Art and community galleries


One of the great things about having artist friends is getting the chance to see their exhibitions, both for the art and the chance to explore a new gallery. Seeing work in a studio can’t compare to seeing everything beautifully mounted on pristine walls, with enough space to really appreciate the art. Last week, I went to see the work of my friend, Michelle Sirois-Silver, at the Maple Ridge Art Gallery. The show is called Love, Decay, Repair, and features her textile artwork, both her traditional hooked fabric work and some new explorations she has been making with distressed screenprinting on fabric. I think that the show displays an evolution in Michelle’s work, she is extremely skilled in the fabric hooking and her large scale hostas display that expertise, but I know she is also very excited about doing the new printed and stitched works and I have to admit they are my favourite pieces in the show.
I attended a talk that Michelle gave on her process, and she is extremely generous about sharing all kinds of information on how she does her work and where she gets her materials. She will be giving another talk this Saturday, and I hope to attend that as well. The show runs until October 13, 2012.
I had never been to the Maple Ridge Art Gallery before, and it was interesting to explore it. The gallery is located on a plaza that also connects with a large shopping mall, city hall, the library and a sports centre.  I found this to be a contrast to many community galleries, which are free-standing, destination buildings. I think it’s a good idea, and I hope that many more people drop into the gallery as a result.  Certainly, Michelle’s talk was very well attended.
Recently, Bob Rennie stirred up some controversy in Vancouver when he suggested that instead of one new landmark gallery, the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) should open ten small galleries in different sites throughout the city.
The idea is an interesting one to consider. Is there a way to work art galleries more seamlessly into our lives? Would we feel more ownership of galleries within our community? And what about the existing community galleries, because every city in the Greater Vancouver area already has its own gallery? Some community galleries, like The Reach in Abbotsford, already seem to have a relationship with the VAG and display their work. Others have formed their own mandates, like Surrey Art Gallery, which features more video work. Still others have retrospectives of important artists who are not favoured by the VAG; I have seen fantastic shows of Renee Van Helm, Vicki Marshall and Bill Burns at community galleries. While the VAG displays artists who have already been crowned by the art world, Vancouver has few venues for emerging or mid-career artists. The now disappeared Artropolis show was a great way for new local artists to be discovered, but nothing similar has taken its place.

The Maple Ridge Art Gallery set up for Michelle’s demo

Shows like Love, Decay, Repair are important for the artist in many ways. As the audience, I enjoy seeing Michelle’s work displayed in the proper setting, and it gives others an introduction to her talents. But for the artist, a solo show like this is validating in many ways: the chance to work with a professional curator, a deadline to complete a large body of work, a milestone for the CV.  In addition, I believe there’s a wonderful personal satisfaction in looking at your work filling a huge gallery space. “I made all that,” you think, and it feels great.

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The first painting I fell in love with…

I can remember the first original painting I fell in love with. I was about nine and we were visiting friends of my parents, and the woman was a painter who did glamourous watercolour paintings of women, in a style I’d now call Paris when it Sizzles. The one I liked best had a woman in a flowing turquoise dress, a wine glass balanced on a café table and her hair swaying flirtatiously to one side. They had no children for me to play with, and I must have spent much of the evening admiring her artwork. When we went to leave, the woman gave me a look that was half skeptical and half proud. “Do you really like this?” she asked, and I nodded, still transfixed. She removed the painting from its frame and handed it to me. I was astounded and thanked her. I took it back to my room and hung it up there, continuing to admire it for many years.
Although we had a lot of original art in our house, it was the first time I realized that paintings could be about a subject that interested me. I was young and the painting reminded me of my glamourous Barbie doll catalogues. I was less interested in the landscapes and abstractions in our house, especially since I realize now that my mother preferred palettes of earth colours like avocado green, mustard and brown, all colours I hate to this day. I think the inspiration from that painting carried through for years, as I drew multiple women and even took a class in fashion illustration. To this day, I still paint flowing, wide-skirted dresses.
So from this humble beginning, I do realize the importance that a single painting can have in the life of a child. Start with Art is an art show I have been involved since it began, and it provides the chance for a child to buy a professional painting at a very reasonable price. In fact, you have to be a child (under 16) to even make a purchase at the show!  Sarah Cavanaugh, the new curator at the Seymour Art Gallery, has taken exactly the right approach to the show, striving to get the best possible artists to participate. Ross Penhall and Peter Kiss are both involved, and Ross Penhall’s very valuable painting will be in a draw that anyone can participate in.
Artists love to support this show because they understand the importance of art for children.  In the early days of the show, one artist told me, “I want to paint something important that will inspire the kids!” It’s not all about cute art that talks down to kids, but rather real paintings that kids can take from their rooms at home to their first apartment.
Having set this rather lofty goal, I have to admit I still like to do representational paintings for the show, since I think it’s what the kids prefer. I’ve painted hockey equipment, various animals and of course, dresses. This year it’s cats. I’m experimenting with layering, so I’ve created a complex process: first an abstract background on paper, mounted it on board and then painted a cat silhouette on glass and reversed the glass into the frame.
A usual, a picture is worth a thousand words:


So, Start with Art opens on Tuesday, May 1. Here are all the details. If you have kids in your life, I recommend taking them. I’ll be there, and more importantly, there will be candy and popcorn. 
Tomorrow, I’ll post the first paintings you fell in love with, with the responses to the April contest.

Miniature worlds

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I have always loved dollhouses. Well, not dolls, just their houses; I made one out of an orange crate and populated it with stuffed mice in dresses. Possibly this is part of my Japanese DNA, since they were the first to miniaturize radios and pretty much everything else.


Imagine my great thrill to find that miniatures are actually an art form, as evidenced by the work of Bill Burns. I went to see his show, Safety Gear for Small Animals,  and it was a fascinating combination of science, art and humour.  Then I actually got to study with Bill, when he taught one semester at Emily Carr. I learnt that miniature artworks gave artists an opportunity to create and manipulate their own new worlds or imagined environments. 

For my current show at the Britannia Art Gallery, I had the chance to make some miniature sculptures. The show is called The Process of Painting, and Lisa Ochowycz and I documented our painting stages in order to give the viewer a better idea of what goes into the creation of a painting.  I riffed on this idea for the sculptures in a more humourous way, playing with scale and making painting a more Herculean task.

The sculptures are three-sided.

The normal gallery-side view

The artist-side, hard at work on stripes of hardened paint from my paintbox.

How do those polka dots get painted?

They come from the paint!

A prairie landscape?

No, it’s just Lisa’s used paintbrush.

Paper scraps become…

…abstract paintings

Those stripes…

…come from a tube!