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  1. Kate Cino

    Mike Kammerer

    Posted June 3, 2020 Photo: "Chambers VI" by Mike Kammerer. Read about the life and art of Mike Kammerer here.
  2. Posted June 3, 2020 Image: "Chambers VI" by Mike Kammerer Read about the life and art of Mike Kammerer here.
  3. Sculpture inspired by fossils, single-celled creatures, origin myths and more. THE SCULPTURAL CREATIONS of Mike Kammerer graced the Fortune Gallery for ten days in March 2020. Unfortunately, the exhibition was cut short by the pandemic closures. Those lucky enough to catch the show were impressed by the artist’s combination of technical excellence and imaginative scope. Kammerer’s three-dimensional wooden forms create intriguing visual puzzles. Some constructions expand outwards with elegant trailing arms and life-like tentacles. Others display a circular array of sharp starlike rays. Mike Kammerer, Rock Bay Square studio, May 2020 (Photo by Kate Cino) An artwork called Chambers VI is a series of interlocking three-dimensional cells, amorphous in appearance. Contrasts of shape and texture add visual drama. Movement is implied by irregular shapes in the wood, pulling apart and reforming. Gently curving exteriors contrast with spiky interior barbs. Simple spiral forms and elliptical curving structures seem stretched into existence like taffy or molten glass. But this is solid wood! One wonders: What are they? How are they made? What inspired such lavish fabrications? Visiting Kammerer in his Rock Bay Square studio answers some of these questions. Here we find power tools and work benches, preliminary sketches tacked up beside finished works. “All my ideas begin with a sketch book,” says Kammerer, “and usually expand from simple to compound.” This is in line with the artist’s conceptual theories about how invisible cells or particles build into colonies. As he designs, he notes how the facets of the structures react and inter-relate. “The intentional always combines with chance for unexpected results,” he says. One perspective that informs his artwork is the interconnection of all life forms. All living organisms have DNA and RNA molecules that store genetic information and show our shared ancestry. Cells hold this mystery, and fossils show us the lineage of our evolution. But Kammerer sees a profound mystery in the way single-celled creatures have evolved into complex forms. “My art is fuelled by this sense of reverence and awe,” he says. Mike Kammerer.2.m4v The art of Mike Kammerer (click image to see more or to pause) Born in 1970, Kammerer grew up in the Guelph/Waterloo area of Southern Ontario. His creative family included two older brothers who attended the University of Waterloo. Art, music and philosophical ideas abounded in the home, which piqued the younger sibling’s interest in dadaism and surrealism. He studied visual arts briefly at UVic, then enrolled in a three-year geology and earth sciences program at Sir Sandford Fleming College in Ontario. After graduation, he worked for resource-based companies in the Yukon, mapping in remote areas and living in the bush. Field crews were flown in by helicopter and camped for weeks at a time. His job was to survey and map, hammer in stakes, collect rock samples and daily record his findings. “I spent a lot of evenings analyzing the crystalline structure of rocks,” he says. He also studied land forms and surfaces to ascertain what lay beneath the surface. From these experiences grew a sensory acuity towards textures, shapes and sculptural components. These days, Kammerer is still drawn to the wild country. He divides his time between preparing for shows and commissions in his Victoria studio, and exploring back country. He often spends time off the grid on a communal property near Kamloops. “I love the open country there,” he says, “you can walk for miles in any direction.” Kammerer started out as a painter, but found his true calling with woodworking. In 2000, he had a roommate who used power tools for creative endeavours. After trying them out, he immediately saw the potential of this new medium. He bought a set of used power tools, and began to have fun. In 2005, the artist moved to Vancouver, and lived for four years at the Arts and Resource Centre (ARC). He spent summers in the Yukon to finance his art career. At ARC, with 80 live/work studios in one building, Kammerer became familiar with variety of disciplines. “At ARC, my eyes were opened to the conceptual aspects of creativity,” he says. He began to study contemporary artists who fabricate organic forms using elements of engineering. These include Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon and Lee Bontecou. It was at the Museum of Modern Art in Chicago that he saw the work of Bontecou. He was fascinated by her enormous mobiles and interconnected structures using steel, clay and wood. “It was a jolt,” he says, “a way of liberating myself from preconceptions about artmaking.” The titles of Kammerer’s artworks use Latin root names to describe their structural types. For example, works that radiate outward are titled Radiata, with roman numerals used for sequential pieces. The artist wants to free the viewer from preconceived word associations. By using neutral sounding titles, the enigmatic qualities of the artwork remain intact. Kammerer believes his most successful works offer an enduring visual riddle. “My curiosity and motivation to build something often springs from an indefinite idea,” he says. “What I’m making remains a mystery.” Fossils are among Kammerer’s many inspirations—for him, they are almost akin to religious artifacts, revealed by science. “Holding an ancient fragment of life that shares a common ancestry is awe-inspiring and humbling,” he says. Such reverence is evident in Ichthyosaurus, a sculpture of a fishlike reptile dating to the Early Jurassic Period (about 250 million years ago). It had a long snout with sharp teeth; eyes as big as basketballs assisted dark-water