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Aaren Madden

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  1. NANAIMO-BASED LANDSCAPE PAINTER Ray Ward has a data storage problem. At its root is his interest in capturing the constantly shifting light, the banks of fog and mist, and myriad cloud formations that advance and retreat daily across Vancouver Island. Along with images of land and shore, “I’ve got a sky folder that grew into about ten subfolders for different types of clouds,” he says. “I’ve got cumulus, I’ve got storm clouds, I’ve got backlit cumulus, I’ve got evening cumulus, morning sky, all different times of the day, and different varieties of clouds,” he lists with a lightness in his voice that suggests it’s not such a bad problem to have. Thank goodness for digital cameras, though. It wasn’t that long ago that Ward would paint in a darkened room, his easel in an umbrella of lamplight, slides projected on the wall for reference. “The quality of the slides was just so much better,” he explains, until about 2009, when digital resolution was fine enough to provide the detail he required. "Botany Bay Lookout" 24 x 30 inches, oil on canvas That’s not to say Ward’s landscapes are photo-realist. They are equally concerned with a mood conveyed with atmospheric perspective, the particular quality of light at a particular moment in time, resulting in an experience of landscape that is both visual and visceral. In the oil on board painting “September Reflections, Cowichan Valley,” the mist practically dabs at the viewer’s cheek. The overcast sky comprises the majority of the picture plane, with soft clouds settling in on distant hills. The moist air and diffuse light softens the edges of the trees just so, and the slightly rippling pond is foregrounded in such a way that the viewer is placed firmly at its bank, present and involved in this specific moment. It is a typical early fall day, made special by its singling out in time. Ward is particularly attracted to cloud formations because of their ephemeral nature: “I like the way [they] can change a landscape so fast—when a storm front moves in and it looks completely different. I like the challenge of getting the subtleties. On an overcast day, it is more challenging than on a bright sunny day: you don’t have the contrast, the obvious value shifts between the lights and the darks. Everything is more in the middle. When you can get it right, it’s pretty rewarding,” he says. Ray Ward This appreciation may stem from what sounds like an idyllic childhood spent largely outdoors. Ward was born in Comox in 1968 and grew up on his family’s five-acre hobby farm in Courtenay. “We had cows and chickens, pheasants, ducks and geese, all sorts of things,” he says. “It was a good way to grow up.” He also enjoyed drawing as a child, and was encouraged by friends and, at age 11, winning an art contest in a local paper. After hearing that a friend’s uncle had made a living thus, Ward decided to pursue a career as an illustrator. He entered the Illustration and Design program at Capilano College (now University) in North Vancouver when he was 20 years old, and upon graduation found an agent. This was the early 1990s, when the illustration field was transitioning to digital, which held little appeal for Ward. He freelanced for about a year, continuing to pay the bills with landscaping and stonework, a job he’d had while in school. “My end goal was always to be a fine artist one day, but I thought it would be a lot later,” Ward admits. Needing to adapt his plan, he began to paint in the evenings. Days spent hefting stones and building walls were followed by nights lifting brush to canvas. He started showing work at a gallery on Granville Island in Vancouver and sold his first painting there, a seascape, in 1995. “September Reflections, Cowichan Valley” 20 x 20 inches, oil on board “Still Waters, Cape Scott” 16 x 20 inches, oil Around this time Ward and his wife Heidi were also travelling extensively. They spent time in Australia, Malaysia and Thailand, saw Komodo dragons on the island of the same name, and travelled in Europe. Another trip took them to Central America, and they made multiple trips to France and Italy. Ward was taken with the light, colour and architecture of Venetian street scenes, and those were what he projected onto his darkened walls in his earlier studio work. The scenes sold well in the galleries who began representing him, and he painted several iterations of them. However, when he and his wife moved to Nanaimo and he began painting full-time in 2004, Ward found his interests shifting toward his immediate environs. Walking his dog around the many trails near their home and visiting the west coast of the island provided Ward with endless inspiration for his painting—and a sense of urgency to capture landscapes that seem to be constantly usurped by development. Recently Ward’s family, now including a young son, travelled to Alberta and Haida Gwaii, where he gathered more images from which to paint. Ironically, the sun was high and bright for most of his visit to Haida Gwaii, while the mountains were shrouded in low cloud in Alberta—“You could only see the bottom quarter at Lake Louise,” he laughs, but he still found plenty to further stretch his computer’s capacity. He will approach these