By Heidi Bevington–The All Islands Art Show was jam-packed within 10 minutes of the doors opening at the Queen Charlotte Visitor Information Centre Saturday night.
The most exciting thing was the number of never-before-seen artists who entered work this year, said organizer Evelyn von Almassy. “My goal was to get new people who have never shown before,” she said.
Among the newcomers is People’s Choice winner Chris Dobranski, whose carved Halibut Harpoon attracted a lot of admiration. Mr. Dobranski is a lab technician by trade, and he used to work in the Queen Charlotte hospital, but he’s taking a break from that to develop his carving skills. The harpoon carved of yew wood includes embellishment of California abalone, woolly mammoth ivory, marine twine, bronze and stainless steel. Mr. Dobranski says he is influenced by Haida and Celtic carving styles, and he dedicated the work to Haida Gwaii.
People’s Choice runner up Sheila Karrow entered a still life painted in a style that some might not recognize as hers. She chose the elegant acrylic painting of Antherum flowers because simplicity poses such a challenge to her. “Detail comes easily,” said Ms Karrow. “I admire work that is simple and pure in form. The clearer you get, the closer you get to the source.” In order to achieve that simplicity, Ms Karrow first paints a more detailed painting of the subject in water colour. Then she paints the same subject again in acrylic on canvas.
In all, 52 artists submitted work to this year’s show, and several were kind enough to talk a little about their work.
Newcomer Jeannette Perry entered a detailed graphite drawing of cows eating in a field. Observing animals is second nature and always interesting to Ms Perry, who is a vet. “The more you look at things the more you see. It doesn’t get boring, it gets different,” she said.
An asymetrical chunk of argillite inspired carver Christopher Collison to create Raven Dancer. It’s unusual to have an uncentred carving in Haida art, he said, but this time “it just happened.” The raven emerged quickly in four or five days, he said. “Sometimes things take a long time, but this one just came up,”
Gladys Vandal (Jiixa) wove two delicate baskets of pine needles and raffia for the show. Each basket took about 25 hours. In one case, Ms Vandal wove a web within a small metal ring. Around that base, she wrapped twelve inch Ponderosa pine needles, weaving them together with a complex pattern of raffia reminiscent of embroidery. The second is built up from a carved wooden disk. Ms Vandal learned the technique at a workshop in Alaska, and she believes similar work has been done for many years by First Nations elsewhere in North America. Ms Vandal is a skilled Haida weaver of cedar and spruce root, but she also enjoys studying the basketry styles and techniques of other cultures.
The show will be adjudicated by Nora Blanck, an artist from Vancouver who also teaches at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. In her own work, Ms Blanck has been exploring dialogue, communication and listening. She works in mixed media as well as drawing and chalk pastels. Lately she has been doing close up studies of the human inner ear and then incorporating them into larger images that illustrate dialogues.
Ms Blanck’s exploration of communication and dialogue influences her work as an adjudicator as well. “Art can be expressive, an exploration, a reinforcement of life, communication, but it can also be something very private,” she said. “Art doesn’t always communicate, but it can still be meaningful to the beholder. Doing the art and seeing the art are two different processes, and artists don’t always feel the need to have their art seen.”
The best thing and the most challenging thing about adjudicating a show like this is getting to talk to all the artists and give them feedback about their work, said Ms Blanck. “People are at different stages of their development. I need to be clear and honest about my perceptions, relevant in my comments and respectful.”
The show will remain up until March 18. On closing day, the Visitor Information Centre will host a reading by John Vaillant, author of the Governor-General’s award-winning book Golden Spruce.
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