hunting. Many intact skeletal fossils have been found in Germany, once an inland ocean. Kammerer’s nine-foot-long sculpture shows its sleek body, long beak and powerful tail. The flippers, beak, backbone nodules and tail are meticulously carved from birch plywood and walnut. The leathery skin of the creature is suggested by the colour and texture of the segmented body, constructed with wood and rice paper—and lit from within. Art, earth sciences and the study of antiquity combine in this artist’s oeuvre. In works like Stromata IV, he demonstrates a many-layered intellect. The word stromata refers to the supporting structures of a cell—or alternatively, a philosophical dictionary or text from medieval times. Learning about the universe through scientific inquiry connects Kammerer with life-generating forces. His artwork Chambers VI reminds him of the periodic table of elements. These chemical compounds were forged inside a super nova and are the building blocks of life. Prehistoric artmaking, earth goddesses such as the Venus of Willendorf (25,000 BCE), origin myths and traditional cultures also intrigue Kammerer. As long as there are questions to ask and connections to be made, this artist will be hard at work on his next creation. See more images of Mike Kammerer’s work at mikekammerer.com. Kate Cino has run www.artopenings.ca for over 10 years, and has written about the arts in Victoria for even longer.
  4. May 5, 2020 Exploring notions of place and human relationships to nature, McClelland’s tondos intrigue, inspire and alarm. NEIL McCLELLAND IS A MAN OF MANY TALENTS. He can play saxophone, guitar and piano, in a variety of genres. He’s an experienced school teacher—who favours grade four. For many years he taught high school band, taking teenagers on school trips to sharpen their skills. Now he teaches other artists at the Vancouver Island School of Art (VISA) and is a sessional instructor at the University of Victoria (UVic). McClelland is also a gifted writer, both creative and academic, penning catalogues and proposals with ease. This versatile artist also knows how to cook. On a hot plate, in the cavernous space of his Chinatown studio, he prepares traditional gesso for his wooden panels. This mixture is as old as the history of oil painting. “Jan Van Ekye [1390-1441] probably used this method 600 years ago,” says the artist. Into the double boiler go water, chalk dust, powdered white pigment and pre-soaked pellets of rabbit-skin glue. Cook carefully, stir often, don’t boil the mixture. When as thick as single cream, strain through a nylon stocking. Apply several coats to a wooden panel or stretched canvas while still warm. Why bother, I ask, when commercial gesso is readily available? Traditional gesso absorbs the oil paint and quickens the drying time, he explains. The ground provides a workable surface and gives fluidity to his brushwork. The artist became familiar with this material in 2014 while completing his MFA at UVic. He used encaustics for the paintings in his MFA thesis. The preferred ground for encaustics (a hot wax and pigment medium) is traditional gesso. “Now I favour it,” he says, “it works better and costs less.” McClelland’s many talents are evident on the white walls of his studio. His series of eight circular paintings (called tondos) are titled “Our Glass Paradise Revisited.” They show at the Chapel Gallery at St Matthias Anglican Church, March 13-April 5. Serene and meditative, the panels are each 30 inches in diameter. They are usually arranged as pairs, side by side. One of the tondos features a mounded oval shape made from broken wine bottles, glued together with polymer resin. Neil McClelland with “If the World is Like the World,” oil on birch panel The tondos offer glimpses of natural scenes, with and without human activity, across a body of water. The watery scenes are deftly articulated with a blue/green palette. The low-light settings imply dawn or dusk adding a touch of mystery to the just-out-of-reach scenarios. These are “no places,” explains the artist, “that reflect both a yearning for perfect happiness and the fragility of the paradises we seek.” The tensions and contradictions in his tondos signal both utopian and dystopian environs. His process of layering and amalgamating images becomes a distillation of place and time, seen through the foggy lens of memory and imagination. The Chapel Gallery is a perfect venue for this thoughtful body of work. “Neil’s tondos are absolutely gorgeous,” says Nicky Rendell, coordinator. “They will illuminate the tranquil space of the gallery.” The Chapel Gallery presents original artwork from both established and emerging artists. The not-for-profit gallery is designed to be a place for community engagement, presenting a wide range of topics and themes. McClelland first picked up a paint brush in the mid-1990s. He began taking classes at the Saidye Bronfman School of Fine Arts in Montreal. “That was my aha! moment,” he says, “when I realized this is what I should have been doing all along.” With excellent instructors, his skill level soared and he became commercially successful. Shows in Quebec, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton followed. After ten years, he moved into working with artist-run centres and public galleries as an art educator, juror, and journal editor. “I like having shows at public art galleries,” he says. The City of Victoria featured his artwork “Waterline 1” as part of its 2019 bus shelter art exhibition called “Commute.” The artist is represented by Winchester Galleries in Victoria, the Wallack Galleries in Ottawa, and the Collectors’ Gallery in Calgary. McClelland’s career includes several awards, artist residencies and scholarships. In 2016, he received a generous grant from the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation. In January 2020, the delighted artist received a second grant. The Greenshields Foundation supports emerging artists from around the world, who are dedicated to a long-term