Hand sanitize, don mask, exit car, maintain distance, hand sanitize, enter car, doff mask. This is my mantra as I cautiously venture into garden centres, hardware stores and pharmacies. Schools remain closed but retail outlets have been allowed to open. The WAG will soon be mounting its first mid-pandemic exhibition. Following is the third and final instalment in a series that asks instructors and artists associated with the gallery to talk about their current art practice.
WILLIAM CARROLL (Solo exhibition, August 2018)
“I am a fine art photographer and am currently working on a few long-term projects, the main one being dedicated to domesticating—or manipulating--the growth patterns of various crystals, such as those formed by borax and magnesium sulfate, among others. It has been quite a challenge to determine the exact amount of precision required to force the crystals into different shapes and patterns, while still allowing them to express naturally.
“My last exhibition at the Window Art Gallery, titled ‘Above & Congealed’, was both my first solo exhibition and my entry into conceptual photography. My last major project involved a series of Rorschach-like images created using liquid dish soap and food dye.
“I usually work from home and am a bit of a recluse, so there isn't much change in my work habits. However, I did have a few places I visited regularly for inspiration, and not being able to access my go-to places has definitely made staying creatively stimulated a bit more difficult. The COVID-19 pandemic has also made acquiring my crystal growing materials more difficult, due to international shipping restrictions and price increases. My biggest challenge has been my inability to connect in person with my peers. I greatly value the conversations I have with other creatives in the city and I find it hard to maintain the same level of relationship now that we are unable to see each other in person on a regular basis.”
FANNY CECCONI (KSOA French instructor; Hot Off the Press group exhibition, November 2019)
« La pandémie m’a permis d’arrêter de courir et de prendre le temps d’être en famille et d’en profiter. Je m’aperçois que mes enfants sont heureux de passer plus de temps avec leurs parents. Leur comportement est plus calme. Nous prenons le temps de faire des projets divers dans la maison, mais aussi des promenades en famille pour découvrir des endroits magnifiques de notre quartier. Ces moments en famille me permettent de relaxer et de recharger mon imagination.
« Je dois avouer par contre, qu’être à la maison à temps plein avec deux enfants au primaire change toute une routine. Enseigner les arts n’est pas aussi complexe qu’enseigner le français, les mathématiques ou d’autres matières à ses propres enfants. Je respecte encore plus le travail des professeurs qui enseignent tous les jours à mes moussaillons. Je suis contente que mes enfants aient eu la chance d’établir un lien de confiance à l’école avant la pandémie, car je ne suis pas certaine qu’ils seraient aussi contents de faire leurs cours en ligne.
« Ces moments durant les cours en ligne où je devais rester disponible et silencieuse, m’a permis de reprendre contact avec ma tablette à dessin et mes crayons. Je dessine de tout, des bandes (Strip) pour le Centre Culturel Frontenac, des paysages, des personnages, des animaux, des expressions des mouvements. Mon but est de faire une bande dessinée avec ma sœur et de la publiée éventuellement. Pour le moment j’encourage mes enfants à s’exprimer sur papier et à faire, eux aussi, des dessins pour se détendre et s’amuser.
« Mon cœur est en paix et mes idées débordent autant pour mes dessins que pour mes projets futurs qui n’attendent que mon retour après le déconfinement. »
ALAN CRAGGS (Upcoming exhibition)
“I am scheduled to have my first show at the Window Art Gallery in August, but that is now tentative. My work is a mix of surrealist scenes and realistic landscapes. The pictured works are recent oil paintings on canvas . None are yet completed or named.
“We are isolated in apartments housed in community shelters on two acres of forest outside Brockville. We are faring well and helping each other, which allows me and other artists here to continue our art practice. In order to exhibit our work I am considering drive-by shows put up in the woods. We can social distance in nature and show as a group. This will take work.”
LAYNE LARSEN (TIFAA group exhibition, March 2018)
“I just finished an experimental piece--fairly small, only 19 cm square. This work was done using the Flemish technique, which involves painting the image in six layers: imprimatura, two umber layers, a grey layer and two colour layers, so you are effectively painting the same piece five times. Each layer is supposed to look like a finished work. I used acrylic instead of oil, which makes the process much more difficult.
