sense of comfort and enjoyment, allowing me to access happy childhood memories. Colourful paintings also portray a hopeful future.” "Wonderful World" 24.5 x 19.5 inches, acrylic on paper A noted colourist, he uses tints of the same colour to enrich certain areas. As the tints lighten, the softer colours appear to recede, adding the illusion of depth. For example, the strong royal blue in one area gradually fades to a subtle pastel hue. This multi-tinted blue area was augmented with linework after the painting was completed. As the lines move closer together, a three-dimensional quality emerges. The exhibition also includes a few 16-by-16-inch acrylic-on-board artworks. In “Blue Horizon” we see three children playing in a snowy landscape. The two larger figures are well defined by bright orange clothing. One figure shapes snow (defined by silver foil) and the middle figure throws a snowball. Humour and warmth give this scene a charming quality. While researching this article, I looked at many colour plates by Hannoon detailing his war experiences. The emotional impact of seeing the explosive chaos of bodies and buildings, blown apart by war, brought me to tears. That’s why I feel relieved and happy to see these intact figures, robust and full of life, enjoying a snowy day in Canada. “Yes,” agrees Hannoon. “Life experiences, whether happy or sad, can be portrayed in artworks. My thoughts and feelings are all within the paintings.” The horizon line in this painting appears to be pulled along by a perky blue bird. Perhaps it is the mythical Bluebird of Happiness? For Hannoon and his family, that would be a welcome sight. Hashim Hannoon's exhibit “City Life” runs June 8-28 at Madrona Gallery, 606 View Street, 250-380-4660, www.madronagallery.com. An opening reception with the artist is on Saturday, June 8, 1-4pm. Kate Cino holds a History in Art degree from University of Victoria. Her writing about the arts can also be found at www.artopenings.ca.
  4. Jeanette Sirois’ large-scale works are done with patience and precision in pencil crayon. Visual artist Jeanette Sirois lives at the north end of Salt Spring Island. When I visit her studio in early January 2019, signs of damage from a recent windstorm are everywhere. Heading north on the narrow winding road, roots and stumps of trees litter the ditches, remnants of trees blown down by the devastating storm. The toppled trees took down hydro and cable lines, isolating islanders in their cold, dark homes. Today, on North End Road, repair vehicles are abundant and flaggers slow the traffic. Cars creep past workers elevated in buckets, trimming tangled branches with chain saws. Giant wooden spools wrapped in black wire dot the ditches. Cascades of hydro wires drape from newly installed poles. An ominous “Road Flooded Ahead” sign leads to a low-lying area, now passable, thanks to a freshly dug trench. Staring into the trench is a tired-looking labourer, checking the water level as if pondering what to do next. When I finally arrive at Studio 22 FortyNine, both Sirois and I are relieved and happy. “It was a disaster zone,” Sirois explains. “Many of the roads were impassable, and trees and branches littered every pathway.” Her main memory of the power outage was “it was very boring.” Boring because of the difficulty of working in a cold, dark studio. This industrious artist thrives on 10-hour days, six days a week. “My heart is art,” she says. Creating bountiful botanicals takes her to a place of calmness, like taking a deep breath. Self-portrait of Jeanette Sirois: “Bad hair day” 20 x 30 inches, mixed media Standing one foot away from her drawings, she interprets all the fine markings the pencil crayons produce, creating more or less texture with her drawing tools. Visitors to West End Gallery this spring and summer can share in the visual wonder of her artworks. Sirois has completed a series of large-scale botanicals to delight the eye and inspire the imagination. We all marvel at the soft beauty of blossoms. But rarely do we get a chance to investigate their subtle flowing planes and frilly textures at close range. Works like “Bearded Alcazar Iris,” at 47 by 35 inches, are monumental in size. The gradations of luscious colour and meticulous detail make the blossoms appear freshly alive and three-dimensional. Each petal is clearly defined by a myriad of tiny lines. Colour tones evolve slowly from deep purple tinged with cerulean blue to a golden mauve. Each fold and wrinkle on the blossoms are clearly articulated with repetitive strokes of coloured pencil. Coloured pencil? Yes! “Bearded Alcazar Iris #1” by Jeanette Sirois, 47 x 35 inches, colour pencil on paper on cradled board Sirois received her BFA from