career in the visual arts. Fellow artist and UVic colleague Todd Lambeth agrees that McClelland is someone totally committed to his painting practice. “Neil has a long-term relationship with his media and methods,” he says. “I admire his work ethic, curiosity and ability to experiment.” McClelland’s supports for his paintings include metal plates, stretched canvas, rectangular wood panels, and now circular tondos. Lambeth sees the tondos, placed side by side, as representing binocular vision. “This invites an interesting discussion about human visual perception,” he says. Circular paintings originated in Ancient Greece, to augment drinking vessels called kylikes. The circle in many cultures represents completion, wholeness, and mystery. In the Renaissance, artists like Botticelli and Raphael used the circle motif for religious and mythological images. Creating perspective using figures in a circular composition proved challenging. Michelangelo’s “Doni Tondo” is one of the most successful examples of this unique format, and greatly admired by McClelland. The artist describes the mood of his tondos series as quiet, slow and contemplative. “We are viewing landscapes,” he says, “but from a distance we are trying to overcome.” “A Moment and Everything” oil on birch panel, each painting 30 inches in diameter “Separate Entity, A World” oil on birch panel, each painting 30 inches in diameter McClelland was raised on a small farm in the heart of Gatineau Hills parkland. “As a child, I walked out the door and across fields into forest,” he says; “there was a lake nearby.” Thoughts of his idyllic childhood conjure up mixed emotions. Soon the farm will be absorbed back into the parkland as his parents age. McClelland notes that Canadians have a strong bond to themes of wilderness and survival. Canadian icon Margaret Atwood elaborates on these themes in works like Surfacing, Survival and Wilderness Tips. He’s read them all. “My work explores notions of place,” he says, “the search for paradise on Earth, and human relationships to nature.” The artist creates a fictional environment with narrative content that intrigues, inspires and alarms. In this world, there are glimmers, a chance to discover something personal or profound about our relationships to time and place. Winchester Galleries also carries Neil McClelland’s work. neilmcclelland.com. 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.
  5. Posted April 30, 2020 Image: "Untitled" by Margret Fincke Gage Gallery’s community project will leave an important record of unprecedented times. Go to story
  6. A TINY VIRUS WE CAN'T SEE has stopped the world in its tracks. We are now afraid to go out and mingle and worried about our future. Enter the Gage Gallery Arts Collective with an innovative project to keep us busy during stressful times. The Gage Gallery in Oak Bay delights in engaging community. The 18-member ever-evolving collective promotes art and culture through a variety of innovative programming. As well as regular exhibitions, the spacious gallery hosts art talks, poetry readings, musical events and demonstrations The Gage Gallery COVID-19 Community Project aims to “Challenge Crisis with Creativity.” While the world deals with self-isolation and social distancing, this project aims to connect us through artistic expression. Community members, including those who don’t consider themselves “artists,” are invited to join in. All ages and abilities are invited to draw, paint, sculpt, write or photograph their personal experiences of the global pandemic. Each week “Challenge Crisis with Creativity” offers a new theme. The themes offer focus, and photos of the artworks are placed on the Gage website. Themes so far include: Social Distancing; Can’t Stop the Spring; and Thankful for… Untitled, by Margret Fincke "I feel like I'm just waiting" by Beverly Jean Hancock "Musical Paintings" by Calla Cowan "Bacon Family Heart" by Sarah, Michael, Eli, Nate and Josh Bacon "I am thankful for my neighbour's four-legged friends who are keeping me company" by Elizabeth Carefoot "Connecting while Physically Distanced" by Diane MacDonald The genesis of this great idea came from three artists: Deborah Leigh, Tanya Bub and Gabriela Hirt. Their group show called Inside Out, originally scheduled for April 2020, was to encourage community members to share their inner workings on paper. The concept morphed into the COVID-19 Community Project when Inside Out was postponed due to the pandemic. Response has been strong, and Gage Gallery hopes to publish a book and have a post-COVID exhibition of selected submissions. The book and exhibition are curated by Ashley Riddett, who receives and posts the weekly submissions. Riddett is a graduate student in the Art History and Visual Studies program at the University of Victoria. “We’ve received many interesting and heartfelt artworks,” she says. After the initial shock wore off, Riddett saw people reflecting and responding with great clarity. As a researcher, the grad student appreciates the archival merit of the project. “These submissions are an important record of unprecedented times,” she says. Artist Gabriela Hirt, who has a background in journalism, also sees a wealth of information in these visual stories. “Once the gallery reopens,” she says, “we can share our experiences during the initial weeks.” Meanwhile, the collective is financially able to pay the rent while staying busy at home. Plans for the future percolate within this energetic group of idea-people. The gallery is doing rotating “window shows” and recently launched an on-line store on their website. Being active on social media helps spread the news and keep people interested. “We know this is a tough time for people,” Hirt says, “but we have each other and keep on track by sharing ideas and staying positive.” Visit the online gallery to see what people have submitted so far. Kate Cino has run www.artopenings.ca for over 10 years, and has written about the arts in Victoria for even longer.
