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Aaren Madden

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  1. Aaren Madden

    Sharing the wealth

    First Nations artist Calvin Hunt’s first solo exhibition celebrates family, culture and a giving spirit. CALVIN HUNT WAS BORN IN 1956 in Alert Bay into what has become a dynasty of renowned figures in Northwest Coast First Nations art and culture. Descended from the celebrated Tlingit ethnologist George Hunt, he is the youngest son of Kwagu’l (Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw) Hereditary Chief Thomas Hunt, and Emma, daughter of the celebrated Mowachaht (Nuu Chah Nulth) Chief and Shaman, Dr Billy, from Yuquot (Friendly Cove). His grandfather, Mungo Martin, is known to anyone who has visited the Royal BC Museum’s Thunderbird Park: from 1952, he worked there as a carver demonstrating Indigenous methods, teaching other First Nations carvers to carry on, and creating artworks, including prominent totem poles in and beyond Victoria. Two years after the potlatch ban was lifted in 1951, Martin held the first potlatch at Wawadiťła (Mungo Martin House), which is on the park grounds and is still in use for such purposes. Calvin Hunt’s family played a key role in many potlatches and celebrations. His father was a great singer and orator who had retained knowledge passed down from his elders. “Any time there was any kind of culture going on in the city, they would phone my father to help,” Hunt says, “because a lot of families had lost that. So my father was always willing to help—with names, with singing songs, with doing dance presentations.” Calvin Hunt The family moved to Victoria when Calvin was young. Being among friends and family of the First Nations youngsters who would hang out at Thunderbird Park, he was carving by the time he was 12—and making a bit of money to boot. “We could get 25 cents for a paddle,” he grins, “which was big money back then.” Two paddles sold equalled a ticket to the Saturday matinee, plus popcorn, pop, and money for the bus ride home. “We were rich! We just thought it was so cool,” he laughs. It was more than that, though. Every summer, his family returned to Alert Bay for potlatches. “As a child growing up, and you’re seeing this great big mask, and some of these phenomenal dancers you just think, ‘wow, this is so cool. I want to be a part of this,’” he says. While his three older brothers would become seine boat skippers, Calvin, at age 15 years, announced to his parents that he would become a full-time apprentice to his second cousin Tony Hunt at Arts of the Raven, a thriving Victoria gallery in its day and another of his favourite haunts. To his mother’s initial chagrin, he spent the next ten years learning from his second cousin Tony Hunt and adopted Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw carver John Livingston. They travelled all over Canada, the United States and Europe, working on countless projects and demonstrations. He enjoyed interactions with curious locals in various places: “It was just sharing. It was really pretty easy. We’d get somewhere and just start talking to people,” he relates. In 1981, he and his wife Marie followed his parents back up Island and, just outside Port Hardy, opened a workshop called The Copper Maker, expanding it into a gallery in 1989. He has carved original poles significant to his family and community, restored aged poles and re-created historical works for important exhibitions that continue to celebrate and expand understanding of Northwest Coast First Nations artwork and culture. With his nephew Mervyn Child, he has carved several canoes as well. For 30 years, he has performed locally and worldwide with the Copper Maker Dancers, for which he also creates masks. All while also creating original contemporary artworks that celebrate the continuum of his culture. Busy is an understatement, but Hunt is still generous with his skills and time. “A lot of people over the years have asked me to make something for a potlatch and I will gladly do that, because not everybody has a carver in their family,” he says. “It’s a really good feeling in your heart at the end of the day that you’ve helped them. Watching my parents do that growing up, it’s just my way of giving back, as my father had done.” The joy he derives from sharing the accumulated skills of a 47-year carving career and a lifetime of cultural knowledge will be evident in the works he has done for his exhibition at Alcheringa Gallery (remarkably, his first solo show anywhere). There will be power boards, traditionally used to spectacular effect in a potlatch dance, but compelling works of art in their own right. There will be masks, including a large round moon bound in cedarbark rope, the velvety smooth curves and planes of its face adorned with the formline image of a raven. Ovoids and u-forms in sage green, black and red circle around the face of a moon with mirrored eyes. “It’s the raven releasing the sun and the moon,” Hunt explains, adding that the mirrored eyes were “just something that I wanted to try” based on a historical Tsimshian mask he always found intriguing. The rim of the moon’s glow is painted with images of salmon. “I just thought it would be appropriate to do,” he says, given the ongoing issues with fish farms and salmon habitat we are facing. Cougar Mask, by Calvin Hunt Komokwa Mask, by Calvin Hunt Mourning Mask, by Calvin Hunt The formline, colour and content are a marriage of traditional and contemporary Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw style, but as we know, Hunt’s ancestry is diverse. A Nuu Chah Nulth “spin-top” mask depicting a serpent exemplifies the flat-planed style and vivid, swirling designs distinct to the western Vancouver Island group. Giving context, Hunt explains, “In the dance presentation, when they come out to bless the floor, the wearer would pull a string that would spin the top and release eagle down, which would float up into the air and land on the floor. What it would do is bless the floor.” The mask celebrates this side of his family; in 1998, he became fourth primary chief of the Mowachaht, the hereditary chieftainship coming from his grandfather Dr Billy. His chief’s name is Nas’am’yus (Nas soom yees), meaning “the waters are always calm around you.” Hunt’s Tlingit side are present in a large paddle and, among other works, a mask painted the blue of a September sky with delicate black formline, adorned with bear fur and synthetic hair. A feather duster replaces the traditional plume of feathers that emerges vertically from the centre of the mask for some contemporary whimsy. Called a Gitakhanees, meaning “intruder,” it represents the visitors to a potlatch. “I’ve worn this a number of times,” Hunt says, explaining, “this is the chief singer, so he would come in with other masks, strumming and singing a song, coming from another tribe for the potlatch.” For Hunt—father of four, grandfather of eight (and counting), great-grandfather of two—the carvings, prints, masks, drums, and other unique works on offer are another opportunity to share his heritage, his culture, his family, and his art practice. His pride in doing so is expressed succinctly by the exhibition title: Yuxan’s K’is’o, a Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakword meaning, “these are our treasures.” Yuxan’s K’is’o: These are our Treasures is at Alcheringa Gallery from August 25 to September 22, 2018. 621 Fort Street, 250-383-8224, www.alcheringa-gallery.com. Aaren Madden feels incredibly wealthy, having learned from and about so many interesting and inspiring people by writing for Focus Magazine for over ten years. This is her last assignment for the time being, and she will miss it dearly. It has been her absolute privilege.
  2. Aaren Madden

    Form as meaning(s)