Concordia University in Montreal. She has art teacher certification and a Masters of Education from the University of British Columbia. At university, the artist experimented with many media including painting, print-making, and ceramics. Nowhere along her education journey did Sirois complete assignments in coloured pencil. “Coloured pencil is not a traditional medium used in fine art production,” she admits. The artist now belongs to a small group of artists worldwide who are changing that tradition. She appreciates the precision and control offered by the fine-tipped pencils. The coloured pencils and paper she uses are very high quality. Her Swiss-made pencils, called Luminance, are guaranteed light-fast for 100 years. One pencil costs six dollars. Another brand called Polychromos has a range of 120 vibrant colours, and promises break-resistant tips and non-smudge dependability. The pencils have an oil-and-wax base which assists with the blending of colours. “I go over each section about 10 times,” explains the artist. A paint brush with solvents is sometimes used to push the pigments into the tooth of the paper. The 100 percent cotton, acid-free paper absorbs the pigment, giving a smooth finish. “Working in such large formats is not for the faint hearted,” Sirois cautions. Each floral drawing takes 250-300 hours to complete. “Hyacinth” by Jeanette Sirois, 47 by 35 inches, coloured pencil on paper on cradled board Sometimes one aspect of the drawing just isn’t working, and nothing can be done. In a moment of exasperation, she’ll grab her purple pen and scribble wildly across the artwork. At times like these, the frustration of losing so much time and costly materials can be overwhelming. “But I don’t stay upset for long,” says the determined artist. “The next day I’m back at the easel, ready to move on.” In fact, the work helps keep her calm in this crazy world. Sirois believes we are all affected by global warming and the pace of life. She uses her art practice to focus and address these concerns. Being mindful offers her awareness, insights and balance. These days, finding balance in her life means expanding her clientele. She is happy to be represented in Victoria by West End Gallery. “Tulips” (detail) by Jeanette Sirois, 26 x 57 inches, coloured pencil on paper on cradled board As well as fantastic florals, Sirois draws portraits of people, often focusing on faces. Several of these award-winning portraits reside in the collection of the Surrey Art Gallery. In 2014, the artist received two public art awards: one from Vancouver and one from Seattle. Vancouver’s public installation featured four oversize (4x6 feet) posters mounted on the exteriors of 20 bus shelters. The four mixed-race faces have tattoo-like writing focusing on issues of reconciliation. In Seattle, the artist used the same faces re-designed with bright colour blocks and multi-directional arrows. Mounted on the inside of a bus shelter, “Going Places” will be visible for ten years. “Ranunculus Against Black” by Jeanette Sirois, 34 x 47 inches, coloured pencil on paper on cradled board Sirois finds similarities between her botanical drawings and people portraits. Both are ambitious in scale and offer a richly complex landscape. However, there is one difference: “Not everyone wants to look at a well-lived human face,” she says, “but we all love flowers, colour and texture.” Before beginning a floral portrait, the artist completes many hours of research. She takes hundreds of photos of the subject, then selects according to clarity and composition. Sometimes she alters or intensifies colours with a computer program. Two images can be amalgamated, or parts removed and enhanced. Sirois uses a digital camera device secured at eye level to ensure accurate reproduction of details. To connect with community, Sirois teaches botanical drawing at the Salt Spring Island Parks and Recreation Centre in Ganges. She knows that rendering a bird or animal in three dimensions requires careful observation. “Many people are born with drawing skills,” she says, “but education and practice make them shine.” The artist won her first award at age five and hasn’t stopped since. An Interior Architecture degree honed her technical and design skills. Sirois and her partner spent most of 2015 designing and building their house and studio space on Salt Spring Island. After a tour of their lovely home and spacious studio, I wonder if there’s anything this talented woman can’t do. Probably nothing—as long as the power stays on. Jeanette Sirois’ works can be viewed at the West End Gallery, 1203 Broad Street, 250-388-0009, www.westendgalleryltd.com. Kate Cino’s writing about the arts can also be found at artopenings.ca.