  7. A TINY VIRUS WE CAN'T SEE has stopped the world in its tracks. We are now afraid to go out and mingle and worried about our future. Enter the Gage Gallery Arts Collective with an innovative project to keep us busy during stressful times. The Gage Gallery in Oak Bay delights in engaging community. The 18-member ever-evolving collective promotes art and culture through a variety of innovative programming. As well as regular exhibitions, the spacious gallery hosts art talks, poetry readings, musical events and demonstrations The Gage Gallery COVID-19 Community Project aims to “Challenge Crisis with Creativity.” While the world deals with self-isolation and social distancing, this project aims to connect us through artistic expression. Community members, including those who don’t consider themselves “artists,” are invited to join in. All ages and abilities are invited to draw, paint, sculpt, write or photograph their personal experiences of the global pandemic. Each week “Challenge Crisis with Creativity” offers a new theme. The themes offer focus, and photos of the artworks are placed on the Gage website. Themes so far include: Social Distancing; Can’t Stop the Spring; and Thankful for… Untitled, by Margret Fincke "I feel like I'm just waiting" by Beverly Jean Hancock "Musical Paintings" by Calla Cowan "Bacon Family Heart" by Sarah, Michael, Eli, Nate and Josh Bacon "I am thankful for my neighbour's four-legged friends who are keeping me company" by Elizabeth Carefoot "Connecting while Physically Distanced" by Diane MacDonald The genesis of this great idea came from three artists: Deborah Leigh, Tanya Bub and Gabriela Hirt. Their group show called Inside Out, originally scheduled for April 2020, was to encourage community members to share their inner workings on paper. The concept morphed into the COVID-19 Community Project when Inside Out was postponed due to the pandemic. Response has been strong, and Gage Gallery hopes to publish a book and have a post-COVID exhibition of selected submissions. The book and exhibition are curated by Ashley Riddett, who receives and posts the weekly submissions. Riddett is a graduate student in the Art History and Visual Studies program at the University of Victoria. “We’ve received many interesting and heartfelt artworks,” she says. After the initial shock wore off, Riddett saw people reflecting and responding with great clarity. As a researcher, the grad student appreciates the archival merit of the project. “These submissions are an important record of unprecedented times,” she says. Artist Gabriela Hirt, who has a background in journalism, also sees a wealth of information in these visual stories. “Once the gallery reopens,” she says, “we can share our experiences during the initial weeks.” Meanwhile, the collective is financially able to pay the rent while staying busy at home. Plans for the future percolate within this energetic group of idea-people. The gallery is doing rotating “window shows” and recently launched an on-line store on their website. Being active on social media helps spread the news and keep people interested. “We know this is a tough time for people,” Hirt says, “but we have each other and keep on track by sharing ideas and staying positive.” Visit the online gallery to see what people have submitted so far. Kate Cino has run www.artopenings.ca for over 10 years, and has written about the arts in Victoria for even longer.