compositions as he typically works. “I still do thumbnail sketches most of the time and work out the composition that way, trying different things, eliminating distracting elements.” he says. Once satisfied, he will do a simple drawing on board or canvas. He prefers the former for its smooth surface, which best supports fine detail, and its flexibility in size and shape. Next he applies oil paint in thin layers. Each begins with a preliminary wash in an earth tone. “I have never liked working off a white surface; I like to see a little bit of the background throughout when I am painting,” he explains. “I can adjust the values, the temperature off of that.” After blocking in the scene, he continues, “I just start going over layer by layer, usually three to four layers, just finishing it from the background to the foreground.” Because each layer of paint takes at least a day to dry, Ward works on several canvases at once—usually around four or five, but recently up to 15, in the crowded outbuilding near his house. Despite his productivity, he has another problem: supply and demand. “I was trying to get ready for another gallery and I would get a bunch [of paintings] finished, then one of my other galleries would want more work, so I would have to dig into those,” he laughs. But really, it shows that a wider public shares his fascination with our capricious skies. This, like finding digital capacity for images of infinitely changing cloudscapes, is a good problem to have. Ray Ward’s paintings can be seen at Peninsula Gallery, 100-2506 Beacon Ave, Sidney, 250-655-1722, www.pengal.com. Find him online at www.rayward.ca. While she tries to keep up with her growing family, Aaren Madden continues to learn and be inspired both personally and professionally, aware that she has many good problems to have.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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: Edited May 5, 2017 by admin
  7. 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.
  8. IN 1953, KAREL DORUYTER'S family emigrated from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, a city of roughly 500,000 people, to China Lake, a tiny hamlet southeast of Quesnel. He was 11 years old. “There was a one-room schoolhouse that went up to grade six, and maybe a population of 30,” the artist laughs. “I remember my sister and I banging with two-by-fours and a big drum, making sure the bears didn’t come too close.” Though they didn’t know the language—and in retrospect, he appreciates how difficult it must have been for his parents—the youngsters “found it all very exciting.” This new way of life was utterly different, and the total shift from urban centre to the isolation of the BC interior left its impression on Doruyter. Fast-forward to a view of one of his current rainforest landscape compositions, and the wonder of such a place is as fresh as it would have been to his young eyes. From a room’s distance, Doruyter’s acrylic paintings have the uncanny quality of a photograph, appearing almost hyper-realistic. For one thing, the point of view is eye level, exactly that of a person who would be standing amongst the trees. And then the green mosses and leaves seem lit from within by the rays of a persistent sun reaching over and around to land on that one chosen frond. As the viewer nears the work, however, Doruyter shows how he has internalized these landscapes over years of experience: What appears from a distance to be a delicate branch swaying in a gentle breeze, its bark surely dappled with lichen and tiny creatures, is no more than a light stroke of ruddy brown applied with a sure hand. Like the forests themselves, these paintings convey volumes in their simplicity. They need to be seen up close for full effect. They are mainly large works with images ranging from a single canvas to sweeping triptychs. Over time, Doruyter has developed a technique for building up the surface of the picture plane with his own concoction of plaster and other additives to create a relief that brings more impact to the texture of a tree’s bark, the driftwood on a wooded shore, or the corroding carved arcs of a Haida mortuary pole being reclaimed by weather, as seen in the painting “Closure.” Of his technique, Doruyter says, “I basically draw out on the canvas where things are going to go, then I apply [the material], sometimes in multiple layers, but I try to make it as exact as I had it in my mind. After it’s set up—I generally leave it overnight—I use a Dremel tool or a file to get the texture of the bark, although I try to build that in as I do it, because it’s far easier doing it then than after.” Once he is satisfied with the texture, he gessoes the works and commences painting. He can conjure these textures from memory: They are surfaces, objects, places that Doruyter knows well. While he has painted most of his adult life and studied Fine Art and Philosophy at the University of British Columbia, painting has not always been his main source of income. After graduation, he finessed his way into a job as a surveyor with the Department of Transport and worked on the building of several airports in BC. He eventually became the chief design draughtsman at Vancouver Airport, then became the manpower training and planning officer for the region. A transfer to Ottawa and the