  5. This Anglo-Japanese artist illustrates the fascinating blend of cultural themes at play in the 1940s in Victoria. ELIZABETH YEEND DUER is following her cousin Katharine Maltwood through the woods. It’s a breezy March morning in 1941. The trail meanders across Katharine’s hilltop property overlooking Cordova Bay. They pass by dappled groves of wildflowers and blossoming trees. Elizabeth is listening intently to her cousin, trying to pick up each word about “their project.” Every few steps, Katharine whirls around and gestures in the air with her walking stick. “With your painting skills we can document every flower and tree in the whole area,” she says. “I’m sure local shops would be happy to sell your cards, and I’ll contact Hallmark about your designs.” These two mature women on a painting excursion are a study in contrasts. Katharine, 63, overflows with ideas and energy; Elizabeth, 52, moves along like a quiet stream. Elizabeth Yeend Duer in kimono, circa 1920s Katharine reminds her cousin about an upcoming exhibition. “My two sculptures are ready for the Island Arts and Crafts show,” she says. “and you could enter some originals.” Katharine resumes their hunt for one of her favourite trees, an ancient madrona that towers over a steep ocean cliff. When found, Katharine runs her hands over the smooth green trunk speckled with curling red bark. “Did you know the madrona tree is sacred to the local Indians?” asks Katharine. “These trees saved them during the great flood.” Katharine snaps open her camp stool and positions herself so she can see the sparkling ocean and Mount Baker beyond. In her sketch book, she begins a series of sharp, flowing gestures with her pencil. Elizabeth settles down to observe the lower branch of the arbutus showing a spray of white flowers. She closes her eyes and takes a breath. In her mind, Elizabeth sees her beloved teacher, Atomi Gyokusho, kneeling in front of a fuchsia-coloured spray of cherry blossoms. Elizabeth recalls the exact angle of Atomi’s brush, the single delicate strokes building up the fragile blooms, bringing them to life in traditional Nihonga style. This memory calms her and sweeps away her constant worries. The rumblings of a world at war recede. Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and British father, Elizabeth has always known racism, the feeling of being an outsider. Now she is an outsider in Canada, far from home and family. She managed to exit Japan in 1940, using her British passport, and find refuge with her cousin in Victoria. But her siblings remain in Japan, and she fears for their safety due to their British connections. (Indeed they will soon be imprisoned in Japan.) While in Canada, she is suspect for having Japanese heritage. When the contradictions of her life overwhelm, Elizabeth finds strength and solace in her art practice. She examines the arbutus closely, and summons up her skills. First she paints the stem, carefully placed on the 8-inch by 10-inch silk board to create a balanced vertical composition. Next she adds the green leaves, taking care to note the mottled texture, small holes and imperfections. Nature as it is. The small white blossoms, shaped like minuscule jugs, take shape at the end of the curving stem. “Arbutus Menziesii Madrona” by Elizabeth Yeend Duer (March 1941) watercolour, silk on board On outings like these, circa 1941, Duer created over 100 accurate watercolours of the local plants and trees, each documented as to the exact date it was in bloom and the plant name and species. Believed commissioned by Katharine Maltwood, 50 of these paintings are now in the Maltwood Collection. The series is presented in an important show at the Legacy Gallery called Translations: The Art and Life of Elizabeth Yeend Duer—Gyokusho, January 12 to April 6, 2019. Translations showcases the movement of ideas, aesthetics, politics, and people between England, Japan, and Victoria by looking at the life and work of Duer. Co-curator Carolyn Butler Palmer initiated the project as Legacy Chair, the academic responsible for bringing forward Michael Williams’ vision for contemporary arts of the Pacific Northwest. “This is an unexpected story,” says Butler. “We were surprised to find a person with Japanese heritage painting local wild flowers and exhibiting her work at this time in history.” Butler is referring to the forced relocation of Japanese Canadians