  8. CHRIS PAUL GREETS ME AT HIS STUDIO DOOR with a canister of Sani-wipes. I am visiting the Coast Salish artist on the Tsartlip reserve in Brentwood Bay. It is Monday March 16, 2020, and folks are being encouraged to stay home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But here I am, not quite believing the facts as they are unfolding. The Legacy Gallery commissioned Paul to make a circular artwork for their now delayed show, To Fish as Formerly: A Story of Straits Salish Resurgence. The exhibit, curated by XEMŦOLTW Nicholas Claxton and the Legacy’s Community Engagement Coordinator Katie Hughes, will tell the story of SX̱OLE (the Reef-Net Fishery), inviting the non-indigenous community to learn about future possibilities from former knowledge and practices. The project came about when Hughes, who is completing her masters degree in the University of Victoria’s department of history, was connected through her graduate supervisor John Lutz with Claxton to collaborate on her academic research project. As part of her final graduate work over the past year and a half, she has been researching, managing and curating the exhibition, connecting with all the artists, other academics and community members. This was all above and beyond her role at Legacy. Other artists in the show include: Charles Elliott, son Chazz Elliott, Dylan Thomas, Sarah Jim and Colton Hash. Historical artifacts will also be on display. Chris Paul At 51, Paul’s successful career includes a variety of media: limited-edition prints, wood carvings, glass sculptures and installations, plus silver jewelry. In the summer, his studio becomes a satellite classroom for UVic’s Indigenous Education Department. He teaches drum-making and carving, taking students on cultural excursions. Chris Paul is not overly fearful of COVID-19; he’s philosophical. “Indigenous people still live under the shadow of genocide,” he says. “But we are survivors, so feel more resilient.” European contact brought epidemics of smallpox, tuberculosis, scarlet fever, influenza and measles, decimating BC’s Indigenous peoples. Paul acknowledges that his community is at-risk regarding health issues. Indigenous people have a higher risk of illness and early death. Chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes are prevalent. Tuberculosis among the Inuit is far higher than the national average. “Before contact, we were in two canoes,” Paul says, “now the world paddles in one canoe.” NICHOLAS CLAXTON, co-curator of To Fish as Formerly: A Story of Straits Salish Resurgence, will be back in his canoe once COVID-19 recedes. When we spoke in March, the UVic assistant professor was preoccupied with getting his students on-line. UVic had just cancelled face-to-face instruction. As Chief of the TSAWOUT First Nation, he’s also busy checking that all members of his community are safe and comfortable. Claxton has a vision for the future—one that relies on the past. He wants to revive the practice of reef net fishing in his community. In 1916, the Canadian government banned reef net fishing. In 2014 Claxton defended his PhD thesis on reef net fishing, explaining the complex technical skills and ceremonial aspects of this age-old practice. Nicholas Claxton As part of this thesis, a modern reef net, measuring 40 feet by 35 feet was assembled on the soccer field behind the Tribal School on Tsartlip. They received technical assistance from Lummi First Nation from Washington State. In July 2014, members of TSAWOUT First Nation fished off Pender Island in the 40-foot traditional cedar canoes used during Tribal Journeys. “The fishing venture was a positive experience,” says Claxton, “in spite of no fish entering the net.” Claxton’s mission is to revitalize the practices and knowledge systems connected to place. These practices and systems encompass many areas: treaty and land claims, natural resources, sustainable fishing, and governance of land and water. The Legacy exhibit is important, he feels, because it presents an opportunity for people, including non-Indigenous, to learn more about our cultural history. “I especially want our youth to experience reef-net fishing so they can carry on the traditions.” MY NEXT STOP ON TSARTLIP is the old school house to talk with respected elders John Elliott Sr and Charles Elliott. Charles Elliott has over 40 years of experience in creating wood carvings, artworks and totem poles, using both traditional elements and contemporary designs. Charles shares his knowledge freely, and mentors emerging and established artists. A print by Charles called “Salish Renewal,” from the Legacy collection, will show at the exhibition. “Salish Renewal” (1994) by Charles Elliot John Elliott Sr has worked for four decades on research and revival of the Saanich language (SENĆOŦEN). In 1994 he co-wrote Reef Net Technology of the Saltwater People with Earl Claxton Senior. The authors describe the gifts of creation as clean water, pristine lakes, beaches full of shell fish, dense first-growth forests, fish-filled rivers, and huge herds of deer and elk. The freedom to roam over land and sea created a bountiful, honourable