    Four First Nations curators bring new perspectives to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s Pacific Northwest prints collection. BACK IN THE 1980, Lou-ann Neel was a teenager working at Arts of the Raven Gallery and Open Pacific Graphics (later Pacific Editions Ltd.), important places in the flourishing First Nations art scene. She vividly remembers the days when artists would come in to sign their prints, created in editions of 100. “The excitement probably wore off after the first 25 or so were signed,” she allows with humour, but she cherished the opportunity to talk with the artists about their work and their ideas. “Those moments stayed with me and continue to inspire me to do my best as an artist, and to always remember the histories of our people, which is where the inspiration for our work comes from.” A print that stood out for her then—and now—is “Salmon” by Henry Hunt (1923-1985). Created in 1972, she saw it every day at Arts of the Raven. “To me,” she shares, “it represented an important benchmark in time on several levels: first, the salmon is probably one of the most important food sources amongst coastal people, so this representation of a salmon speaks to how much we value salmon—enough to immortalize it in print form. Second, the colours used are such classic ‘old-style’ Southern Kwagiulth colours, which I’ve always appreciated and continue to use in my own works today,” says the accomplished Kwakwaka’wakw artist. “Salmon” is the first work in Neel’s section of the exhibition Form as Meaning: First Nations Prints from the Pacific Northwest. Along with Marcia Crosby, lessLIE and Alana Sayers, Neel has selected works from the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria that generate meaning on a number of levels. The curators show how the prints provide cultural context while showing the vitality, variety, influence and innovation amongst artists working with traditional forms. The curators (l-r): Marcia Crosby (and grandson), Nicole Stanbridge (AGGV), Michelle Jacques (AGGV), Lou-ann Neel, lessLIE (and daughter), and Alana Sayers. A common thread is a challenge to any notion of statis, literally or figuratively. “Salmon” incorporates traditional ovoids and u-forms, in, as Neel notes, traditional black, brick-red and deep green. However, its vigorous rendering frees it from the buff-coloured page. Neel’s selections proceed from “Salmon” chronologically, in order to show how early works laid a path for younger artists to follow and further innovate from. Mark Henderson’s work, for example, she included due to its use of the entire picture plane to create a larger landscape. “It is something that was very groundbreaking in Northwest Coast design at the time,” she explains, as was his expansion of the traditional palette. Worlds of possibility were opened up for other artists to either explore traditional idioms or incorporate wide-ranging influences: Neel points out how Roy Henry Vickers’ “Goolka” fills the surface with narrative while invoking Hokusai’s print, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” Neel’s selections conclude with works by Susan Point and lessLIE, artists that employ the trigons, circles and crescent shapes indicative of their Coast Salish culture. Hanging side by side, they show the former influenced the latter. However, as the exhibition segues into lessLIE’s selections as a co-curator, his work—and his curatorial approach—offers a compelling conceptual element. lessLIE is a Coast Salish artist working in two dimensional forms—prints and original paintings. He holds a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Victoria. While he focuses on Coast Salish works that he feels he can speak to culturally and those from other nations that influenced his practice, he offers the concept of motif as language. “They [design motifs] are actual cultural beliefs to live by,” his curatorial statement reads. “Spinning Whorl(d)” by lessLIE lessLIE’s intention is to continually show that, in image and in language, there is always more than meets the eye. “Spinning Whorl(d),” a collaboration with Nlaka’pamux artist Oliva Mailhot, is an example. The title itself is a play on language and its possibilities, suggesting meanings rife within if we care to find them in word or mark. Referencing the spindle whorl as an important item of Coast Salish culture and a point of departure for many print designs, they create the unlikely phenomenon of a kinetic, interactive work of two-dimensional art. In fact, even the artist finds unexpected layers: “I was intending it to be a Coast Salish Op Art print evoking a spinning spindle whorl. Yet when I received the print from Eric Bourquin of Seacoast Screen Printing, I was surprised to see that not only does it evoke spinning, but also depth and dimension, the convex form of spindle whorls, the tides of the Salish Sea, and a mediation between two-dimensional Salish graphic art, and carved art,” says lessLIE. Alana Sayers continues the conflation of language and visual art by including her own poetry among her selections. “Like the art, [the poems] have layers of tradition, culture, knowledge, and story,” she says. “I was stitched together in a kaleidoscope of shape and colour,” read her words, floating on the wall overhead, as Art Thompson’s “House of the Wolves” begins a startling parade of Nuu-Chah-Nulth artists’ works. Being from that First Nation, says Sayers, “it was important that all of my prints were from Nuu-Chah-Nulth [artists] so that I could best talk about what ‘form as meaning’ means to me in a Nuu-Chah-Nulth context.” "House of the Wolves" by Art Thompson Sayers is a PhD student in English Literature at UVic, and that department’s first Indigenous support officer and teaching assistant in Indigenous literature. Part of her approach is to challenge assumptions about art and academia, and about what Pacific Northwest First Nations art “is and isn’t.” To do so, she hung work from her own collection by her uncle Rodney Sayers among works by Art Thompson and Joe David. “Tiichin, Ride the Lightning” and “Hupacasath” show a playful, contemporary pop sensibility, while their proximity to the other artists’ works connect them to larger traditions. Marcia Crosby, a Tsimshian-Haida writer, art historian and educator, uses connection in another way for her approach. She considers cross-cultural influence and exchange among First Nations historically and currently, including the importance of individual artists, groups, institutions, and the school at ’Ksan, where prominent First Nations artists like Robert Davidson and Doug Cranmer taught and influenced several others. The works she has chosen highlight variety and innovation in technique and approach by a range of different First Nations. Form relates to meaning in broad terms of artistic development that links “deeper histories” to “possible futures.” The idea of “possible futures” for Pacific Northwest Coast prints is an easy and exciting one to take away from this exhibition because of the unique perspectives of each curator. The curatorial staff at the AGGV came up with the theme, then invited the guest curators to gather for a working session to share thoughts on the collection and specific works within. After that, each worked independently, exploring the importance of cultural connection, the potentials of language and juxtaposition, and the insights revealed through chronology and personal experience. Form creates meaning in all of these contexts. It’s a valuable opportunity for visitors to see a collection through this particular set of eyes. As lessLIE articulates, “it was gracious and vital of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria to hire indigenous artists to co-curate this exhibition. First Nations people need to represent First Nations art. Each co-curator added a unique approach to selecting works based on differing backgrounds.” Visitors take away a more profound contextualization of Henry Hunt’s “Salmon” and all that followed. Possibilities for the art form, its evolution, and exhibition are exciting to contemplate. “I believe this [exhibition] will add to a growing discussion around Aboriginal curatorial practice,” Neel concludes. Form as Meaning: First Nations Prints from the Pacific Northwest continues until June 17 at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. 1040 Moss St, 250-384-4171. Check aggv.ca for drop-in tours and other related events. Much like Lou-ann Neel, Aaren Madden also cherished the special days when she worked at Alcheringa Gallery, when artists would come in with a brand-new print to show and discuss.