following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941. The attack was followed by the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong on December 18, resulting in the death or capture of 2,000 Canadian soldiers. In January of 1942, the federal government designated all coastal land in BC within 100 miles of the coast as “protected,” and forced adult males to leave the area. Property and possessions were seized. In March 1942, a second edict forced all people of Japanese origin to leave the protected area. Duer managed to escape internment due to her British citizenship, but at least 21,000 people were confined in cramped, unsafe housing and stripped of their human rights. Various discriminatory policies continued after the war. In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney finally offered an apology and symbolic reimbursements. “Kamass Camassia quamash; Camas” by Elizabeth Yeend Duer (April 1941), watercolour, silk on board How do these gentle, meticulously-detailed watercolour paintings coincide in time and place with such chaos and hatred? A symposium on January 19, 2019 will address the issues. The event will welcome members of the Japanese community who experienced internment, as well as academics in the field. Guests will include curator Haema Sivanesen from the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and renowned ethnobotanist Dr Nancy Turner. Turner’s research into culturally important plants of the WSÁNEĆ (Saanich) people was published in 2012. Looking closely at Duer’s arbutus painting, Turner tells me, “Her attention to botanical detail is remarkable. The creamy white flowers are perfectly shaped, and a new greenish twig emerges from a broken red stem.” Turner confirms the arbutus tree (Arbutus menziesii) is sacred to the WSÁNEĆ. Arbutus is never used as firewood. “Camas” is the signature painting of the Translations exhibition. There are two species of edible blue camas in our region. Duer’s details clearly define this plant as the common variety (it’s titled “Kamas Camassia quamash”). Camas was an important source of food and commerce for the WSÁNEĆ people. In the painting, the flowers are slightly asymmetrical and one petal is separate and points down. “Few people would have noticed this defining feature,” says Turner. Also, she notes, the structure of the flowering stems and the purple blue hues are carefully copied. Duer entered “Skunk Cabbage” in the 1941 Island Arts and Craft Society show. This cheerful painting must have been a crowd pleaser. As our wetlands are drained, skunk cabbage has become less common. Turner notices the vivid yellow colour of the flowers, and smooth waxy texture of the opening leaves in Duer’s artwork. “Even the reddish bracts below the leaves are included,” says the ethnobotanist. Called “swamp lantern” by some, the plant is used by Saanich peoples as a natural waxed paper. Cooked berries can be spread to dry on the leaves. While the public can see Duer’s paintings during regular hours, Legacy Gallery also invites the public to experience Translations via a March event hosted by Cindy Mochizuki. (March 8, 4-8pm and March 9, 11am-3pm). The Vancouver-based artist reimagines historical events using a combination of fact and fiction, multi-media installation, and community engagement. Several members of her own family experienced internment. Mochizuki honours the traditional medium of Nihonga with an embroidery style called Bunka Shishu. Gallery visitors are invited to try the punch needle technique while listening to tape recordings of Japanese women. As well as bird and flower motifs, expect some visual entanglements to emerge that inform the group’s artwork. Our shared history holds many entanglements. Translations encourages us to view past events through various viewpoints and cultural lenses. This builds understanding and compassion, key ingredients for envisioning a kinder, more inclusive society. Translations runs from January 12 to April 6, 2019 at the Legacy Gallery, 630 Yates St, Victoria. It is open 10am-4pm Wednesdays through Saturdays. Opening with Curator Talk, February 2, 2pm. 250-721-6562, uvac.uvic.ca Kate Cino writes about the arts for Victoria publications and her own website, artopenings.ca. She has an Art History degree and Public Relations certificate from the University of Victoria.
  6. 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.
