Your latest exhibit entitled “A Pleasant Idleness” opens this weekend. Congratulations on a beautiful collection. Can you tell us a bit about the work?
Preparation for this year's solo show was very different. Covid19 seemed to dominate every aspect of my life. As a very social person I missed much: visiting friends, eating out, travel, browsing in my fave art stores. Everything! After days of super naps, binge-watching HBO (The Wire, True Detective) I knew I had to move beyond hope and fear. I reminded myself of my favorite quotes, poems, and books. I began with a Balzac quote, "the days melt in my hands like ice in the sun" and with the Zen saying, "never turn away; always turn toward".
Many people know me for my large abstract prairie landscapes, so it was with glee I found this Emily Dickinson quote, "To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee – one clover, and a bee and revery". Revery is of course assisted by a wee dram of single cask, single malt ( SMWS) or a glass of wine (thanks Blue Grouse Winery for your gift). Carefully, over the next few weeks I painted.
It is with joy I present these new works.
You’re a champion of the arts in Victoria. Seen at most every opening offering your rock-solid support, some call you a cultural icon. Why is it so important to ’show up’?
It's important to me to not only "show up" for my friends’ art openings but to support artists and art groups in general, both locally and when I travel. I attended three openings while in Sydney AU in November and visited about a dozen galleries. I also attend local gallery openings especially Madrona, the Gallery at Matticks Farm, Winchester, and of course the AGGV. It's an opportunity to chat with other artists, buyers, gallery owners, and see new creative trends.
After pursuing a masters in art and education in the ‘70s, you only started painting seriously in 2002. In fact, you didn’t do any art for over 30 years. Why did you stop and what made you start again?
I was never enamoured with the educational system (even when I was teaching) and became more and more disillusioned with the university graduate system. So, I "bailed" from the University of Oregon Doctoral Program and began a new career working with youth at risk. This career path morphed into family work/childcare, then next into creating and delivering job search and employment skills training programs. I was always a "contractor" whether with federal, provincial governments, or colleges. This allowed me to escape some of the bureaucracy (which I continue to rail against). It also allowed me to remain creative and challenged and I felt no need to paint. In 2001 a friend talked me into going with him to a college night class shortly after another friend talked me into taking weekly painting classes with local artist Michelle Miller. This regular, creative weekly setting got me jump-started. A year later a had a solo show. I continued to deliver programs at the maximum-security men's jails (20-30 hrs/ wk) until moving to art full time in 2013.
For years you worked with at-risk youth and adult men in maximum security. What drew you to that line of work and did it change you? If so, how?
My career moved from one opportunity to another but central was my continuing to be an advocate for the disenfranchised (those with mental health issues, illiteracy issues, addiction issues). My work in the community was noticed and I was invited to create and deliver programs in four correctional facilities. How I've changed personally is probably better acknowledged by my friends. Certainly, my "bs" detector is honed. My common sense and honesty remains. My understanding of the " human condition" is deeper. I still swear too much, I still sit with my back to the wall, I still support our local police. I still believe in actions not words.
You grew up on the vast prairies of Saskatchewan, and they obviously left a powerful and lasting impression on you. Do you remember being fascinated by your surroundings, as a child?
The power of nature is intertwined with my earliest memories: the northern lights, amazing sunsets, minus 40-degree winters, sweltering summers, fierce sheet and fork lightning storms, white-out blizzards. Everything was in extremes: all under a very big encompassing sky.
Can you tell us about your parents? Where they creative?
My parents were creative each in their own right. But both were much too busy eking out a living on our small farm to have much extra time. Dad could fix and build and figure out "workarounds". Mom was the community "go-to" person to speak at an event, to write up what needed to be said. She also in her later years secretly wrote several poems.
Is there a story or memory that keeps repeating in your current work?
Most often repeated in my work is the horizon line, even in a very abstract work the hint is there. The horizon line is comforting, soothing, calming because it gives me a sense of where I am. I am continually attempting to understand and portray the underlying shapes of the land.
Is there a response to your work that thrills you? What makes a successful painting?
I am always thrilled where someone recognizes a place in my landscapes or when they say as a lady did recently, "this gives me goosebumps". A successful work captures the essence of a feeling, an emotion, a moment.
Why do you think there’s so much fear around art and creativity?
Much of the fear around art and creativity seems to be centred in the fear of "being wrong". People are not encouraged to trust their own feelings and choices.
Years ago, you ran a little gallery downtown in Victoria, BC. What did you love about that business?
When I had "Gallery on Herald" I loved meeting artists and having art shows but the whole retail aspect of owning a gallery I found difficult, so I moved on.
What do you find most surprising about the business side of art?
The most surprising thing about the business side of art is that it requires 50% of your time.
Based on your almost 80 years on the planet (seriously unbelievable), what do wish everyone knew?
To follow their dream, use common sense and "do good, cause good is good to do”.
What’s next, Irma?
Next for me is to continue to paint, continue to spend quality time with family and friends, continue to travel (Scotland, Australia & Italy as soon as I can), and learn more about single malt.