  3. Lynn Branson’s reverent connection to her medium brings her wood carvings to life. A PERSON COULD BE FORGIVEN for assuming that the sculpture “Mystique,” by Courtenay-based artist Lynn Branson, is carved out of marble. Its pale, inviting sheen emanates a similar luminosity to the stone. It is, in fact, a unique piece of walnut from which Branson has released an elegant, mermaid-like female form. Its curves, planes and voids may call to mind the Modern tendencies of Henry Moore or Barbara Hepworth, with Constantin Brancusi humming along in the background. The marble effect is intentional, but once you approach the work, the true medium becomes more obvious—as does the artist’s affinity and reverence for it. The perfectly smooth top of the piece curves inward and outward in alignment with the grain. The grain dictates the shape. “Mystique” 26.5 x 15 x 5.5 inches, walnut “I sanded for weeks on that piece—and I have a cyst on my thumb to prove it!” laughs Branson, who knew instantly what it would become when she first laid eyes on the raw wood. “Right away I saw the female form,” she declares. Whether it is a human figure, or her more frequent subjects of bird or beast, she views her wood carving practice as an act of releasing the thing within. “Wherever I look,” Branson shares, “whether it’s the raindrops, or the leaves, or the clouds, I never just see a cloud. I’ll see what’s in the cloud.” This outlook and approach reflects her deep regard for the natural world. In her work, she is rewarded by this reverence and awareness—and patience. “I’ll have a piece in my studio and I’ll walk by it for ten years. Then all of a sudden I’ll walk by it and there’s something looking at me,” she says with delight. Branson was born and raised in Edmonton, a child with an enormous imagination and an affection for making things. She adored spending time on her grandmother’s acreage. Her mother was a painter who came to Canada from England with Branson’s grandmother; both shared her love of nature. Noting that her grandmother emigrated quite late in life, Branson reflects, “I think she is where I got my adventurous spirit.” Lynn Branson Armed with little else, Branson left home for Vancouver at 15, where she found work making beds at St Paul’s Hospital. It was not an easy life, but “I would spend hours at the beach looking at driftwood, and I loved [that],” she recalls. She eventually made her way back to Alberta, married, had a son and a daughter, and spent some years raising them. After some time as a single parent, she remarried and lived on a farm in Innisfail. “Any time I was in the forest or the bush, I would see wood lying on the ground and I was always drawn to it,” she says. She started picking it up. Today she purchases about 85 percent of her wood from all over North America. “I don’t have any vices; I don’t go shopping very often, but if I see a [special] piece of wood, I’ll do anything to get it,” she laughs. A solid half of her studio space is devoted to various intriguing burls and blocks, some of which she moved with her from Alberta. She jokes that her children fret over what they will do with it all if something should happen to her. Carving became part of her life while she was on the farm. For a studio, she claimed a former chicken infirmary with straw walls and abundant mice. “I was constantly getting rid of the mice, but it was a great life, farm life. I was very close to nature everywhere I looked,” she recalls. She carved as much as she could, building her skill and making a name for herself at competitions and sales. Sadly, in 2001 her husband was killed in a tragic accident while horseback riding. This, after they had just survived injuries and damage from the Pine Lake tornado in July 2000. After her husband’s death, Branson moved back to the west coast. “Everybody has their struggles and their stories,” she says. “I am very, very fortunate because I have another chapter in my life, and I am very grateful for every day that I do what I have such a passion and love for.” That passion has been recognized by her four-time world champion title at the annual Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art Carving Competition held in Ocean City, Maryland. She is the first female winner in its 47 years, and she cherishes the family of carvers she has become part of. The event is an annual highlight for her and her partner Greg Pedersen, an accomplished carver in his own right. She has also been a judge at the Pacific Brant Carving and Art Show since her farm days. "Emergence" 23 x 24 x 13 inches, red cedar with maple base. Received "Best in World Interpretive" at the Ward World Championship. Her work is widely collected, and she was the only female to be invited to participate in the Blakely Burl Tree Project, a small group of artists commissioned to create works from the giant burl of an old pecan tree in Georgia. She was invited to do so by friend and mentor Mark Lindquist, the renowned American wood turner. He’s among a varied list of influences Branson credits. Along with the aforementioned Moore, Brancusi and Hepworth, Georgia O’Keeffee, Robert Bateman, Emily Carr and Courtney Milne have all had an impact on Branson’s practice. But Lindquist gave her perhaps the best advice she’s received: “He told me always to have fun. If it’s no longer fun, then you don’t do it.” That’s truly necessary, considering each piece takes about three to five months to complete. Not to mention the extreme physicality of the work—some of her pieces begin in the hundreds of pounds. At about five feet three inches, Branson is not a large person, though her work has made her strong. She may begin a piece with a chainsaw to rough out the form or remove the dead wood. Next comes hammer and chisel and/or electric grinders for shaping. With a high speed tool called an NSK (yes, the one used by dentists), she can render a subtle suggestion of feathers or, remarkably (and after hour upon hour), the fine grit of sandstone. “Balance” is a carving where you can see this virtuosity. Bare-handed to ensure the proper feel, she employs sandpapers ranging from 80 grit to 800, the latter being the key to that marble-like finish. Final steps involve polishing cloths and finishing in oil, acrylic or wax. Occasionally, like in the piece “Cresting the Wave,” she will add a touch of pigment. In this carving of a kingfisher at the helm of a swirling wave, subtle swathes of bluegreen play among the grain as if the oak itself is saying, “You see, I was water all along.” “Cresting the Wave” 19 x 19 x 15 inches, oak “That’s just an extraordinary piece of wood,” Branson enthuses. A portion of it was petrified, and Branson interpreted it as a dollop of seafoam. “I carved a lot of [the wood], but the shape was already of a wave.” Setting it free, while a months-long process, begins and ends with the wood itself: “I don’t spend hours planning, I just start. The wood tells me where to go.” Lynn Branson’s work can be seen at Peninsula Gallery, 100-2506 Beacon Avenue, Sidney, 250-655-1722, www.pengal.com and at www.rawearthcarvings.com. Aaren Madden’s own affection for nature has found its way into her home in the form of several bouquets of driftwood, pilfered sea shells, pine cones, myriad stones, bits of moss, and twigs. Her husband duly frets.
  4. Aaren Madden