  7. Brent Lynch aims to capture fleeting moments of special grace. LOOKING AT “Spirit in the Sky” by Brent Lynch puts the viewer in a magnificent setting. The painting, a diptych, is large, four by eight feet, and the vista shows Long Beach near Tofino. The sun is setting over the Pacific Ocean. A slow swell moves across the calm sea. Golden light from the setting sun reflects in the glassy ocean and catches fire in the clouds. Narrow bands of showers skirt the horizon. Their vertical lines lift our eyes into the swirling blue above. The big sky is turbulent, alive with stormy colours and twisted cloud shapes. This eerie expanse of blue-green infinity roils with winged creatures, Olympian gods and dragons descending. The mysterious celestial show captures our attention and we wonder: Will the clouds coalesce into thunderheads and spawn great sheets of lightning? Or perhaps sweep our way, pelting us with wind and rain? It’s easy to understand why “Spirit in the Sky” brings to mind the lyrics of Norman Greenbaum’s 1970 hit song: “Going up to the spirit in the sky, that’s where I’m gonna go when I die...” “Spirit in the Sky” by Brent Lynch, 48 x 96 inches, acrylic on canvas Lynch found himself humming tunes and recalling poems as he painted his recent series Under the Big Sky, on exhibit in Victoria in October. The memories and emotions kindled by these songs and poetic words worked their way into the paintings. “A good painting is like a metaphor,” he says, “it suggests a link to something else, but leaves the meaning totally open.” At 65, Lynch’s formative years were the late 1960s and early ’70s. Many of the songs that inspired Lynch came from this era. Others came from classical themes and literature, including fantasies and fugues by JS Bach, poetry by William Blake, and writings by Dylan Thomas. Lynch was born in Vancouver and spent his adolescence in Ladner, a small fishing and farming community on the banks of the Fraser River. His successful career began in the 1970s. He studied printmaking, painting and life drawing at St. Martin’s School of Fine Art in England. During an exchange week at Bath School of Fine Arts, he discovered the applied arts program. “After that I never looked back,” he says. “I knew this was what I wanted to do.” Brent Lynch Using images to tell stories allowed him to make a living as an illustrator. As a busy freelancer in the mid-’70s, Lynch worked for an advertising agency in London, England. Back in Canada, his clients included the Vancouver Sun, where he illustrated short stories with hand-painted sketches. “I quickly learned how to cope with deadline pressures,” he says. His award-winning designs included book illustrations and posters for corporate and cultural events. Lynch now focuses his impressive skills on fine art painting. A popular instructor at workshops, one of the first things he tells his students is: “What you don’t see in a painting is the most important part.” As a storyteller, he allows colour, texture and form to evoke emotions and memories in the viewer. “A good painting has to stand on its own,” he says, “and burn a pathway into your psyche.” Large paintings like “Spirit in the Sky” are labour-intensive undertakings. He begins by sketching out the composition with a brush. “In a successful painting, all the design elements are balanced,” he explains. “It’s an essential skill for artists to learn.” Large-scale skyscapes require careful placements of line, shape and form. The initial sketch takes a few hours, whereas completing the painting takes a few months. “I have to live with them a while,” he says, “to fine-tune the tints, tones and colour relationships.” Lynch employs a variety of brushwork. Dry strokes with hard edges define movement and turbulence in the cloud patterns. Soft-edged horizontal strokes suggest the liquid feel of water. The artist favours oil paint for the organic liveliness of the medium. Oils promote more spontaneity than acrylics, and the longer drying time suits Lynch’s artistic process. “Wet-on-wet offers all kinds of possibilities and effects,” he says. “Spirit in the Sky” evolved from a smaller diptych, each panel measuring 12 by 12 inches. These en plein air panels are painted outdoors, completed in under one hour. The aim is to capture the fleeting moments of special grace that inspired the artwork. “Mother Nature is always changing and moving along,” he says, “so each minute is precious.” Lynch loves to be outside and to explore new places. His home in Nanoose Bay looks out on the beautiful Ballenas Island group, and his bench out back is always waiting. Lynch’s October exhibition at The Avenue Gallery includes 24 framed plein air paintings, each 12 by 12 inches. Larger artworks inspired by these plein air gems complete the exhibition. For plein air work, the artist uses a lightweight outdoor painting kit. It comes stocked with basic oil colours: cadmium red, cadmium yellow, ultramarine blue, raw umber, black and white. From these primaries, all other colours