and sustainable way of life in Saanich for many generations. During our visit, John Elliott tells me the origin story of the SX̱OLE (the Reef Net Fishery) explaining the ceremony and rituals. The salmon are honoured as relatives of the Saanich people. Each family belonged to a fishing location passed down along with family names. The elder who carried the family name was the captain of the location, having special rights and responsibilities. John’s carving of a Reef Net Captain is included in the exhibition. “This was the way our families worked together,” John says, “to ensure a sustainable harvest.” A reef net had a small hole in one end that allowed some fish to escape and rebuild stocks. “Now factory ships and seine trawlers take all the fish,” says John, “and sell the catch off-shore for large profits.” I learn there is no word for “greed” in the Salish language. In their father’s memoir Saltwater People, Dave Elliott Senior, born in 1910 at Tsartlip, recalls travelling to his family’s traditional reef net fishing location, Henry Island, at age 10: “I remember when we arrived in the dark, and there were so many salmon jumping that it made a continuous splashing sound like a turbulent river,” he wrote. Henry Island is located in Haro Strait just across the Washington State border. Charles Elliott (left) and John Elliott Senior on the Tsartlip reserve in March 2020, holding Saltwater People (1983) an historical memoir told by their father, Dave Elliott Senior In 1926, US authorities ordered Elliott’s family to leave Henry Island. When the US-Canada border was created in 1846, bisecting Haro Strait, it left much of Salish territory in the State of Washington. The 1852 Douglas Treaties had assured the Saanich people they would be allowed “to fish as formerly,” but this promise was never honoured. In fact, in 1916, the Canadian government banned reef net fishing. Diseases resulting from contact and the residential school system further damaged the cultural fabric of the Coast Salish peoples. Reviving the past in the middle of a global pandemic brings up some ghostly memories for BC’s Indigenous people. In Saltwater People, we also learn about the epidemics that decimated indigenous populations. In 1862, over 10,000 people from Tlingit, Haida, Tshimshain, Kwakiutl and Bella Coola nations were camped around Ogden Point. They came to trade and seek help for the devastating effects of smallpox, first encountered during the the late 1770s. When smallpox broke out in the encampment, authorities set fire to the tents. The sick and dying were forced to flee the area, spreading the disease as they went. Today, of course, we have our own tent cities that shelter the homeless in Victoria. Unable to self-isolate, there is much concern about the spread of COVID-19. We know our world is distressed, and change is essential, but where are we headed? Perhaps looking back offers a key to the future. Dave Elliott states in his memoir: “With land claims, it’s not just a matter of getting land back, but a whole system we can share. We have come through a great disaster and are in a state of shock—our memories have left us. Youth need to be told their history to give them a future.” To Fish as Formerly: A Story of Straits Salish Resurgence has been delayed from its original April 25 to September 5 run. Please check the Legacy Gallery website for updates. 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.
  9. Burke’s creative paintings tell the multi-hued story of his difficult childhood. ROBERT BURKE’S STUDIO is north of Duncan, nestled in rolling farmland. The studio is spacious, with large windows and an oversized garage door. Inside are many boldly-coloured canvases stacked up against the walls. Other canvas paintings are rolled up on a large table, waiting to be transported and then re-mounted on location. Burke is happy to talk about his long and varied career, and his March show at Winchester Galleries. “I use vivid, eye-catching colours to brighten up sombre memories,” he says. Burke is referring to his mixed-race background and turbulent childhood. The artist was born in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories in 1944. His mother was Metis, of Dene descent. His father was one of nearly 4,000 conscripted black soldiers from the southern United States. These segregated soldiers were part of the Coloured Engineer Regiments enlisted to build the Alaska Highway during World War II. The black recruits worked from the north, in frigid temperatures and difficult terrain, building corduroy roads from fallen timber. The white recruits worked from the south on the 2,400-kilometre route. Eight months later, the two regiments met on October 25, 1942. Their joint success was an achievement for engineering and race relations. Painter Robert Burke But Burke never knew his father. Until age four, he was cared for by various community members, as his mother was unable to support him. He was then taken to a residential school in Fort Resolution, on the shores of Great Slave Lake, almost 100 miles away. “In residential school I learned you had to fight to survive,” he