idea of memorial

Lately I have been thinking about how to talk about my work and mulling over the idea of memorial. Just a few minutes ago, I found an entry from an old journal written on Easter Sunday 2008. At the top of the page is a question- I am not sure if someone actually asked that of me, or I was posing the question to myself.

-Is your work  a form of therapy?
During the 90s I produced work that was about  what I was feeling-symbolic pictures of struggle, sadness-but they were vague and unformed, generic. To develop further meant I needed to discover what these feelings were about, and for me that involved a personal and educational journey, not an artistic one.
Even though my work conveys feeling, Art is not a form of catharsis for me. I need to rationally come to terms with my emotions  in order to make art .

-Is it a form of self expression?
Because what I lived through with my dad is entwined with my mind and feeling, because my  intellectual and emotional development was affected, this art is  an expression of who I am even though the work is also about the lives of others. I think it is more an act of remembrance. My work takes what I deeply feel about war and holocaust and gives it shape, form and context, like a memorial does but in drawing rather than sculpture or architecture.

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Here is artist Clare Thomas with my installation of her work. Clare’s drawings are about the fragility of memory, and are being shown in the Stairwell Gallery– a space at St Philip Church which is set aside to show art, and which I have the privilege to curate.  It is wonderful that the minister, Christopher Page is so supportive, and the congregation appreciative of emerging, experimental and contemporary work. Art doesn’t have to be religious in order to be a sacred expression of life.

(The gallery is open for viewing 9am-noon, Monday to Friday and by appt on Saturday, and if you don’t mind the hubbub of church- on Sunday mornings as well.  At 2928 Eastdowne at the corner of Neil street, Victoria, BC, Canada.)

artful weekend

Well, now to do the dishes! I had a fulfilling weekend with wonderful art and artists. Yesterday, an afternoon with the gorgeous Jill Ehlert and Natasha van Netten; this afternoon, installing the work of 3 artists in the Stairwell Gallery at St Philip. ( more pictures to come )

mother mary

Mary Mary ( Quite Contrary ) 2007, 38″x 50″

The first artwork made after I came to terms with my background, was this drawing. I had made the centre panel in 2004 in response to the massacre of school children in Chechnya; a grieving mother I saw in the paper became my Madonna.  A few years later I set her in what I think of as a study for an altar piece – a large drawing I made about the children of the Holocaust. 
Mary has come down from her heavenly position where traditionally she holds the baby Jesus aloof from us all, and is instead on the broken earth amongst the children.
The two little cherubs were part of a group in the Ukraine who’d been penned up by branches ( the structure in the back ground.) They had been photographed, apparently just before being shot; all were smiling except for these two. I wanted to honour them somehow and then thought about the Raphael cherubs and so set them at the bottom of the picture in protest.
So many stories from WW2 focus on soldiers and battle; I want my work to reflect the reality and sadness of what happened to women and children, without losing sight of compassion.
This piece is important to me because it was the first time I understood what my art wanted to be.

small worries

I had gone to bed worried about 2 things :

1) Is my work large or dramatic enough to say anything about war? Many drawings are small, in size  and in subject: mothers and children who were close to home and did not have the ability or luxury to think in terms of the big picture.

2) Why am I putting out work about war and not work that is more obviously what people might want to buy, or about the beauty of the world or work that is easier to look at, I love abstract and sketching from life, why am I not leading with that?

In the morning I read an article about June Leaf.  Learning about her work seemed like a reply to my worries. Her work is small, it was close to home, yet it contains the whole drama of life. Both June Leaf’s work and this quote from the article reassured my doubts about my work:

“When you ask an artist why they make work, they might respond with: “because I have no choice”. For people outside the art world this doesn’t always make sense. Artists are referring to an inner drive that compels them to make work. This explains why artists might make art despite no evidence of exhibition or sales. People start off making art for all kinds of reasons: pleasure, amusement, approval, fame and money to name a few; however, what keeps them making work over an extended period of time is usually an inexplicable need to create.” ~ Wendy Welch

June Leaf, Woman Carrying Infant Upstairs, 2011, acrylic on paper on tinplate, 11 x 12.5 inches.

advancing the small

I was invited by Wendy Welch, director of Vancouver Island School of Art, to give an address to the Advanced Drawing Class of 2016.  This is an abridged version.

It is a very important principle I have learned here at VISA – our inspiration, our emotion, our ideas, need a road along which to travel, with sign posts and guides. A good teacher is one form of guide- someone who sees what is happening in your work and draws out what is emerging.

Sketching, writing, googling, looking at other artists, tracing, collage, photos, gathering ideas, writing about work, talking with other artists; all these activities provide material for our inspiration, our feeling, and ideas to hold onto and gain direction from.

Wendy Welch teaches that action is the way forward with art, but it is not blind action, it is action which looks and feels, and makes for itself something to respond to.

We are not supposed to make something from nothing as though we are creator gods, we are meant to be responders to what was and is already there.

I value the analogy of drawing on cave walls: going into the dark and scratching upon the surface of the earth the animals which nourish us as though we are giving back to earth itself; artists give back to life what life gives to us. But what if it is stories of death and suffering that occupies an artist, as it seems to do me? How do I offer that back to life?

There is in me the sense of the tragic which needs art of operatic proportions, but large scale drawing exhausts me. Yet, in stories from many cultures there is the idea of small things being as valuable as the grand gesture, and I have found comfort and a way forward with small drawings.

I am enchanted that I can put so much care into a small simple piece instead of always feeling I have to be bold and complex. I don’t have to try and bring life to the pictures of the dead, I am able instead to infuse understanding into the brokenness of the living.

I crush  paper with my hands and bathe it in water. These actions become in themselves ways to draw, and express the damage of small children in war, and the sorrow of it, far more effectively than if I had drawn literal weeping, or dead children.

The result of the 100 drawings project was described by one of my classmates, and I paraphrase her comment as best as I can:  “your work is really dark, but I am not repelled by it as I usually am by dark work. It isn’t “icky” I am drawn into it, I feel compassion instead of revulsion.” That response says it all for me, and helps me see a sense of purpose for my art.

My hope is that my work might encourage empathy even as it asks us to look with compassion upon a society which we consider to be have been the least compassionate. I hope my work might help remind us that even in the deepest darkness there is light and love and goodness and innocence, just as there were in these tiny children and the mothers who loved them. By looking at these drawings I hope we might remember to love the children, if not our enemy.