Three curators, 25 artists working in diverse mediums: The current exhibition by the Organization of Kingston Women Artists (OKWA) presented a challenge in terms of cohesiveness during yesterday’s hanging. In response to last year’s show entitled “Restricted,” OKWA members were asked this year for submissions unrestricted by neither size nor medium.
When I arrived at the gallery, I was greeted by an air of busyness. Curators Lise Melhorn-Boe, Hanna Back and Jane Derby--along with show co-ordinator Diane Black—were considering colour balance among the artworks on the floor, while photographer Mieke Van Geest was up on a ladder, hammer in hand, suspending a series of her colour prints from the ceiling on bright turquoise netting, which she had filched from a farmer’s field, she confided to me.
Now the show is up, along with artists’ statements that expound on the theme of “Unrestricted.” Mieke, for example, whose signature style is evident in her prints, writes, “The restrictions of photography are loosened through play—blurred focus, intentional camera movement, over-exposure.” In contrast, Sue Lyon has little to work with when trying to restrict the manipulation of clay on her potter’s wheel. She produced her clay vessel Off Kilter with the accompanying comment: “minimally restricted may be intriguingly unique.”
Jane Derby bent copper, hammered nails and gouged plywood to create her abstract 3-D piece. She writes, “… mid-century feminists broke down barriers … it is because of these women that artists like me have permission to use materials as humble as the tin can to make art, unrestricted in the way they want to represent the world.” Diane Black’s 3-D piece called Bitches on Couches shows three clay sculptures of dogs standing in for female figures in an unusual and humorous way. “I suddenly felt free to be ‘unrestricted’ in my depiction of over-the-top expressiveness,” she writes.
A diptych of large expressionist abstracts by Susanne Langlois, who usually paints florals and landscapes, exemplifies her interpretation of unrestricted. Barb Carr, for her part, addresses the OKWA theme in her monotype by pointing out the unrestricted space in the landscape. Linda Williams’ approach to unrestricted is evident in the rhythmic form she has created with a series of thin clay slabs reminiscent of botanical growth.
This year, the year of COVID, ten artists, not surprisingly, included the pandemic in their statements. For example, Vera Donefer refers to the present as “scary times”, which are reflected in her intense but bleak abstract. JT Winik accompanies her painting of a woman on a grey background, entitled Against the Wall, with “I see the reality of this pandemic as a wall with more than one side to its story.” A colourful abstract painting by Maya Jagger indicates her mood: “… in this time of apparent darkness, I feel the need to paint some joy.”
Both Mary O’Brien and Michèle LaRose changed the way they worked during the pandemic. While Michèle moved from painting to colour pencil in a smaller format, which was “easier to pick up and drop quickly in this time of distraction,” Mary challenged herself to work in a new medium, in this case gelli printing, which is inherently unpredictable, like the challenging times we are experiencing.
Spy vs. Spy, a mixed media diorama by Mary Peppard, is a riff on a comic that appeared in MAD magazine in 1961. It was both inspired by and an escape from COVID, writes Mary. “Cartoons are silly. They’re also adept at survival … always bending, stretching, disintegrating, and reassembling in a moment.”
“Unrestricted” continues until October 25 with COVID restrictions in place for in-gallery visits.
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.