Bravo for the WAG! Mounting a group show of student work gives developing artists the opportunity to show their creativity in a collegial, non-threatening atmosphere. This month’s exhibition features paintings by students in Bruce St. Clair’s classes.
Bruce has been a teaching master in Drawing and Painting for the last 36 years and a teacher at the KSOA since 2009. “One reason I love teaching, perhaps the main one,” he says, “is the variety of people and personalities I'm privileged to work with. This show illustrates that variety very well. The unique creative expression of each student is represented in the works.”
Following are comments from a number of the exhibiting student artists about their practice, their inspiration and their in-class experiences.
"Distillery Sunset" comes from a photo taken while I spent time with my eldest granddaughter in Toronto. Living in Kingston I cherish all the time I can spend with my Toronto grandchildren. It was a late November evening and we were both struck by the intense glow of that sunset. When it came to painting it, Bruce really coached me to make that sky glow. To me this piece reflects the magic of the evening, the magic of the place I call home, and the magic of applying paint to canvas to tell a story.
It is such a thrill to have my little paintings displayed at the WAG. It has taken me more than sixty years to decide to start painting like I mean it – and I am here to stay. I have always been drawn to small art pieces: landscapes, seascapes and bits of objects in interesting light. When the Kingston School of Art offered watercolour classes in the fall of 2019, I signed up. Bruce has a very light touch as a teacher, and that was perfect for me. He showed us the pieces he used to teach, let us ask “How do you do that?” and then gently demonstrated how he does it. With each class I learned to just wet my brush and relax more. Now it is only when I have a small sheet of watercolour paper taped to my desk and a tiny sea- or landscape in my mind that I can truly breathe.
I have been painting for many years and was fortunate to find the KSOA several years after moving to Kingston in 2014. It is a very welcoming school with very inviting and knowledgeable teachers. I have always believed that every artist has knowledge to share. If anyone feels he or she already knows everything, then that person still has a lot to learn! I love to paint a variety of subjects, my favourites being still life and people.
I need life drawing classes for my art just as I need fresh air and sunshine for my well-being. If I go too long without working from a live model, my hand tightens and my mind obsesses with detail and individual brush strokes. In Bruce’s sessions I was able to reach the meditative state I needed to connect directly, immediately, with the figure before me. I will never forget the first class I attended. Bruce strummed his guitar at the back of the room; the gentle music and sounds of artists all around me making marks on paper were hypnotic. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
The swallows are part of a series I am currently working on. They were inspired in part by the barn swallows that settle under our cottage every summer, and from a poem by Robert MacFarlane, also titled Swallow, which ends with the following lines:
With a stroke
the stars renewed their burning in the black,
the sun its turning,
the trees their leafing,
birds their singing,
she breathed in again and life poured back.
The first layer in the paintings -- a collage -- consists of a collection of thoughts, musings, and memories handwritten on paper and pasted on the canvas. I followed these with a grisaille under painting, which was then covered with multiple layers of coloured acrylic glazes.
COVID gives us a chance to spend time painting and thinking about painting. I am too lazy to go out and paint in the field, so I rely on photographs to provide the scene. I use them in our Thursday morning painting sessions under the helpful guidance of Bruce St. Clair. The three wood-lot paintings in the KSOA exhibit are based on photos I took at my wife’s childhood home in Quebec’s Eastern Townships with the intention of using them as the basis for a painting. As I trudged through the thicket I was looking primarily for an interesting and active three-dimensional configuration of forms.
My grandparents immigrated to Canada from Poland in the late 1920s, so this painting series is inspired by my Polish heritage and the characteristic blue and creamy-white stoneware that comes from the town of Boleslawiec in southwestern Poland. I liked the balance between painting the stylized patterns in the pottery and the more natural development of the flowers.
During classes at the KSOA I have enjoyed exploring a variety of creative concepts through drawing, watercolour, acrylic and encaustic painting. Each new painting starts with curiosity and grows from there.
The KSOA Student Show continues until March 27, with health protocols in force in gallery.
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.