can be mixed. While painting “Tyger Tyger,” the artist invoked the poetry of William Blake. The poem “Tyger” first appeared in Songs of Innocence and Experience, a 1789 collection of original etchings and text by Blake. The poem’s opening lines are famous: “Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” “Tyger Tyger” 12 x 12 inches, oil on prepared board To illustrate the fiery sunset, the artist had to make some quick drawing decisions. His choice of shapes and textures allow him to capture the drama of the setting sun. To make the window of light jump forward, yellow and red predominate. The same hues highlight the gray-blue clouds, painted with loose gestural brushwork. An ethereal green sky emerges from smoothly blended red and yellow. The artist enjoys the challenges and uncertainty of plein air painting. “Successful ones kind of paint themselves,” he says. “You just get out of the way. Other times you bring home a mess. That’s what makes plein air work so exciting.” The artist is forthcoming about the dynamics of his artistic temperament. “My heritage is Irish,” he says. “I have an acceptance of the dark and the light. That’s just the way it is. Everything is in flux and constantly changing.” His Catholic upbringing instilled a reverence for visual symbolism. On good days he’s thankful the images and visions come easily; on bad days he wonders why and waits for better times. At age 21, Lynch explored the great museums and galleries of Europe. The photos of paintings he’d seen in books came alive. “Walking into a room with an 18-foot-long Jackson Pollock is a total sensory experience,” he says. “You need to view the original to understand the artist’s intention.” Viewing a Rembrandt up close, he suddenly understood why the “red and gold guy” is one of the world’s best painters. For this artist, great art vibrates with molecular energy and radiates a powerful force field. Painting large under a big sky is one way to capture this experience and stay connected to the natural world. “Stack in Rainstorm” 48 x 48 inches, oil on canvas Under The Big Sky, featuring paintings by Brent Lynch, runs at The Avenue Gallery at 2184 Oak Bay Avenue, October 11-21, with an artist’s reception on Saturday, October 13, 1–3pm. 250-598-2184, www.theavenuegallery.com. Kate Cino writes about the arts for Victoria publications and her own website www.artopenings.ca. She has a History in Art degree and Public Relations certificate from the University of Victoria.
  8. There’s a lot happening in Grant Leier’s bursting-with-colour paintings. ARTISTS AND PARTNERS Grant Leier and Nixie Barton live in Nanaimo. Their home on a hill resembles a small castle and certainly holds many treasures. Artwork and wondrous paraphernalia, collected over their 30-year relationship and careers as full-time professional artists, enliven each room. In 2015, the couple received an Excellence in Culture Award from the City of Nanaimo, recognizing their community involvement and national reputations as exhibiting artists in North America. In 2005, The Romance Continues, an illustrated hardcover book by Goody Niosi, featured their art and gardens and offered a wealth of details about the couple’s exceptional artistic journey. During July and August the public can view a number of Grant Leier’s paintings at Victoria’s West End Gallery. His education in graphic and textile design is evident in these large—five-foot square—cheerful multi-coloured artworks. Colour and texture are woven together in an eye-catching assortment of patterns and shapes, and they each provide an astonishing amount of visual information. “I incorporate imagery from many sources, and then reinvent and reposition,” says Leier. Grant Leier It’s no wonder Leier’s paintings are enduring favourites with collectors. Look closely at “Quilt” and you might see: a Chinese vase sprouting flowers, a burgundy crow, a pink camel, sparrows on the wing, a baby blue warthog and a polka dot horse. By overlapping the shapes and patterns, Leier creates a sense of depth. Textural interest is added by a variety of detailed brushwork. Long sweeping strokes define the flower petals, meticulous hand-drawn circles radiate outward, and spirals swirl. Completing a large painting like “Quilt” takes hundreds of hours. “It’s a good thing I love my work,” says Leier. He’s in the studio at 5am each morning, and often paints eight hours a day, six days a week—happily. Always working towards the next deadline, the artist stays on track about delivery dates to galleries. Leier believes that discipline and longevity are important for building a career, noting, “it takes stamina and determination to be a professional artist.” When mentoring emerging artists, he urges them not to be precious about their work, and to keep moving along with new ideas and images. Connecting up with commercial galleries in a small country like Canada is very important. “All the dealers know each other,” he says, “so they’ll know about you.” "Quilt" by Grant Leier, 