    True to the heart

    Bi Yuan Cheng creates internal and external landscapes of truth, feeling, and sense of place. BI YUAN CHENG IS A SEEKER OF THE TRUTH. Not truth in facts, but in feeling; not in evidence, but in experience. His pursuit as an artist is to convey the world as he sees it and share its impact with the viewer, to impart the sense of wonder it brings to him. “I always think if you do art, it has to come from your heart, from your inside world. That makes it really true,” he says. He was an artist from day one. Born in 1957 in Jinan, China, as a boy of six, Bi could often be found sitting at the side of the road with pencil and paper, sketching the passing cars or bicycles. “It just came naturally,” he says. Bi Yuan Cheng His interest and aptitude did not go unnoticed by his mother, a homemaker, or his father, an architect. By the time he was in grade six, Bi was spending every Sunday with a prominent watercolour artist, a friend of his father’s. “I would do a lot of painting during the week, and on Sunday I would go to his house, bring him the paintings, and he would look at each painting,” Bi recalls fondly. He would give feedback to young Bi, who would return home to apply the advice for the next week’s work. Working in the western style, the man had an immense impact on Bi as a teacher and mentor; he died in 1995. “I still miss him so much,” he says. “He gave me a strong foundation in colour,” Bi continues. “Even today, I still remember his words: ‘You do everything on paper, which is flat. But on paper, you have to make space. Do not think, ‘This is flat,’ think ‘This is space,’ from close to middle to far; you have to create distance on paper—with colour. If you have three trees beside a road, even if the colours are the same [to look at], if you paint it, you cannot paint the same colour for the three trees,” Bi declares. These are essentially the principles of atmospheric perspective, one of the many ways in which colour became Bi’s tool for expression and description. The Sunday sessions with his teacher expanded to include oil painting, and continued for at least ten years until Bi went to ZiangXi Art University from 1979 to 1983. With stiff competition to get into the painting program, Bi ended up majoring in sculpture and pottery. “I still did a lot of oil painting,” he says, because art education in China places such emphasis on foundational skills. The first full three years of his university art education focused on fundamentals: drawing, colour theory, some three-dimensional work. Western universities typically offer a single foundation year, so it’s hard to imagine such a rigorous art education. After graduation, Bi worked for Shandong Architectural Company doing sculpture, murals, and design work for city squares. He quickly made a name for himself, winning awards and ascending in prominence to be named a Chinese Art Master by the Province of Shandong in 1987. His path took a turn when, in 1990, he and his wife decided to go to the University of Alberta to learn English. In Edmonton, they found warm, friendly people and great educational opportunities for their then-four-year-old daughter. Importantly for Bi, though, he found colour. “In China in 1990, the pollution was not as bad as today, but it was still bad,” he explains. “You did not see blue sky very often. Most of the time, the sky was always a little bit grey; everything looked grey. In Edmonton, I said, ‘This is really colourful! Green is green, red is red, blue is blue, clouds are white.’ I said, ‘I can do colour here. This is beautiful. It is a totally different way of looking.’ For me, it was so exciting.” Needless to say, though it was not easy to do at the time, they remained in Canada. Bi opened his own studio in 1992, painting portraits and commissions, as well as the fields, hills and mountains of Alberta in acrylics and oils. Over the years, he created dozens of murals in Alberta, including at the Edmonton International Airport—and sketched charcoal portraits of untold thousands at his booth at Edmonton’s Klondike Days and the Calgary Stampede. Twenty years later, Bi moved to Richmond, and he now lives in White Rock. Moving to the coast inevitably had impacts on his art practice. In the past ten or so years, his compositions have loosened up considerably. Combining this tendency with his thorough understanding of colour, and its potential for expression and description, his landscape paintings have become documents of memory and geography—or rather, the memory of geography. “A Rocky Beach” and “Fog at Moraine Lake” are both acrylic paintings; both convey the sense of space Bi learned to achieve from such a young age. However, the palette of the beach scene—dun-coloured sand, soft sky, steely waters and green shock of sea lettuce—is such that one can practically taste the salty mist. The lake scene plants the viewer squarely in the high, dry Rocky Mountain elevation, where the sharp blue sky is barely filtered through the thin air. What they have in common is an abundance of colour and an economy of technical information: The seaweed is a series of dashes; the deep glacial blue-green of Moraine Lake is expressed in a few dry-brushed lines. "A Rocky Beach" 24 x 48 inches, acrylic on canvas "Fog at Moraine Lake" 40 x 60 inches, acrylic on canvas "West Winds" 36 x 48 inches, acrylic on canvas "Cedar Grove" 48 x 48 inches, acrylic on canvas “Every [piece] has to be a feeling,” he urges; “You have to have the ocean’s feeling.” It’s not just about impressionism, though; other art forms that contain worlds within a few marks are sources of admiration for Bi. A visit to Haida Gwaii left him with great admiration for the local Northwest Coast First Nations artworks. Of the totem poles and other work he saw, he says, “They are just really, really true. Nothing more is needed. You need less detail to give you the most thinking. It’s a very simple thing, but you know there are so many stories inside. That’s really high art.” In homage, he paints some landscape scenes containing totem poles (see this month’s cover). Achieving this dichotomy, with information and mark in inverse proportion, takes time, thought—and sketching. Bi does work from photographs to a point, but “You don’t want to just follow the photograph, or you will lose something of the truth,” he argues. “Sketches give me the [memory] of the time I was outside, what I was really thinking. You look at the photo, then you do a lot of sketches to bring you back to that first feeling. Once you get that, you are getting close,” he says. “Close to the truth.” “Coastal Reflections,” featuring new works by Bi Yuan Cheng, runs November 16—27 at The Avenue Gallery, with an Artist Reception on Saturday, November 18, 1-3pm. 2184 Oak Bay Ave. 250-598-2184, theavenuegallery.com. Having lived in Calgary and attended the occasional Stampede, it is possible that it was Bi Yuan Cheng who Aaren Madden watched in fascination as he sketched his charcoal portraits.
  5. Aaren Madden