prevalence of managerial politics was too much for the iconoclastic Doruyter, however. To the shock of many, he left the position, with all of its security and predictability, and found a path that, while it was admittedly peripatetic, ultimately led him to where he needed to be. “From that point on, my while life changed,” he says. His first marriage broke up and he moved to Australia, working in mining in Tasmania for a couple of years. Most significantly at this time, he became interested in boat building. He explains, “I was fascinated by the idea of designing something you could live in, you could work in and you could move around in. And how you built the boat was how your life went. If you did a poor job building a boat, you might run into a problem. Your whole life depends on what you build.” Doruyter eventually moved back to Canada and worked in a mine in Port Hardy, where he met an Englishman with whom he started a boat building company on Quadra Island. They made a go of it for five years, but material costs were prohibitive and they dissolved the company. That led Doruyter down yet another path. “By this time I had built my third boat and started to do charters up and down the coast and to Alaska,” he recalls. He also met a couple who were involved in major arctic and Antarctic expeditions and spent some time in Chile helping them redesign their vessel for said expeditions. Another work opportunity led Doruyter to live in Haida Gwaii for a number of years. He continued to do charters and spend as much time in the rainforest as he could. “I think living there really shaped me as an artist, being in Haida Gwaii and going up and down the coast,” he reflects. “That’s why I paint the way I paint now; I mainly paint the West Coast rainforest. It’s fascinating. I don’t know how many times I have been up and down the BC coast; probably several hundred. Each trip up and down, no matter how short or how long, it’s different. You could spend several lifetimes just between Victoria and Hyder, Alaska,” he says. The common theme running through all of these ventures was the constant pull of geographical isolation. While he used to live in Victoria, Doruyter now makes his home in Penticton. From there, he paints his forest scenes and manages Arctic expeditions for the same couple. From time to time, he will escape to some appealingly isolated place, like Tierra del Fuego, where he spent a month hiking a few years back. “It was so beautiful in a minimalistic way,” he enthuses. “Just the glaciers and the mountain; there is such a presence.” It’s that feeling he seeks to evoke with paint and plaster on canvas: the monumentality of our natural world as it can only be understood in the places of isolation that so appeal to him. “I am basically drawn to the…emptiness,” he says, searching, although dissatisfied with the word. “Let’s put it this way: it’s empty of people,” he settles with a grin. “I am trying to get that feeling of ‘I have been here, on this spot, for 300, 400, 700 years. I was here when you were nothing.’” Karel Doruyter’s work can be seen in Victoria at a January group show at Madrona Gallery, 606 View St, 250-380-4660, www.madronagallery.com. As soon as she notices herself sighing and grumbling, Aaren Madden knows she is overdue for some regenerative time in the woods, where she will find the “everything and nothing” that she needs.
  9. BLU SMITH'S HOME is tucked into North Saanich, nestled among towering Douglas firs. It sits on a sweep of green lawn that joyfully displays a clutch of toys belonging to his two young sons. His wife, a chiropractor, seems used to graciously leading arts writers and other visitors through their light-filled home to Smith’s basement studio, dubbed “the cave.” It is not so oppressive as the moniker suggests: The ceilings are high; the walls are a crisp white and large enough to accommodate several paintings hanging and leaning. However, there is a marked lack of natural light, the windows having been covered to prevent it from wandering into the space. It’s interesting, considering Smith’s practice revolves largely around seeking light out, in making the intangible manifest in pigment on an opaque surface. “Why is light important in my pieces?” Smith reflects. “It’s the pot of gold. It’s the elusive; what I have always been striving for. It’s the push behind me to always keep going,” he says; it’s “the prize.” His reach for it happens in a predominantly abstract expressionist style, in which meaning can be elusive. However, through his luminous canvasses he has been able to connect with viewers. “Shedding a little bit of light—and life—that people can grab ahold of and gravitate towards, I think that’s one of the reasons why people enjoy my abstracts,” he notes. Abstract art operates on an intuitive, emotional level in its making and in its viewing, and that is where opportunities for communion between artist and viewer exist. “You get a lot of visceral reactions from people; it moves them. It’s amazing, because I spend all my time down here, and to put it out in the world and get these kinds of responses from people, it’s an honour,” he says. Imagine, then, going back in time to tell Smith, a young University of Victoria art student, that this was how his career would play out. He would likely react with a derisive scoff. Early