says. In all, he was in residential schools for 10 years. With his black heritage, he became one of the “silent breed” ostracized at school. His paintings tell the multi-hued story of his perplexing childhood: “My silent voice is found among the colours,” he says. In an essay published a few years ago, Burke wrote: “I believe that it is my right to express myself as an Aboriginal, while still recognizing my black ancestry.” As he noted, “my grandmother was Aboriginal, but without entitlement, because her father had accepted government ‘scrip’ in exchange for allowing his Aboriginal status to be revoked, back when governments of the day were trying to extinguish Aboriginal land titles.” “They Never Came Back” 2012 “They Never Came Back” is a triptych measuring 54 by 90 inches. The painting was part of the “Silent Breed” exhibition held in Fort Smith in 2012. “Silent Breed” received funding from the Canada Council for the Arts. In this triptych, the composition flows from panel to panel with a harmonious progression of images. Like prominent puzzle pieces, the motifs repeat and fit together. For example, the neck of a dark blue bird becomes a dark hill in the adjacent panel. There is balance and a sense of cohesion that leads the eye through the varied iconography. The shapes have symbolic meaning for the artist, and can be read in various ways by the viewer. The blue buffalo head, in ceremonial garb with a human torso, points to buffalo territory, the artist’s ancestral home. Three colourful ravens, prominent, add a jaunty energy to the piece. “I am very fond of ravens,” says the artist. “I admire their intelligence, shiny blackness, and mythological status in West Coast storytelling.” A figure in a hard hat suggests a soldier at work. Another male in dress uniform and peaked hat says “officer.” “I believe my father was a sergeant in the army,” he says. The insignia of a sergeant is a three-bar chevron worn point down. Top right is the moon and several disappearing male figures. The faces of the figures have complicated patterning, making them difficult to read and decipher. The faces appear startling and impenetrable, a reference to the tenuous nature of emotional connection for this isolated, mixed-race child. How did the artist learn to make these remarkable paintings? “I have always been an artist,” says Burke, “drawing and painting as a child, I created my own worlds.” Later on, he learned about technique and style from books. Then, after a long and successful career in the logging industry, he enrolled at the Victoria College of Art at age 53. He graduated in 2000 and stayed on an extra year. At this time, his art career was given a boost by the National Aboriginal Foundation. The foundation collected two of his triptychs, part of a larger series called “Aboriginal Immersion: Obscuring the Lines.” This series showed at the Nanaimo Art Gallery in 2008. Another series, “My Residential School Experience,” received funding from the Canada Council for the Arts. Jim Logan is an Aboriginal artist who worked for 16 years as a Program Officer for the Canada Council. He recalls how jury members saw something unique in Burke’s hard-edged interlocking shapes and patterns. “Burke shows great control in his brushwork and imagery,” Logan says. “There’s lots of emotion, but it’s carefully laid out and precisely detailed.” His mural-like diptychs require careful reading, Logan notes, unfolding from left to right like a series of hieroglyphs. Logan finds it fascinating that the artist draws from both sides of his cultural background, without fully identifying with either one. The artist’s vibrant palette reminds Logan of Fauvist artists like Matisse, who used colour for emotional impact. African tribal influences appear in some of Burke’s facial masks. Logan admires Burke for dealing with his past in such a creative way. “Robert has his own perspective,” he says, “and positive ways of managing personal experiences.” Burke is a prolific artist who can paint a canvas in about a week. On an easel in his studio, there is a large sheaf of drawing paper. On the paper he sketches out free-flowing designs with charcoal. Some fish shapes, sketched in charcoal, have re-emerged in “Gathering of Seniors.” This 2020 artwork shows mature salmon returning to spawn. The joyful palette of green, red and blue overrides any gloomy thoughts of final days. These are dancing salmon, resplendent with stripes, polka dots and linear patterning. “Gathering of Seniors” 2020, 31 x 35 inches, acrylic on canvas “Moon Gathering” 2019, 38 x 32 inches, acrylic on canvas Burke, too, is in a peaceful place in his life. He’s been married to Debra for 46 years and their family is close, with three sons and a daughter. And yet. “I know my time is running out,” he says, “and it’s time to simplify things.” Still, I imagine a few more paintings will emerge before this talented painter hangs up his brush. A solo exhibit of Robert Burke’s work runs at the Winchester Galleries March 25-April 16, with an opening reception on March 28, 2-4pm, 2260 Oak Bay Avenue. 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.