    There is truth here

    First Nations children’s art, created at residential and day schools, opens pathways for healing and reconciliation. MARK ATLEO (Kiikitakashuaa) of the Ahousaht First Nation is a survivor of the Alberni Indian Residential School. He was there for nine years, beginning when he was seven years old. Away from his family, he had to be brave not just for himself: “I had a younger brother who I had to watch over when I was there,” recounts Atleo. “He was crying every day that he wanted to go home, wondering why we were there. So I had to console him in the classroom, just being a big brother.” Atleo recalls running away, only to be brought back, during his last year there. He ran away because he was not allowed to attend his grandmother’s funeral. I had the honour of hearing Atleo’s words in the upstairs curatorial spaces of the University of Victoria’s Legacy Downtown art gallery. He was there with Andrea Walsh, PhD, the curator of There is Truth Here: Creativity and Resilience in Children’s Art from Indian Residential and Indian Day Schools. It was an emotional conversation; the three of us were each weeping at some time during our hour together. Andrea Walsh and Mark Atleo with a painting Atleo created while attending Alberni Indian Residential School. Photo by Tony Bounsall. A visual anthropologist at the University of Victoria, Walsh collaborates with First Nations groups across Canada to research and repatriate artwork that was created by residential and day school students. In 2008, a collection of paintings was bequeathed to UVic from the family of Port Alberni artist Robert Aller, who volunteered at the Alberni Indian Residential School (IRS) teaching extracurricular art classes. Shortly afterward, Walsh got involved in the process of repatriating these artworks to the survivors who had created them as children between the late 1950s and early 1970s. Following cultural protocols and collaborating with survivors, these paintings formed an exhibition at Legacy Downtown in 2013 and the Alberni Valley Museum in 2015. In September 2013, the Commissioners for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission invited the Alberni survivors to share their stories and paintings at the closing ceremonies in Vancouver. Again following cultural protocols, Walsh and her group used the opportunity to reunite Mark Atleo with a painting he had done as a child. In front of 1000 witnesses, “I cried,” Atleo says in his quiet voice. Before this painting came back to him, Atleo had been through therapies for his experiences, and says, “I thought I was ok—but I wasn’t…It’s like I was looking in a telescope upside down. Everything was locked up.” He had completely forgotten the painting, but now he had a direct, focused sightline back to the child he was. “When you turn the telescope the right way, it opens up the hurt, and see what happens when you get the help you need to see the better life that is out there.” That child painted a vibrant blue fish—“a sockeye; that’s our favourite fish”—adorned with yellow and green, in a style mimicking what he would have seen at home. It rests in a net above a swirling blue and purple poster-paint sea. Recalling the painting of it, Atleo says, “All it was is that dark, shady background. Mr Aller said, ‘paint what you really like; what’s in your life.’ I just thought about fishing. [What] I wanted when I grew up was to be a fisherman. We were taken away when I was just starting.” His grandfather had taught him all about fishing. Mark Atleo's painting After his residential school experience ended, Atleo did go on to be a fisherman for 36 years. Now 65, he is a BC Transit driver. He acknowledges BCT’s support of his journey; the organization posted photos on their website of a later trip to Ottawa he and his Alberni classmates took to record their experiences for the Canada Hall at the Canadian Museum of History. At work, “people talk; they come and ask questions,” he says. “[My work colleagues and I] met years ago, and now we are much closer. And there are still people asking questions.” “To get this [painting] back was something else,” he shares. The painting “opened me up towards my other classmates, our group. We had been apart for so long; now we see more of each other. It’s great.” Atleo has since shared his story on panel discussions and with university students. While they remain owners of the work, many survivors of the Alberni school have chosen to keep their paintings at the University of Victoria so that they may be used as teaching tools. “What a generous thing,” Walsh declares with emotion. While most people have countless photos and mementos from childhood, “these [survivors] don’t have pictures. They don’t have little things from their school time… But the way they share so selflessly…saying, ‘Let’s talk about this.’” Fifty paintings from Alberni Indian Residential School survivors, including Atleo’s, will be displayed as part of There is Truth Here, along with collections from students who attended the McKay Indian Residential School in Manitoba, the Alert Bay Indian Day School, and the Inkameep Indian Day School in the Okanagan, between the early 1950s and early 1970s. Works will include drawings, paintings, exquisite handmade buckskin costumes, and many photographs depicting dramatic children’s performances of Okanagan stories. All the works on display will be put into context. For instance, the Alberni and Inkameep collections exist due to teachers who would be considered renegades for encouraging the children to express themselves and their culture authentically, without censorship. Other collections show a more practical intention, but still contain marks that connect to and evidence an individual, a unique person, a person of value in an impossible place—one that had been wiped from collective memory. Displaying these works is a step toward correcting that erasure. Painting by Edith Kruger, age 12, while she was at Inkameep Indian Day School Walsh reflects, “When we think about the visual legacy of the [residential] schools, they are in the thousands of pictures of children. But they were taken of children, not by children. And they were taken to demonstrate the value of what the government saw as this assimilative policy that was being carried out in the schools. So these pictures are often of [children] in uniforms, and they are anonymous. But they are not, because they were brothers and sisters and cousins and daughters and sons and grandsons and granddaughters. And although we can’t—nor should we—feel like we have access to those relations, what the art does is highlight that all of the children in those pictures were wonderful little children…they had ideas and they had creativity. There is a creativity to these pieces and there is a resilience to them. [The children] were staying strong. The pieces here were evidence of that strength.” These works are truths, but also pathways to understanding and reconciliation. Says Atleo, “I would hope other people would see there are stories to these artworks. We are always taught, culture-wise, when people carved or made anything—like that costume,” he says, gesturing to the archival storage box containing a tiny buckskin dress, “that’s a story in that box there. My painting has a story to it—to share with other people…What’s here being displayed is an eye-opener. It’s not just to look at…I think it’s a teaching tool for younger people nowadays. It’s a good tool. It’s like we were hidden away from society. Now it’s open.” There is Truth Here: Creativity and Resilience in Children’s Art from Indian Residential and Indian Day Schools is at the Legacy Downtown Art Gallery from September 23, 2017 to January 6, 2018. Panel discussion with survivors September 30. Contact Legacy Downtown for more information. 630 Yates Street, 250-721-6562, www. uvac.uvic.ca/Locations/legacy. When Aaren Madden discussed the subject of this article with her family, she listened as her son jumped in to explain to his younger sister what residential schools were. Rightly, finally, he had learned about them in school.
  6. Painterly techniques and lived experience imbue her marine landscapes with a sense of place, time and abundance. NAOMI CAIRNS’ oil-on-canvas landscapes offer many sensory experiences in one picture plane. A lingering visit with “Teakerne Arm Shoreline,” for instance, evokes the particular magic of the Northern Gulf Islands on an early, still morning. Its turquoise and mauve-grey shadows tell the time, while quick-gestured highlights—lime-green on the trees, ivory on the rocks—bring the touch of a warm sun to your left cheek. As the eye travels to foreground, one can practically smell the cool brine of Lewis Channel. "Teakerne Arm Shoreline" by Naomi Cairns, 36 x 84 inches, oil on canvas It is a rich, brimming scene that draws the viewer in, theoretically and physically. As you come closer to the painting, individual brushstrokes and fields of colour come forward. The work becomes about process. That turquoise dash temporarily relinquishes its role as shadow to become pigment on a surface, a mark, one component of the sum of parts. But then, step back and everything reassembles to place the viewer squarely back upon the still waters. This sensation underscores the realization of Cairns’ impressionist goals. The process requires much backing-and-forthing. “I love that I can be up close doing more gestural, looser painting, then I walk 50 feet away from [it] and I can see what I’m doing again,” she explains. The walking is figurative, she clarifies with a laugh: “I had to put a bunch of mirrors up so I can get far enough away, because my studio just fits my paintings; I can’t get back very far.” Naomi Cairns with "Boy in Boat" Cairns favours a large canvas—often four feet by eight—that allows for a grand sweep of forest and shoreline or the perfect framing of a rocky island. “The size is very important for me to give me the freedom to play with the different looser techniques of painting but still get the effect that I want from afar,” she explains. “I like how it looks more abstract from up close, and as you get further, the depth takes over and it feels to me like I am in that place.” “I am trying to figure out what makes a painting successful for me,” she continues, finding that an economy of information is essential. “It needs to still have quite a bit of detail that is undescribed for me to feel like it’s got life,” she says. “It needs to have details for the viewer to fill in on their own.” Rather than beginning the process in her snug studio, Cairns always starts with floating on the water. Often it will be in a skin-on-frame kayak or dinghy of her own making. “They are light enough that, if someone is with me to take care of the kids [she has a one-year-old daughter and four-year-old son], I can just grab my camera and go for a paddle and take photos and do sketches. Then I go back to my studio to do the painting on canvas. My subject matter might change, but for the last three years, [views] have all been from the water.” "Gorge Harbour Entrance" 48 x 60 inches, oil on canvas Considering her lifelong relationship with said water, this is not surprising. In 1984, Cairns was born in a “cute little cabin” in French Creek, after her mother made the trip from Lasqueti Island about a month before in anticipation of the birth. “All my earliest memories are of time near the water,” she says. Her mother originally came from Montreal, and spent the week alone with Cairns and her sister while her father worked in the forest industry. Home on weekends, he worked his oyster and clam lease while the girls played with crabs on the beach. “I [also] remember going rowing with my mom a lot in this cute little red sailing dinghy,” Cairns recalls. Her family moved to Vancouver Island, and she attended schools in the Parksville area until grade 12. As a teen, she preferred painting to hanging out and socializing. She won awards in the local Brant Festival poster competition, then in the Royal Canadian Legion National poster competition two years in a row. That process enabled her to spend time with Robert Bateman, Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul, time she found inspiring and affirming. Cairns went on to study art at Malaspina University College, then at Emily Carr University, often working as a tree planter to support herself. For a semester, she did an exchange at the L’Ecole National des Beaux Arts de Lyon, France. While appreciating the way Europeans valued artists, Cairns was struck by “how different it is here as far as wilderness goes, things that are untouched.” "Mansons Lagoon IV" 48 x 60 inches, oil on canvas She met her husband Erik at Emily Carr, and after graduation they engaged in various projects and learned many skills, including the building of the skin-on-frame kayaks and dinghies she now uses to follow her muse. At first she continued to paint and show her work, but the desire to feel more “well-rounded” compelled her to stop her art practice for six years. She worked as a gardener, and she and Erik bought and restored a 40-foot sailboat. They sailed the Gulf Islands, and loved Cortes Island so much, they stayed. They lived on that boat for three years. “It was amazing to live on the water. You’d look through the portholes and you’d see a loon, right there, diving down. Our portholes were about a foot from the water, so when we were standing down below in the galley it was like lying on the water. You could see the little islands in the distance and all the ducks on the surface. Sometimes there were river otters that would come up and look right in the portholes.” Once her son started walking, it became clear that a move to land was necessary. They built a house on Cortes Island, where they remain. She is pleased that her own children get to experience an untamed life on the water as she did. “We are very much on the edge of wilderness,” enthuses Cairns. They hear the wolves howling, and they keep a watchful eye on their pet Chihuahua, lest he get snatched by an eagle. Her husband, now an oyster farmer, organizes weekly sail-abouts with local families. “We are lucky to be here,” she states simply. "Ring Island" 42 x 52.5 inches, oil on canvas It has only been three years since Cairns returned to painting, and her rapid success has removed any doubts she had about her path. Paintings can sell before they even make it up onto gallery walls. With Erik’s flexible schedule and her mother and father-in-law close by, she is able to combine her art practice with caring for a young family. Surrounded by magnificent land and seascapes, she never lacks for inspiration or the motivation to distil—and thereby capture—the essence of her surroundings. Clearly, she belongs on the water. Naomi Cairns’ paintings can be seen in Victoria at West End Gallery, 1203 Broad Street, 250-388-0009, www.westendgalleryltd.com. Find Naomi Cairns online at www.naomicairns.com. For so many reasons, Aaren Madden echoes Naomi Cairns’ sentiments: we are lucky to be here. She hopes that, in so many ways, we all work together to protect what we have.
  7. Aaren Madden