“I am primarily a watercolorist (specialty: birds) but do aviation work for museums in acrylic and airbrush. I also run a full-service framing business, which shut down, as did our gallery in Gananoque. Having delivered my last commission, I had time to experiment with a technique that I had always wanted to try.
“I started with a wooden panel and made my own gesso for the ground, using a mixture of gypsum powder, transparent acrylic primer, some polyvinyl acetate glue, and titanium white paint: three coats, each sanded to get the eggshell surface required. I plan on doing another one, this time a life study, which will require a lot more variation in skin tones. COVID has given me the opportunity to try these techniques. I am 79, so I don't have a lot of time left to experiment!“
“I have had no difficulty at all staying home, although my wife and I do miss our weekly ‘date night’ outing.”
DEBBIE OTTMAN-SMITH (KSOA instructor)
“I’m currently working on two commissions, which have subject matter I am truly interested in. The first is for a new client who wants a special wedding gift inspired by stars and galaxies. The second is a portrait for a person who loves my artistic magic (as she calls it). What really excites me is that I’ll be using my all-time favourite style: montage. I’ll be creating a collage of small candid action images surrounding a larger traditional close-up of the subject’s face. Although challenging, I think this approach truly captures all aspects of a personality.
“I’ve also managed to squeeze in time to finish a drawing that I’ve been working on in dribs and drabs each term for a few years now, as I teach my students about creating textures. The reference image (from ‘Rangefinder,’ a photography magazine, February 2008) is a portrait of a young girl playing dress-up, a favourite subject of mine. She is wearing an unbelievable array of textures that I have been challenging myself with. I’m in heaven, even if it isn’t my own creation.
“My art practice hasn’t really changed since the restrictions. The extra time at home has allowed me to create an online portfolio. But the longer the situation takes to resolve, the more difficult it is to concentrate, which is a vital aspect of what I do. Another difficulty is the availability of supplies. The mail has slowed to a snail’s pace due to social distancing. I much prefer to shop for brushes and paper in person anyway. An online image doesn’t convey the quality or true colour of an item. Tactility and optics are important when it comes to shopping for art supplies.
“I can honestly say that not being able to be in the studio space with my students has been by far the most difficult aspect of this isolation. I feed off their energy and I inspire them. How I miss those symbiotic relationships.”
LORI PARISH (Juried Exhibition, July 2019)
“I paint intuitively and noticed some new work emerging in November 2019. I had no explanation for the changes at that time. I now see that many of these works feel predictive of the pandemic that we became aware of in February 2020.
“I had started to create with acrylic ink on heavy watercolour paper. An abstract series emerged, with images that, oddly enough, could be interpreted as virus-like in their appearance. Also, I am not one to paint figures, yet, within an abstract painting, a young child appeared. My inner child, I suspect. She is holding compassion for the world in her big heart. This painting has now been named Little Did I Know.
“Without gallery shows to look forward to, and because of a general malaise that can be felt by us empaths, motivation has been challenging during the pandemic. Yet, I continue to paint and feel good about offering some sales proceeds and my time to local charities.”
MARTA SCYTHES (KSOA instructor)
“At the moment I am not making any "art for art's sake". Instead, my focus is on my much neglected house and garden; I am sewing masks for family, friends and Napanee hospital staff and patients; and I have created a couple of step-by-step spring flower watercolour demos for the KSOA site.
“I love being home with my husband, eating delicious meals, sleeping a lot, walking and biking in our beautiful village of Newburgh . . . and getting to know neighbours (at a distance)!
“The most difficult aspect of the COVID pandemic is the restrictions placed on me as an instructor. Teaching is my passion. The Haliburton School of Art and Design: Fleming College, where I have taught since 1981, has cancelled all summer programs. Likewise my last KSOA classes were cancelled. In addition to teaching, I do stroke rehab research at Providence Care Hospital. This too is, of course, on hold.”
Ulrike Bender is a former graphic designer, art director and ESL teacher who, in retirement, has ventured into photography. She is currently a volunteer gallery assistant at the WAG and a docent at Agnes.