  10. The artist’s finely-tuned palette and skillful brushwork capture the mood of a place. ARTIST DEBORAH TILBY is an oil painter of international stature, represented by galleries in England, Victoria and Salt Spring Island. A senior signature member of the Federation of Canadian Artists and signature member of the Oil Painters of America, her CV overflows with awards and competition prizes, and her artwork has been extolled in several international art publications. Even so, Tilby finds each new painting a challenge. “At one point, I can expect my feelings of exhilaration to evaporate,” she says, “as I realize I’ve lost the plot and it’s not working out.” Then the challenge begins to put the painting back on track. Deborah Tilby Sometimes she thinks painting should get easier with experience. But she also realizes it’s the striving to get better that keeps things interesting. Tilby is interested in anything related to the pursuit of exceptional paintings. She used watercolours for many years and now happily paints with oils. With oil paint, she can mix up all the colours she requires for one painting on her palette board. And at the end of the day, they are still workable. She can scrape off and remix with oils, combining soft, subtle tones as she works. “Blending colours as I paint gives me more flexibility,” she says. We see Tilby’s painterly skills in “Red Roof Reflected,” a rural scene featuring High Oaks Farm in Saanich. This historic acreage is a busy working farm. Tilby makes the white barn with red roof a focal point, showing the open barn door, farm equipment, outbuildings and fenced paddocks. But these are mere suggestions, not clearly articulated, as the paint is applied with a minimum of expert strokes. It’s these deft touches with a brush that bring the painting alive. The watery field in front of the barn holds the mirror image of the red roof and white barn. Washes of blue-gray sky are reflected in the flooded foreground, blending into the wavering red roof. The reflections show the soft green of the fields, and the black squares of barn doors and windows. Light from the clouded sky gleams on the surface showing a mix of blue/grays, pale greens and purple mulberry. The softly-toned water contrasts with the greenish gold on the sunlit fields and barnyard. “Red Roof Reflected” 21 x 25 inches, oil on panel “My palette is limited,” says the artist: “I use the three primary colours (red, yellow and blue) to make all my neutral gray tones. I also use earth colours like ochre and sienna.” A tone or value is the amount of light and dark in a colour (or hue). Tilby’s carefully modulated tones gives a harmonious coherence to each painting. Her success comes from years of teaching, practice and self-directed study. Tilby began to paint at age 17, after a few water-colour tips from her father. One year later, she had her first solo show in her hometown of Edmonton. Tilby later spent 14 years in England, returning to Victoria in 1992. In 2011, the artist did a three-month painting trip through Ireland, Yorkshire, Norfolk and Sussex. She was creatively inspired by the textures and ambience of the ancient buildings and walkways. “Now I am learning to love the sea,” she says. Visitors to the Peninsula Gallery in Sidney can view “Portrait Of A Wave,” in which Tilby captures the energetic movement of crashing surf in a blue-green ocean. “Clouds Over The Sea,” also at the Peninsula Gallery, shows a familiar scene along Dallas Road. The low horizon line is topped by a moody, windblown sky. The expressive sky dominates the canvas. Storm clouds and patches of blue lift our gaze from the rocky shoreline and choppy waves. She also admits to a fondness for rowboats lying on a beach. “Clouds Over The Sea” 20 x 20 inches, oil on canvas Tilby’s enthusiasm for painting is evident in her animated explanations about process. She paints on medium-density fibreboard, gessoed and under-painted with a light sienna ground. She likes to press firmly with a palette knife, so prefers the support of fibreboard instead of canvas. Before beginning, she sketches out her composition with diluted paint, making sure shapes are balanced and the horizon line correctly placed. Then she uses a stiff bristle brush to loosely apply sections of colour on the board. With a palette knife, she applies the paint, then tidies up with a brush. Or vice versa. Tilby uses high-quality brushes from a company called “Rosemary & Co Artists Brushes.” This company sells brushes that sport the names of outstanding artists in various mediums. Strong paintings, says Tilby, are readable from three distances. From across the room we view graphic design. When standing in front, content emerges, and with closer inspection, the artist’s signature mark-making appears. Tilby often paints plein air with a group of colleagues. Most times someone will look up from their work and announce: “We are so fortunate!” Plein air sketches record the atmosphere and details of the time and place. But Tilby’s paintings are completed in the studio. “Both places and practices inform the other,” she says. “Morning On The Lane” 20 x 40 inches, oil on panel “Out For A Stroll” 10 x 12 inches, oil on panel In the private lessons she offers to artists, her favourite student is an absolute beginner. “It brings me joy to watch them discover how paint mixes and colour works,” she says. One plein air colleague, who is also a student, is David Good, a retired professor from the University of Victoria. He admires Tilby’s flexibility in the field, her ability to handle all kinds of weather and difficult terrain. “Deborah is a fantastic painter,” says Good, “who encourages students to experiment and find their own voice.” She gives candid critiques and understands the struggles that are part of painting, he adds. Praise for Deborah Tilby also comes from one her colleagues, Catherine Moffat. A well-respected still-life painter, represented by The Avenue Gallery and Peninsula Gallery, Moffat first met Tilby in 1992. The mutually supportive artists are friends who trade paintings. “Deborah is a self-taught painter,” says Moffat, “with a fine sense of design and sensitivity to value contrasts.” She appreciates Tilby’s knowledge of colour theory, and how she uses complementary colours to build light and shadow. Tilby works easily with challenging colours like green and red. Moffat describes Tilby as a “painter’s painter,” meaning other artists can appreciate her finely-tuned palette and skillful brushwork. But you don’t need to be a painter to admire Tilby’s special talents. Just drop by the Peninsula Gallery on Beacon Avenue in Sidney by the Sea. For more artworks by Deborah Tilby, see www.pengal.com or www.deborahtilby.com. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
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