    All together now

    Luke Ramsey’s multidisciplinary art practice is all about collaboration—with other artists, and with viewers. VICTORIA ARTIST LUKE RAMSEY creates pen-and-ink drawings that are whimsical, melancholy, eccentric, orderly, complex, straightforward, humorous, sober, hopeful, dark, friendly, and strange—sometimes all at once. As the eye follows his mark’s labyrinthine journey around the page, one finds unexpected motifs that give pause—guns worked into what looks like a peaceful forest scene, for instance. Other drawings are more loosely composed, but a wriggling, effusive energy remains. Meaning is elusive, but larger, overarching suggestions are implied, and personal interpretations invited. “The message is there for the people who are going to look for it, and find it, and have that ‘aha’ moment,” says Ramsey. “Organized chaos” or a “tidy mess” is how he has described his work, whether it be ink on paper, or writ large on the side of a building. Alone and in collaboration with others, Ramsey has created public murals across Canada and in Europe, among them “Transition” with Josh Holinaty. Located on the John Howard Society building in Edmonton, the work won an award of excellence from the City and a National Urban Design Medal from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. Click the image above for a short slideshow of Luke Ramsey's art “Fuel and Empathy” is a recent local mural located on Cormorant Street between Blanshard and Quadra, a gathering place for addicts. Integrating the pre-existing graffiti into this bright, appealing landscape lends it a particular poignancy, acknowledging its past as it injects hope into this fraught public space. In his statement about it, he notes how the area was considered an eyesore, adding, “I wanted to look beyond the wall’s surface and consider the story behind it, to work with the texture and subtly preserve it.…To find beauty in its ugliness, to re-contextualize the graffiti like a collage into the work. This wall has a connection to people and place, and these are ingredients to beauty and colour.” He admits he himself “dabbled in tags and stencils” in his youth, but realized it was “better to open doors by not tagging on them.” Still, street-art remains an important influence on all of his work. “A lot of it is influenced by growing up in the punk-rock community in Victoria, being in bands, going to shows.” Ramsey was inspired by the “do-it-yourself attitude” of that scene. “You want to put out a magazine, you just do it yourself. You want to start a band, you talk to your friends and you just do it.” While in high school, he was in the punk band Shrunken Heads, and still “messes around with music.” Ramsey was born in High Wickham outside London in 1979, the oldest of four children. When he was about eight years old, his family moved to Toronto, then travelled around, finally settling in Victoria. “I know I got a lot of my entrepreneurial sensibilities from being around my dad,” he says, and gives credit to that influence for gaining him illustration and mural clients like Emily Carr University, Mountain Equipment CO-OP, Patagonia, The New York Times, WIRED, and The BC Children’s Hospital, among others. He might have inherited the travelling bug from his father as well. Right after he graduated from high school in 1997, he hitchhiked across Canada. Sketchbook always at hand, he then travelled with his now-wife through the Mediterranean, Morocco and Turkey. Southeast Asia followed, where he taught English in Taiwan while travelling to nearby countries. “My art education was going to museums and galleries in Europe and taking all that in, and then living in Taiwan really impacted my art in a huge way,” Ramsey reflects. “There is just an abundance of drawings and cartoons in the signage over there, and in pop culture and everyday life, so it got me thinking differently about art and pursuing a career in art.” His first mural is still on a toy store wall in Taiwan. For the most part, Ramsey’s drawings begin intuitively. “I just go to the paper and see what happens,” he says. “I have a toolbox of shapes and lines that I pull from, but I don’t really have an idea of where it’s going to end up…and there are these surprises that happen.” With a drawing, Ramsey says, “I am making mistakes constantly, but that’s really good for me, because it forces me to accept that thing that I did, and make it work.” In an essay he wrote some years ago, Ramsey quoted Albert Camus as having said, “One recognizes one’s course by discovering the paths that stray from it.” Painting, however, is “totally different, because I am stepping back and planning and taking my time,” he says. The medium is relatively new territory for Ramsey, having taken it up in just the last few years. He spent the spring working on a series for his upcoming exhibition at Madrona Gallery. The palette and imagery are similar to those of the Cormorant Street mural: Orca motifs are plentiful, and sloping islands bask under blue turquoise skies dappled with Calder-esque clouds. In several paintings, forms (hills, orcas) are dissected to show a teeming energy within, a complexity beneath the simplicity of colour and form. “It’s alluding to this vibration, this core of the Earth; this beating heart that is the centre of the Earth, the centre of living things, the centre of us,” Ramsey explains. “Us” is an important notion to Ramsey, and he encourages it in the exchange between work and viewer. When he published his illustrated book Intelligent Sentient? in 2015, he deliberately left out the narrative he had written for it. Though it was about his personal ideas, “I didn’t want people to get fixed on those words; I wanted people to create their own interpretation of it,” he says. It’s this spirit of non-fixed interpretation that also feeds his desire and ability to join forces with other artists. He has engaged in collaborations from Hong Kong to Cape Dorset—over 100 of them so far—and given workshops for youth in Haida Gwaii, Powell River and Victoria. Ever-shifting perceptions of the world, and everything in it, fuel Ramsey’s creativity. Turning a basic, familiar object on its head suddenly transforms it into something equally recognizeable, and yet totally different. Demonstrating this simple truth in his image-making carries a lot of meaning for him. “I think that’s really important in life, to not just see things as one stuck way—even the simplest of things,” he offers. “That is the problem with war and hate… Sometimes you have to just step outside yourself and try to see the other person’s perspective in some way. Maybe not agree with it, but just try and see where they are coming from a little bit more.” Ramsey is a natural fit for his current position as 2017’s Artist in Residence for the City of Victoria, where he will be working with various City departments, running workshops and collaborating with different groups. Ultimately, all this exchange will result in at least one original piece of public art for the City. Given Ramsey’s approach, it will likely engage the viewer in such a way that we also become partners in a collaborative process which urges us to think when we play, and play when we think. Luke Ramsey’s exhibition of drawings and paintings will be at Madrona Gallery June 8 to 22. 606 View Street, 250-380-4660, www.madronagallery.com. Find out more about the City of Victoria Artist in Residence Program at www.victoria.ca and find Luke Ramsey online at www.lukeramseystudio.com. Aaren Madden lives near the Trackside Gallery, where Luke Ramsey honed his street-art skills. She laments the deterioration of the programs there and vibrant, youth-created murals that once graced its exterior walls. Now watch Luke Ramsey draw:
  8. Aaren Madden

