I never fail to be excited by the programs and resources available to us in Calgary. Some weeks ago, I attended a workshop led by Ashleigh Bartlett at the Esker Foundation. There, we explored the possibilities within abstract painting, with a lovely connection drawn between the works of Jack Bush and Colleen Heslin and process. The process of exploration included elements of collage, painting and play. Thank you to Esker for providing such hospitality and wonderful materials.
Thank you to Ashleigh, for sharing a clear and embracing experience! I’m sad to see this exhibit go. It has been so inspiring.
Ashleigh actually took the time to chat with me about my thoughts on being a self-taught artist versus ‘a real artist’ (one who has attained credentials). Years ago I made a choice to attain a Bachelor of Education degree, with a double major in art and English and never did receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts. As a result, when I applied for a Masters in Studio Art program some years ago, the wind was knocked out of my sails when I learned that my years and years of accumulated portfolio work was not in any way equivalent to ‘THE DEGREE’. So, I registered with ACAD and completed my third year toward a BFA, while on Sabbatical from my school district, but when my friends moved on to their fourth year and graduation, I had to return to teaching. All these years later, the registrars office people seemed less than impressed with my desire to enroll for my fourth year and the two studio courses remaining. They were not encouraging. Ashleigh told me to NOT lose hope based on the hoops that they have created for me to jump through. She encouraged me and for this, I am most grateful.
I can go for weeks, wanting to write about something and never get to it because it was either too beautiful or too overwhelming or too devastating to actually get the words out…at least on a blog post. I’ve got more drafts than I do posts, sitting waiting for publication. Some of these include a huge post about last summer’s Folk Festival and one titled ‘The Gaze’, something about keeping my eyes on the face of Jesus. When I consider posting, I also think that my honesty will not be appreciated, so I hold back. While some days it feels like I have no readers…that I don’t have an audience…I DO think that I have a responsibility to what I write because it is flowing out into the internet world…and I don’t want to post junk.
Back to the point. I’ve visited the recent exhibit at the Esker Foundation six times now and I am so in love with it that I find it hard to write about. This morning, I thought that I’d make an effort.
To begin with, I attended the opening of the ‘Winter Exhibitions’. The openings at the Esker are sometimes unbelievably populated. This one surpassed that description in every regard. Jim Hill greeted us, at the beginning of the line, out on the street and quietly said, “You might want to come over tomorrow when it’s more quiet” and I responded with, I’ll be attending tomorrow also. So I began my slow weave up the stairwell, conversing with friendly people both ahead of me, and behind me. It moved seamlessly and was a real pleasure. Stepping into the space, it was easy to become anonymous in the crowd. While I did share some words with a few of the friends that I bump into at such events, I made the effort to disappear into the art and I did. The works by Jack Bush and Colleen Heslin sing off of the walls! This is a show that impresses, with its colour relationships, its monumental presence and its juxtaposition. I’m so in love with the art!
That night, I had this huge feeling rush over me that Jack Bush was observing the crowd and all of the conversations…that he was a voyeur, of sorts, watching from the seat of his own work. I had a sense that he was entertained by the spectacle of all of it. But, truly, I felt his presence to this opening. (readers roll eyes here)
I met Alex Cameron while on a horse-packing trip up Blue Rock, with 9 other artists. I forget what led to my good fortune, but I think my friend, Laurel Cormack, had to cancel and she called me up to fill her spot on a horse. Bob Blair, a huge supporter of the visual arts in the city, was funding the adventure, with the understanding that we would provide a painting, in the end, for his collection. I remember sharing the journey with some wonderful people, among them Alex Cameron, Brenda Driscoll, David Alexander, Tania Laniel and Ken Christopher. Generously, Virginia Christopher offered up her gallery for our post journey exhibit and meeting with Bob Blair.
It was on this journey, and around a magical campfire, one of many, that we shared stories with one another about art and life. Ken brought out the guitar and we sang songs. We put on skits. We drank Johnny Walker in our tin cups. It was during one of these night time conversations that Alex Cameron told us the stories of working for Jack Bush in his studio. I felt that I was a witness to something pretty special where each artist was concerned. That journey was life changing and as a result, I painted an exhibit of oil paintings titled Kindred Spirits.
It was very emotional to walk up to one of the exhibit walls and to read the words of introduction by Curator, Sarah Stanners, Ph.D. Director, Curatorial & Collections McMichael Canadian Art Collection.
There…in description of Jack Bush: In Studio…were these words.
It was a life-circle moment.
The next day, I was out to Dr. Sara Stanner’s tour of the exhibit, where she shared so much knowledge about the artist, his studio practice and his relationships. We heard about influences and friendships…about Clement Greenberg, Jules Olitski, Kenneth Noland and also Anthony Caro. It was a very rich session and I made certain to fill my little notebook with details about each piece, things that I am considering and understanding more as I continue to journey through an exploration of ‘Colour Field’ painting.
This past weekend, I attended, first, an artist talk about Understanding Light and Energy, given by Jesse Stilwell.
He has, on exhibit, an installation in the main floor Project Space. I suggest that my readers take opportunity to visit this piece, both in day light and at night, as it has very interesting light interplay and energy. It was delightful to hear Jesse’s honest portrayal of his process and absolutely fascinating to hear, in part, knowledge about eye and brain in perceiving colour. As I left the session, I met friend, Michelena, and gave her a big hug. And through her, met a long time friend, Jocelyn, who as it turned out, would be attending the Saturday workshop with me. Together, the three of us took a little bit of time to peruse Colleen Heslin’s work and talk about it.
The next day, I was able to practice, through specific guidelines, exploration in Simultaneous Contrast and colour interaction. Thanks to both the Esker staff and Jesse Stilwell, for an excellent experience. I treasure and support the idea that programs be included in the experience of gallery spaces. I think that working with concepts is fundamental and crucial to integrating artistic concepts. Esker programming rocks!
Jocelyn and I sat and played the afternoon away and colour began to explode through the space. Solid direction was given and materials were provided. I became a little more intense than I would typically be while painting, but I was definitely journeying into an area where I had little or no experience. When I pulled myself out of my paint fog and Jocelyn and I were able to exchange contact information, I learned that she had been born 12 years before her sister. I shared that I had also been born 12 years before my sister. In the end, it turns out that my sister and Jocelyn’s sister are good friends, and living in Ottawa. The serendipity made perfect sense, given the magic of colour and the sharing of our personal narratives. It was a magical afternoon!
A photograph of Jocelyn, Caterina and me, upon completion of our afternoon workshop. A wonderful afternoon! Thank you, Esker.