Whether imaginary, or rooted in reality and in the present, “place” defines our day-to-day existence during this pandemic, restricted as we are to staying close to home. We are encouraged to seek the outdoors, however, and some of us are lucky enough to live close to nature or on the water. Others are surrounded by our gardens or a neighbourhood that reveals itself daily while we walk. Still others travel to places remembered. Sixteen members of the Thousand Islands Fine Art Association (TIFAA), currently exhibiting in the WAG, have given personal expression to the notion of place. Hung salon-style in the gallery, and taken as a whole, the pieces in A Sense of Place project optimism in their variety and vibrancy of colours.
Martha Stroud’s sense of place in Kingston, once rooted in the city’s architecture, has shifted over the past year to the waterfront and the K&P Trail, where creatures such as beavers, groundhogs, turtles and waterfowl live and play. “I’m looking forward to the repeat of the seasons as we start our second year of trail walks, especially because I know what treats are in store,” writes Martha in 1000islandslife. Her acrylic painting of Molly Brant Point (#1) captures the clear, warm light of a late summer afternoon in the reflections of trees and clouds on the water and in the illumination of the golden grasses on the shore in the foreground.
Winter spaces provide inspiration for some artists. An atmospheric mixed media painting called Winter Morning by Solange Leman focuses on a windswept, snow-covered opening through tree trunks immersed in white. Solange has used a limited palette of muted lavender, blue and white to contrast the snow and the black skeletal trees. The result is an inviting entry into the forest – perhaps a place of refuge.
Pat Markovich, who lives on the St. Lawrence River in Brockville, likewise chose a scene with references to winter. Waiting for Game is an oil painting of a swamp surrounded by forest, which Pat rendered with a nod to impressionism. It is a place she likely knows well and has observed carefully, juxtaposing the verticality of the trees with the horizontal rows of dry bulrushes reinforced by horizontal dabs of colour throughout. We are subtly drawn into the scene by a thin brown track leading into the frozen swamp.
Windswept, a prism-like abstract in acrylic, relies on joyful colour to animate an arrangement of vertical bands and cones, seemingly being swept sideways. Jim Curtis evokes a memory of place. “This painting is from my B.C. series of impressions, inspired by the visual enjoyment of travelling the Sea to Sky Highway.”
Memory also plays a role in Sian Tucker’s painting entitled Sun and Shadows. Sian describes her choice of place like this: “My beloved and I were in Ireland a couple of years ago. Driving in the rain through mountains, we rounded a corner and arrived in another world. The rain had stopped and below us was a lake surrounded by mountains. The sun was shining from behind scudding clouds, creating sparkles on the water. Everything was bathed in soft mistiness. We got out of the car and stood there for ages. The image was etched in my mind forever. “ In Sun and Shadows we see the mistiness in the soft colours and atmospheric perspective. An oblique stretch of sky emerges from behind grey-purple clouds, but they are not ominous. The scene is one of wonder.
A place can remind us of earlier experiences during our lifetimes, but also the experiences of others in a different historical period. A Simpler Time – actually not that long ago – harkens back to small towns and a rural lifestyle that relies on community, something in short supply at the present time. In Colleen O’Connell’s mixed media piece, undulating hills define an idyllic landscape of fields, meadows and orchard surrounding a small lake. Animals are present, as are humans, in the houses lining the lakeshore, in the sailboats on the water and in the buildings dotting the farms. Colleen has dispersed many small details throughout the work, but has unified the whole by using predominantly green and by repeating shapes and patterns that gently pull us into and along the scene.
“I have always sought comfort in my gardens: the planning, planting, maintaining and reaping of rewards when I share bouquets of flowers with my friends,” writes Belia Brandow. Her garden also provides inspiration to paint. In A Place to Sit and Relax, we see the Adirondack chair -- where Belia does her creative thinking -- almost hidden behind a textured profusion of foliage and blooms in many colours. The tangled greenery is relieved by the light grey wall of the house, the small sliver of grey decking, and the darker grey fence in the background. A white and grey hanging sundial provides a point of interest in the garden, and surrounding it Belia has added, again in tones of grey, a cluster of elements including an old tractor seat, a large rock, and an array of short spiky grey-leaved plants. The garden envelops us as it does the artist.
In Nature’s Artistry (alcohol ink on yupo), Barbara Patrick searches for the boundary that, according to a Celtic myth, is neither one place nor the other, but the space in between the two. “This is the magical space where anything can occur,” she writes, a place “where bold, vibrant and shimmering colours dominate imaginary landscapes.” In Barbara’s piece the top half is indeed dominated by a magnificent cobalt blue and hot pink sky, moving like an aurora borealis, but anchored by a craggy, hilly landscape reminiscent of Japanese paintings. An intense pink fog mists the lowland. The effect is surreal and strangely calming. It is the space between.
A Sense of Place continues until June 26 in the virtual gallery and can be viewed as of June 11 in the actual gallery. Strict health and safety procedures will be in effect.
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.