    Robin Hopper: Artist, teacher and gardener

    Renowned Victoria artist Robin Hopper died on April 6, 2017, at age 77. Hopper was named to the Order of Canada in December 2016 for his innovative techniques in ceramic art. He and his wife, ceramic artist and photographer Judi Dyelle, were founders of the Metchosen International Summer School of the Arts at Pearson College. In April 2016 FOCUS interviewed Robin in his Metchosin garden. Robin Hopper’s legacy in ceramics encompasses production, education, publications, institutions—and a beautiful garden. Robin Hopper (Photo by Tony Bounsall) “THIS IS ONE OF MY GREATEST ARTWORKS,” says Robin Hopper, the ceramic artist. He’s referring not to one of his many functional or decorative ceramic pieces or his two-dimensional glaze paintings, but to his garden. “The reason I have a garden is I don’t have to go looking for inspiration; I can just walk out the door and it’s there. It feeds me all the time,” he says. If you see one of his pieces embellished with a clematis design, it is one of the 50 varieties that grow in his garden. The pond in Robin Hopper's garden At 77, Hopper is not as spry these days. He was diagnosed with cancer about six months ago. For five years now he’s not kept a regular studio practice. Still, he keeps busy with legacy projects like Swan Song, an autobiographical/ educational DVD he recently produced (available online soon). And he tries to walk in the garden “at least once a day,” he says. A dear mutual friend and I are being given a tour of this celebrated, award-winning space by its creator, who bashed out the brambles and gradually nurtured it into being amidst resplendent Douglas firs shortly after he settled on this Metchosin property in 1977. The goal was to create an attractive space for family—he has two daughters and a son with his first wife—along with a studio and gallery area for potential clients to come and see his wares. Hopper studied ceramics, theatre design, painting and printmaking at Croydon College in South London from 1955-61. After nine years working in theatre (both on and offstage) and as a travel guide, he returned to his “first love” with a ceramics studio and teaching. Having emigrated from his native England in 1968, Hopper then taught in Ontario, eventually setting up the ceramics and glass department at Georgian College in Barrie. By 1973, he turned to studio production full time, though he continued to teach workshops internationally for decades. Just before moving west, he gained renown as the first recipient of the Saidye Bronfman Award for Excellence in the fine crafts. "Skyphos", high-fired porcelain with thrown handles Click here for a glimpse of Robin Hopper's ceramic artwork “The first fall I was here,” Hopper recollects, “I was somewhat devastated because I had come from sugarbush country in Ontario, where the fall colours are fantastic.” So, as he does with any undertaking from glazes or gardens, Hopper dove in and “started to research all of the plants that had the best fall colour for this area. Invariably, they came from Japan, China, Korea. He refers to the resultant blend he created as “Anglojapanadian” in design. A storyteller at heart, Hopper is an edifying and engaging tour guide. We learn about the types of Japanese gardens that he drew upon for inspiration, beginning with the Stroll Garden. Often narrative in their symbolism, they reflected the experiences of the owner. At the start of his garden is a meandering gravel path. “This is not a pathway,” Hopper corrects, “this is a symbol for a river—and you are on a journey as soon as you go through that gate.” We breathe in fragrant viburnum (“Osmanthus delavayi,” he declares), while Hopper points out three large fan-shaped stepping stones, explaining, “The fan in Chinese and Japanese is a symbol for education and authority.” Emperor's Gate Fitting that education is one of Hopper’s greatest contributions to the local and international ceramics fields. “Robin is a real teacher,” said Diane Carr, a leading authority on the ceramic history of British Columbia, when we met to discuss the artist. In her catalogue for Back to the Land: Ceramics from Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands 1970-1985, an exhibition she curated at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, she writes, “Perhaps his most important contributions to ceramics have been his teaching, glaze exploration, and the several books he has written on various aspects of studio pottery.” His first, The Ceramic Spectrum, “has become an essential text for studio potters.” A little further down the path, my friend delightedly points out several clumps of ceramic mushrooms with various glazes: some black with pocks of crackled white, some earthy swirls of red, all created by Hopper. “Fungus ceramicus,” he quips. “They come up all over the place.” Referring to his British heritage, Hopper remarks that English gardeners like to incorporate “things that make you laugh and things with a touch of history.” Both are important to Hopper in life and in artistic influence. From a young age, he was fascinated with the ancient pots he would see during his many haunts of the Victoria and Albert and other museums. Circumstances led to a fairly solitary childhood: he was born in London in 1939; his twin sister died ten days after birth. Save two older brothers who were working age, most of his five siblings were evacuated during the Blitz. He stayed behind, having contracted chicken pox. While his mother ran the family grocery business and his father was working in the war effort, he would wander among the bomb craters, scooping up the exposed clay. He sculpted birds and other animals that interested him—and still does: After a storm broke the branches off a cherry tree in the garden, Hopper fixed ceramic dog masks to the cut ends: “It became a dogwood tree,” he grins. We walk on, past nodding chocolate lilies, pink and purple hellebores (helleborus orientalis), daffodils and ferns, whose tiny fists are being pulled upward by the dappled sun. Hopper stops in a grass clearing. “We came down the river, and this is an ocean. Once you are on an ocean, all the oceans of the world unite,” he explains. In such a gathering place, one can find another metaphor for Hopper’s legacy. Carr had said of Hopper, “He drew other potters around him; he sparked energy.” With the help of his second wife, Judi Dyelle, herself an accomplished potter who shares their ’Chosin Pottery business, Hopper started the Fired Up! Contemporary Works in Clay exhibition group. In 1984, Hopper had returned with Dyelle from a year spent in the vibrant, colourful arts scene in Montreal to the depressed economy of Vancouver Island. Sales were slumping for artists, they saw, and in contrast to the colourful glazes they had seen in the east, “everything was brown,” Dyelle laments with a laugh. So they gathered some local potters and sought a solution. After he and Judi spent weeks weeding, the first Fired Up! show and sale took place in the garden. It has since moved to nearby Metchosin Hall and is about to enter its 32nd year. “The whole idea was the education of the public, to be continually showing them interesting and different things,” Dyelle relates, adding how, at the 25th anniversary show, “the potters were blown away by how people could talk to them, because they had a better understanding of what they were doing; they had grown alongside them.” That same summer, Hopper saw a dearth of quality arts teaching and a nearby space to provide it. He was teaching part time at Pearson College and had recently travelled to Australia to teach workshops. While there, he saw a model for a summer school that could apply here, and he and four other artists (Carole Sabiston, Cheryl Samuels, Fleming Jorgenson and poet Rona Murray) co-founded the Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts. Four initial courses have grown into an internationally renowned multidisciplinary program with 45 workshops offered. Dyelle also deserves credit. “I’m surprised that Jude and I actually passed the first year, because I’m the idea guy, and she’s the person that makes it happen!” Hopper admits. Judi nods, smiling: “He’s the ideas, I’m the work.” Back in the garden, we come to the “River Koi.” “In a lot of Japanese gardens there is a stone river or a stone waterfall,” he says. Embedded into cement, complete with removable Japanese bridge, we find a variety of ceramic “koi” with multicoloured glazes. The bridge is removable because for years, this was actually a functioning road for truck access to the septic field. “There are 100 fish in the river. Ninety-two of them swim downstream, and the other eight swim upstream. They represent me,” Hopper offers: always against the current, but steadfast in his thinking that “you might as well make it beautiful if you are going to make anything.” It’s that way of thinking that Carr calls Hopper’s “true genius.” Bridge over the River Koi The Teahouse Finally we settle on a sheltered bench in a private area of the garden. Fish bob to the surface of a sun-glazed pond. “In here, there are about 11 different types of Japanese maples. They change colour sequentially, starting at about the middle of August and going right through to the beginning of December,” Hopper says, his fatigue visible. He seems content to enjoy the sun on his face as my friend and I wander and admire the water lilies and the sparkling fountain. We sit back down and I notice a small ceramic house just to our left among the foliage. “That’s actually a copy of a sarcophagus from Crete,” Hopper explains. “It is one of [Cowichan Valley potter] Cathi Jefferson’s. It’s one of my final resting places.” He continues, “We hope to keep the property in the family, but you just don’t know. I’m going to sit in there and cast evil spirits to anybody that does anything to this garden that shouldn’t be done,” he says, eyes twinkling. Aaren Madden can safely say the garden at Chosin Pottery feeds not only its maker, but all who visit.
  9. Aaren Madden

