The past months have been impactful for many reasons. Has this time changed you? Has it changed your art?
My day to day life is really not that different other than perhaps not teaching much. I had just finished a showing with fellow prairie artist, Irma Soltonovich when the restrictions were imposed due to the pandemic. I had been painting quite literally 10-12 hours a day. I think the past few months has allowed me to step back and re-evaluate what really is important to me and where I want to go with my own work. But my elemental approach is still the same. My work is about connections with others and self both geographically and temporally.
Why art? Why does the world need it, anyway?
I think art in all its forms is necessary and has been necessary for mankind since the dawn of our existence. Creating is a way of making ourselves 'real' outside of ourselves. It's a way of not being just a hunter/gatherer but voicing our thoughts and emotions without language restrictions. By doing so, we communicate with others and we make ourselves known. We reveal the eternal beauty and at times ugliness of human beings.
What are some of the early influences that eventually led you to fine art? Do you remember the first artist that made you ‘feel' something?
My mom taught at Camosun College when it first opened in the ‘70s. She was teaching a life skills class and most of her students were First Nations. She became good friends with the late Tony Hunt who was also teaching at Camosun. Tony introduced my mom to his art and the art of First Nations and he taught her a great deal about it. In turn, my siblings and I were subjected to it as well. I was fascinated by the abstract forms, the narratives, the symbolism and the long history of such a language in a visual format. My work often has a narrative and I have over the years developed images/forms that have become my own symbolism. I think it all started with my introduction to Tony's art.
What do you think is most surprising about the business side of art? How do you manage it?
It takes a HUGE amount of time and I would much rather be in the studio!!! I have a couple of young women, Delicia and Bella Jacobs, that I work with and they do the stuff I know I am not good at. I also have a travel agent, Cathy Scott, Departure Travels, that helps me with the bookings for my international excursions. I think I would be lost without these gals. They allow me to do what I love most which is painting.
Have you ever had a moment when you questioned your career entirely?
Definitely! More than once! I had an art history prof, Maia Bismanis, at the university of Regina in the ‘80s who had heard I was really struggling and questioning myself. She came to me one day when I was in the campus studio and said, “If you don't question yourself, you are not worth your salt as an artist.” There have been times when I thought, 'why am I doing this when I am clearly living on the edge financially?' But the thought of doing anything else didn't even come into my head. So here I am, and I can't imagine doing anything else.
Why do you offer painting retreats? What impact do they have on you?
I have always loved travel and the experience of other cultures. When you are an artist, your senses are saturated on all levels in travel. Sharing an art retreat with students allows them to experience this saturation which really enhances their entire trip and encounters with art and the culture of the country we are visiting. I adore being able to facilitate this in others and truly watch them blossom with life! I learn so much from each of my students, both personally and creatively, every time I teach.
Can you describe a typical day on your Amalfi Coast retreat?
We generally alternate between a full day of art at the villa where we stay and then a day of sightseeing with sketchbooks in hand. It allows for intense creative time, yet autonomy. I have loads of projects lined up prior to the retreat so that various techniques are learned. At breakfast we do a writing exercise that is directly pertaining to the day ahead. It's a good way to focus everyone for the adventures. The day flies by and even though we are well fed (and lots of wine with meals!) we always find ourselves able to eat more mainly because the food is always so incredible. It's such a treat to have everything looked after so that students don't have to think and can just immerse themselves creatively and give themselves up to the experience.
Can you describe the piece of your artwork you'd like to be remembered for?
I don't think there is one piece but rather a number of works that each echo a different stage of my life. All of them were created in the past 15 years. And there were peaks in that time when there were more than just one that stands out. Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2007), Exegesis (2009), Fodder (2010), Escaping the Net (2010), Talking to the Sky (2011), Vertical Perspective (2020)
If you could invite three artists to join you for dinner – passed or living – who would they be?
Why do you think there’s so much fear around art and creativity? What’s your relationship with fear?
I once watched one of my students stare at her empty canvas when I asked her to paint a circular shape. Another was afraid of the colour blue. I think people are afraid of confronting themselves and revealing something others might see, even if it is just a circle or a stroke of blue. My own relationship with fear is something I would generally work out on my canvas not so much in literal visuals, but in a symbolic and abstract manner.
Can you tell us a little about your relationship with your Mom? Which of her lessons guide you, still today?
I was very, very close with my mom and we spent many evenings chatting into the wee hours of the night. Sadly, she passed away when I was 18, she was 40. I have a memory that really has nothing, per sé to do with art but it has led me to think very similarly in my approach to painting. When we were first living in Victoria, my mom and our neighbour became good friends. Both loved to garden. The Oak Bay Recreation centre was just about to be built so all the houses across the street were being torn down. Some of them had some very lovely yards. So in the middle of the night, my mom and neighbour Betty took a red wagon to the empty lots and 'liberated' some of the plants and gave them a new home in our yards. When I asked mom if this was legal, she said she just seized the opportunity and would worry about the possible repercussions (if any) later. So in painting, I don't worry about what I am doing, I just do it and see how it works out. Sometimes I get a nice 'garden' out of it.
You have such a strong network of women friends. What does that mean to you?
I do have a very strong network of women friends indeed. I would be lost without them. I do think you get back what you put out so I believe my friends feel the same. We support each other through thick and thin.
What book is on your nightstand?
Well, I have an entire bookcase beside my bed. It's full of history books, art books and biographies of artists, writers and thinkers. Some of the books I have read at least twice. The biography of Simone de Beauvoir by Francis Gontier is fabulous. The biography of Lorenzo de'Medici by Miles Unger is fascinating. I also have a number of poetry books by Mark Doty which I love.
If you could paint hope, what would it look like?
It would have the suggestion of a bird or birds in it. I painted one as a commission a few years ago that very much had the feeling of 'hope'. It was quite different for me but it was so airy and dreamy – I loved it. There were hummingbirds in it. The painting was layers and layers of various whites which is of course the combination of all colour, of all light. I called it 'Aesthetic Oxygen'.