60 x 60 inches, acrylic on canvas "Display Turquoise" by Grant Leier, 48 x 48 inches, acrylic on canvas "Tulip Koi" by Grant Leier, 30 x 30 inches, acrylic on canvas For Leier, making a painting has many steps, and demands much patience. Each painting begins with a detailed ink drawing on the canvas. A few coats of liquid acrylic seal the drawing. Shapes and patterns are delineated with undercoatings of acrylic in cool colours. Overpainting involves several layers of opaque paint in warmer tones. “The fun begins when I start positioning colours side by side,” says the artist. “Sometimes the shades clash and I have to repaint.” Leier’s skills as an expert colourist become evident when the pigments start to sing and the canvas comes to life. After all his expended energy, this is a gratifying moment. But Leier has a variety of styles and subject matter in his repertoire. On his studio wall during my visit is an acrylic painting called “Prince.” “Prince” is a glowing ochre horse resplendent against a gritty distressed background. The horse’s noble head and attentive ears are clearly defined, but more gestural brushwork suggests the body and legs. “Prince” sports an electric blue mane. His flank, muzzle and belly are outlined with single strokes of crimson paint. Drips of paint add an atmosphere of casual disarray, or energy unleashed, whereas the shiny resin surface is all about control and containment. “These paintings only take a couple of hours to complete,” Leier says, “and are a wonderful change of pace.” A new series of animal portraits may be coming soon. “A small home well filled is better that an empty palace.” This is Leier’s favourite maxim and it’s evident during our house tour. One room holds a series of red-painted shrines with shiny blue doll faces. The artist’s love affair with shrines goes back many years. He’s intrigued by their role as ritual objects and memory keepers. The shrines offer a creative repository for his vast array of found objects: jewellery, knick-knacks and shiny bobbles. “Junk” is in the eye of the beholder for Leier. He enjoys playing with the idea that a tacky plastic toy, when mounted on a painted surface and placed in a gallery, can morph into “fine art.” The artist extols the “beauty of everyday things” and finds pleasure in the natural world of gardens and growth. Grant and Nixie downsized in 2014 to their current Nanaimo home from a nine-acre property near Yellow Point, where they had lived and worked since 1994. It’s a big change, but all good. Their former destination property featured an on-site gallery and grounds to wander. Visitors delighted in the whimsical creations, architectural follies, and tangled greenery. They and their garden were even featured on the Guerrilla Gardeners TV show. Two hardcover books (Artists in Their Gardens and Artists in their Studios) also showcased their fantasy retreat. Though not as large or lavish, their newer home’s backyard garden is a lovely green oasis. A fountain burbles, statuary stands guard and pots overflow with cascading abundance. Off in the distance, Departure Bay gleams. “We like to sit out here,” says Leier. Not having to run a gift gallery or manage extensive gardens means more time to focus on the things they love doing. Like painting. Leier was born in Lloydminster, a prairie town on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan, in 1956. His drawing skills were evident and encouraged from a young age. At the Alberta College of Art, he excelled in textile design and illustration. After graduation in 1978 he worked as a commercial artist receiving major commissions for the Calgary Winter Olympics and Expo 86. Leier has an astonishing 36-year connection with the West End Gallery of Victoria and Edmonton. In 1982, the family-run gallery booked shows for him in Edmonton. In 1984, the artist moved to Victoria. Nixie Barton was an art student at that time and they began to share a studio. This was a formative time for Leier. After 15 years of graphic design (painting smiling women and ducks) he looked over Nixie’s shoulder at her lively brushwork and fell in love. A series of paintings of alley cats and bull terriers evolved, simple shapes to hold the bright colours he arranged on a flat washed background. These paintings became more refined and complex as his skills grew. Thirty years later, it’s a treat to view his more recent dog series on the Barton Leier website. These confident gems of swirling colour and form capture the essence of canine energy with effortless charm. Effortless charm combined with hard work, a winning combination summing up the life and achievements of Grant Leier. To see more of Grant Leier’s work, go to www.bartonleiergallery.com or visit West End Gallery’s Summer Salon, throughout July and August. 1203 Broad Street, Victoria, www.westendgalleryltd.com, 250-388-0009. Kate Cino writes about the arts for Victoria publications and her own website, www.artopenings.ca.
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