    Full Circle

    Artist Susan Point has pushed boundaries for women and Coast Salish design. SINCE LAST AUGUST, anyone passing the 700 block of Johnson Street will likely have seen “Woven Together,” a public artwork installed on the façade of the Johnson Street Parkade. It is made of powder-coated aluminum forms in colours ranging from golden yellows and oranges to cool blues to muted browns and blacks. The forms fit together to describe circles, either in total or by suggestion using negative space. The effect, should you pause in your daily rush (and shouldn’t we all, now and then?), is of several circles advancing and receding with your eye’s movement, making a private communication to the viewer in this very public realm. Look a little longer and you will see eyes, butterfly wings, or just a collection of intriguing concave and convex shapes fitted together to make a whole. As is typical of contemporary Coast Salish artwork, it is at once engagingly complex and poetically simple. The artwork is by Susan Point and one of her four children, Thomas Cannell. It is one of many of her public artworks that, like a silent story, punctuate Coast Salish territory (the lower mainland, southern Vancouver Island, and northern coast of Washington State). With these and private works, Susan Point has been credited for bringing the intricate flow of Coast Salish visual style back into practice, leading by example and inspiring many more young artists to spark a renaissance in Coast Salish art (she has the awards and accolades to prove it, including the Order of Canada). Perhaps one of the most bold declarations of Coast Salish style is her giant red cedar spindle whorl and welcome figures installed at the Vancouver International Airport in 1995 and ’96. The spindle whorl, a round weaving implement, is an important item in Coast Salish culture. Usually made of wood, the discs are traditionally about eight inches in diameter and carved with shapes of humans and animals using distinctive design elements such as crescents, trigons and ovals. As part of their great spinning and weaving tradition, Coast Salish women have been using them for centuries. Susan Point’s own mother, Edna Grant-Point, is among those women. She and other family members had a great influence on Point’s future career as an artist. Born in Alert Bay while the family was salmon fishing in 1952, Point was raised on the Musqueam Reserve near Vancouver. Point recalls, “We, my brothers and sisters, watched our mother wash, card and spin wool endlessly as we grew up…she was an excellent knitter.” Her mother’s methods left a great impression on Point: “In creating her designs for knitting, my mother would design her images on graph paper—in an old ragged graph book that she had for years—using dots to create an overall design. To me, this was amazing!” Along with aunts and an uncle, her mother also instilled a great awareness of her culture in Point, which, combined with her natural environs, she uses as inspiration in her artwork today. Despite having spent five years as a child in residential school, Point, now 64, says, “I will never forget the cultural teachings I was taught as a young child and I will forever cherish the stories and legends I was told.” While she had the stories, the visual culture of the Northwest Coast First Nations had been only associated with northern groups like the Haida and the Kwakwaka’wakw. “It was not until January of 1981 that I first became aware of our unique art form while taking a jewellery course at Vancouver Community College,” she relates. She was on maternity leave from a legal secretary job at the time. Intrigued, she set out to learn more. Over time she travelled to museums and public archives in Canada, the US and Europe to do research. “The imagery upon the various utilitarian tools and houseposts were definitely one of-a-kind and unique to what we call Coast Salish art today,” she says. Soon after her jewellery class, Point was making her own jewellery designs. And later that same year, at her kitchen table, Point created her first original print titled “Salmon,” a one-colour image of four salmon swimming toward a central point. It is clearly suggestive of a spindle whorl, and the implement continues to be of particular inspiration to Point. Several of her prints have an explicit or implied circle at the centre of a spherical design to represent the middle of the spindle whorl. But even those that are rectangular in format evoke a circular flow, with the distinct undulations of her form of Coast Salish design. “The circle is a natural inspiration for me,” she explains. “It represents the circle of life, the Sun, the Moon, the ripples in a pond, salmon eggs, and so on. This triggers my inspiration, as I am sure it did for my ancestors and mankind, kindling invention and harmony, our connection to the land.” Point has conveyed that continuity and connection in media ranging from cedar to paper to glass, steel to metal and stone, often working in areas that, at least when she plunged in, had traditionally been the preserve of men. But she admits that while she loves the challenge of a new medium, she enjoys the freedom of printmaking “simply because I love to draw and go beyond what I know…to explore and experiment.” Her newest print, being done as this is written, is titled Robins. It comes during a flurry of activity, as she prepares for a retrospective of her work at the Vancouver Art Gallery, February 18-May 28. Aptly titled Spindle Whorl, it will feature over 100 of her works. Curated by Senior Curator-Historical Ian Thom and Audain Curator of British Columbia Art Grant Arnold, a 160-page hardcover book has been published to accompany it. Though the exhibition will provide her with an opportunity to reflect on a career full of accomplishment, she seems most gratified by the work she has been able to do in collaboration with her children. “Over the past 35 years, since childhood, all of my four children have watched me create art,” she shares, “and each one of them are true artists within themselves.” Along with the Johnson Street installation, son Thomas Cannell has collaborated multiple times with Point and also done his own public commissions, sometimes in collaboration with siblings. Recently he was one of three Coast Salish artists whose designs adorn one of the new Coastal Class BC Ferries; his is Salish Raven. And Point adds proudly, “My oldest son, Brent Sparrow, has been assisting me with carving on large-scale projects and at the same time working on his own public art commissions. And there’s my daughter, Rhea Guerin, who has produced her own works on paper and has collaborated with me on a limited-edition lino-cut print. Then there’s my youngest daughter, Kelly Cannell, who has also collaborated with me on a few public art commissions as well, and who has also been working very closely with me for the past few years, assisting me with carving and painting. At the same time, Kelly also works on her own public and private commissions producing works on paper, in wood, metal, and in glass. It’s a family affair!” Nowadays, Susan Point also particularly loves “drawing and learning from my grandchildren.” With thirteen and counting (one’s on the way), Point’s circle continues to get fuller. Susan Point’s retrospective exhibit “Spindle Whorl” is at the Vancouver Art Gallery until May 28. In Victoria you can see “Robins” and other serigraph prints by Point and her children, Thomas Cannell and Kelly Cannell, at Alcheringa Gallery, 621 Fort Street, 250-383-8224, www.alcheringa-gallery.com. As her own children grow, writer Aaren Madden is increasingly aware that she will learn more from them than she will ever be able to teach them.
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