on, Smith had no time for abstract art. He laughs now. “I was just a naïve kid, because I could paint and draw realistically, so I thought that was being an artist. These people who did abstract, I thought it was a cop-out; that they didn’t know how to be artists. And I was vocal about it,” he admits. This, mind you, was once he adjusted to the notion of even having an art career. Born in 1968 in Kamloops and raised in Vernon, Smith was playing junior hockey when, at age 18, a motorcycle accident put an end to that career path. As a kid, when he was not on the ice, he could be found drawing famous goalies (his own position)—or members of the rock band KISS—so he turned to art studies on the advice of a college counsellor. At 21, he moved to Vancouver Island and worked as a sign painter before finishing his Fine Arts degree at the University of Victoria. Later, he worked in commercial art—“signage, murals, logos, chalk art for pubs and restaurants,” he lists, which demanded tight precision and technical skill. In a departure from an art-based vocation, he then spent some time as an electrician on luxury yachts. But any spare moment was an opportunity to paint. Initially, his steadfast adherence to representational and figurative work left him frustrated. “It was just really lacking something,” he relates. “I knew that I had something to say as an artist; I just had to find what it was.” So in what would be an intense personal challenge, he immersed himself in what he had previously derided. “I would have 20 pieces of paper taped up to the wall. I would go from each to each, and I would work rapidly,” he explains, intuitively laying down colour and form. Eventually, hundreds accumulated. “I could pick and choose which ones I found interesting and build off that piece, and they would continue to build off one another. So this evolution started happening,” he explains. That was 20 years ago now, and ever since, he has seen his work as part of a continuum. Now, five years focused full-time on his art practice, Smith works with combinations of acrylic paint, latex house paint, gel mediums, heavy molding paste and, recently, a return to oils. Part of the luminous effect is achieved by applying layer upon layer of colour—“just big stacks of colour” that he will rebalance “until the colours sing together.” He often uses charcoal lines to pull images out of these layers that can remain purely gestural or coalesce into a topographical quality. His final step is to bring each piece “to life” by rendering the light. “Sometimes you want more of a glow; other times you want it where it’s just burning,” he says. The latter calls for big, bold brushstrokes that result in a luscious impasto. The light in each piece follows a path that leads the viewer through the composition. “Light is like water: It will find the path of least resistance,” Smith observes. “Same with electricity. Any way it can get through, it will find its way.” He notes that his family’s move to their current property three years ago has affected the way light moves through his work. Previously, “we were up on the side of a hill and we had a gorgeous view of Mount Baker, so I would get the intense morning light from the sunrises every morning,” he says. “That’s what really started the light getting into my abstract work.” Now, nestled among the trees, “there is this fascinating light popping through little places in trees, just trying to get through.” A desire to express that has brought Smith back to representational work in his latest series. He is aware of coming full circle, but now with his artistic voice ringing loud and clear. “I am able to really retain things I have learned with abstraction and apply them to this,” he says. His signature bold, expressive colourways prevail, as the light pushes its path through fauvist blue-grey-purple groves of trees in works like “The Long Shadow Stretch.” From the rippling surface of a pond in “The Willow” the light and colour leap onto three more purely abstract canvasses. Soon, Smith plans to build a studio in the backyard of his property, replete with windows and light. “I know [my work will] be completely affected being in there, but my work always changes. It moves and it grows,” he says. Following its inevitable path, as does a beam of light. Aaren Madden lives in a house with west-facing windows that bathe her kitchen in the golden light of the setting sun. Video featuring Blu Smith in 2020
  10. Aaren Madden

    Blu Smith

    "The Willow" 48 x 54 inches, mixed media on canvas Read about Blu Smith's life and art here
  11. Aaren Madden

    Karel Doruyter

    "Closure" 48 x 36 inches, mixed media on canvas Read about Karel Doruyter's life and art here
  12. Aaren Madden

    Susan Point

    "Beyond the Edge," 33 x 33 inches, serigraph Learn more about Susan Point's life and art here
  13. Aaren Madden

    Naomi Cairns

    "Gorge Harbour Entrance," 48 x 60 inches, oil on canvas Learn about Naomi Cairn's life and art here
  14. Aaren Madden

    Luke Ramsay

    "Centre Peace" 36 x 48 inches, acrylic latex on canvas Learn about Luke Ramsay's life and art here
  15. Aaren Madden

    Bi Yuan Cheng

    "Fog at Moraine Lake" 40 x 60 inches, acrylic on canvas Read about Bi Yuan Cheng's life and art here
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