Gwaii Haanas artists overwhelmed with inspiration

  • Jul. 28, 2015 8:00 p.m.

By Evelyn von AlmassyHaida Gwaii ObserverThe three artists, Rosa Quintana Lillo, Matt Miles, and Kathy Pick, who are all part of the Artists in Gwaii Haanas Residency Program this year, returned from their six day immersion in Gwaii Haanas last month. The theme this year is “Gwaii Haanas: land, sea, people”. They were based in the field-camp on Ellen Island (Kilgii Gwaaay.yaay), and travelled on the Gwaii Haanas Vessel, Adelita. The artists went to Skedans, Tanu, S’Gang Gwaii, and Windy Bay, to see the Heritage Pole. Coincidentally, all three artists were born outside of Canada, so what they bring to the project could also been seen as multicultural. Ms. Lillo is originally from Chile, grew up in Argentina, then moved to Toronto where she went to art school. One of her many residences was at the Kent Harrison Arts Council, and continues to be the residency coordinator for the same organization. She works on mixed media paintings, dealing with the abstracted landscape: patterns, textures, colour mood, and the life of birds. Mr. Miles works in a variety of visual and audio mediums ranging from live interactive sound installation pieces to sound design, music video productions, cultural documentary and short experimental video works. For Ms. Lillo the highlight was S’Gang Gwaii and Tanu. Tanu, because of her connections there with Bill Reid. She and George Rammel were the main technicians for a year and a half on Mr. Reid’s sculpture at the Vancouver Airport, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii. She became friends with Mr. Reid, and really wanted to see where his ashes were scattered.She spent much of her time in Gwaii Haanas thinking and contemplating, gathering enough inspiration to fuel her art for years to come. She particularly enjoyed the scene of the islands near Rose Harbour, with the sunrise over them, and the sun sparkling on the water. Her use of silver leaf is inspired by medieval art, specifically the Wilton Dyptich from the 1370s; it is an extremely rare survival of a late Medieval religious panel painting from England. No one knows who the artist was, but the scene is of Richard II’s crowning. Ms. Pick, originally from Australia, was just out of her nurse’s training, and was doing life drawing and print making when she moved to Prince Rupert. She has been an artist and has had creative ventures her whole life. Ms. Pick’s works involves reusing materials or gathering sustainable materials such as grasses, willow, pine, cedar barks and kelp to create site-specific art works. “It is about: looking, touching and leaving,” Ms. Pick said. “After our six days down in Gwaii Haanas, we worked the next week at the museum, just developing our ideas, sketches, and talked to Scott Marsden, [executive director of the museum] about the exhibition in January.” Ms. Pick added she would “Need another lifetime” to create all the art that Gwaii Haanas inspired in her. She used her eyes and did lots of sketching; she will be creating a hand-bound book for the Exhibition. Even when not in Gwaii Haanas, “I am very careful in my harvesting, and not taking everything from one place. The restriction of not taking anything from Gwaii Haanas, made sense- everything needs to be sustainable.” The highlight of her trip was the the sandhill cranes at Burnaby Narrows.”Seeing the humpback whale and seeing the puffins: amazing little creatures, and the natural arch made of rock. Going to Gwaii Haanas was full circle for me (she was in the area in the 1970’s) as she used polaroid film in the “old days” as well. She took about 50 polaroid pictures, and the rest digital. For Ms. Pick, the cross-pollination that happens, the collaborations, age span, different media, and the artists coming from different perspectives and places she chalks up to a rich experience. Mr. Miles grew up in Oxford, England and he has experience in humanitarian-based documentary work. For him, Skedans Village, which was the first stop on the way to Gwaii Haanas, was the most impactful for him. He had never been to a place like that, which is a village site with poles and foundations.Mr. Miles will be working with time lapse photography and slow motion visuals.”It covers a huge amount of time, in small parts. In S’Gang Gwaii we went to the poles one at a time, at Debbie Gardiner’s suggestion. It felt like you were on your own. I was there shooting for two hours.” Mr. Miles went to Gwaii Haanas open-minded, with no expectations, but after he left Gwaii Haanas he wanted to head back right away. He hopes the artwork that he creates serves as a portal to inspire people to visit the area themselves. “I really, really enjoyed my time there; there were amazing people.” He also did a trip on the Cape Fife trail, and had to bush-whack into the bogs to get water, as the creeks were dry.Each of the artists will be sending one piece to the Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver, and donating one piece to the Haida Gwaii Museum and Parks Canada. The Artists in Gwaii Haanas Exhibition will be held on January 22 next year at the Haida Gwaii Museum. There will also be a panel discussion nearer to the date.

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