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Kate Cino

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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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