Looking at local artists and their work.


With A Muse On My Shoulder

The Fraser Valley Watermedia Society (FVWS) and Cat Janzen of Mint and Moss Floral Design displayed their work at the Kariton Art Gallery from September 3 to 27, with opening reception held on Saturday, September 3 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.. The intimate setting of the gallery provided patrons an opportunity to view the pieces…

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Counter-Narrative: Brandon Gabriel on becoming a visual storyteller and the power of decolonial art

by Nick Ubels

Brandon Gabriel is an internationally acclaimed mixed-media artist from the Stó:lō Coast Salish community of Kwantlen. His vivid creative work lends a critical eye to colonial processes that have attempted to relegate his culture to history books and museums. At 37, he has already amassed an impressive body of professional work that spans over 20 years and includes photography, painting, drawing, illustration, graphic design, public art installations, and architecture concepts.

“Threshold,” Brandon’s first solo exhibition, wrapped up at Centre 64 in Kimberley this summer. It’s a testament to the political potency for which his work is being recognized that he was invited to exhibit his work to draw attention to the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort, which threatens a highly sensitive Grizzly Bear migration corridor.

In addition to his work as a sessional instructor at universities throughout the Lower Mainland and other artistic endeavours, Brandon is preparing to co-curate an exhibition at the ACT Gallery in Maple Ridge to coincide with Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation that will provide “a critical perspective on what this colonial birthday means to indigenous people.”

I had the opportunity to talk to Brandon about his formative experiences as a visual artist and how his work has become more politically and socially engaged as his career has progressed.

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Blurring the line between audience and spectacle: creatiValley goes to the Garden of Earthly Delights

Over 500 years ago, Hieronymus Bosch created the painting he would become most famous for, “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” Even though surrealism didn’t exist in the late 1400s, the painting became the inspiration for the surrealism movement 350 years later. But its story doesn’t end there. “The Garden of Earthly Delights” has become the…

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Abbotsford artist battles at the nationals

Before you enter Queen Street’s Great Hall, you know you are in the visual arts centre of Toronto. Colorful murals and graffiti compete for your attention in their mastery and detail, making it difficult to distinguish which is which. Outside the Great Hall itself mill art patrons and artists, as indicated by paint-splattered jeans and hand-painted boots. They are as imaginative and youthful as the Great Hall is grand and old.

The Art Battle nationals inside are going full swing to the beats of one DJ Steintology, and in the midst of this humid melee competes Abbotsford’s own Shannon Thiesen. Thiesen, a teacher at Abbotsford School of Integrated Arts, is the winner of this year’s Vancouver regionals. Here in Toronto she battles other regional and provincial champions for the Canadian national title. After each round, the audience votes for their favourite painting; the top two artists of each group move forward as finalists.

Each of the 14 artists’ personalities is as unique as their painting style, and Thiesen is no exception. Wearing overalls that read, “Some people dream of meeting their favourite artists, I teach mine,” Thiesen easily has the most energy in the room, as one might expect from an artist who spends her days keeping up with 10-year-olds. She dances and grooves to the music as she paints, evidently having the time of her life, even under the pressure of producing a competition-worthy painting in a meagre 20 minutes. Her weapons are as unconventional as Thiesen: a window squeegee, house painter brushes, and palette knives. Thiesen likes materials that leave “interesting marks,” and she encourages her art students to think beyond the traditional brush.

With bold black strokes, Thiesen attacks the canvas and a portrait begins to appear. One neighbour works in sepia tones and the other bright rainbow colours, but Thiesen opts for more sombre blues, purples, and reds. The large crowd slowly circles around, closely watching the painters of the first round, but Thiesen and her competitors are oblivious to everything but their work.

Time is flying by, but Thiesen gradually brings a sorrowful face to life. She is known to win Art Battle competitions with her portraits, though she finds they do not as sell well due to the subjects’ unnerving expressions – “it scares them sometimes.” Her animal paintings sell much better, which she finds “people can identify with”; her exhibition painting the day before the competition was a striking blue and gold polar bear, now hanging above her in the Great Hall. Portraits, however, are Thiesen’s passion.

Brushes down, and Thiesen steps back from her canvas while the audience applauds and prepares to vote. Thiesen is pleased with her creation, though she wishes she “had five more minutes” – a sentiment undoubtedly shared by her fellow competitors. Reflecting on her portrait, Thiesen states: “It got really sad. I don’t know where that came from. I’m a pretty happy person!” Thiesen acknowledges that her piece has evolved from her initial plan, adding “It was a guy this morning, but it might be a girl now. My portraits are very androgynous.” She shrugs. “It’s whatever you want it to be.”

The tallies come in, and Thiesen finds out she won’t be competing in the final round. She doesn’t seem overly disappointed. “I’m just excited to have been part of it all. Everyone here is very talented.” She relaxes to enjoy the rest of the show, guessing correctly who will win the finals (Allan André from Ottawa). Thiesen has a message for her students back home: “Creativity takes courage. If you never take a step outside your box and make mistakes, you’ll never see what’s out there.”

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Blown away by art: at Chilliwack’s Art Under the Umbrella

Chilliwack’s Central Community Park is an open green space with a large depressed stone plaza at its centre. Paths branch out under archways and weave alongside trees and gardens. It was the perfect setting for this year’s Art Under the Umbrella, an annual event organized by the Chilliwack Community Arts Council.

Circumventing the plaza and the surrounding green space was a row of tents under which a variety of artists and arts vendors showcased their talents and wares. Acoustic guitar floated through the air, carried along by an unexpectedly strong wind. Soon a violinist occupied the opposite corner. Patrons wandered from booth to booth, admiring an eclectic array of art, from paintings, pottery, woodworking, wire art, glass blowing, and dance to farm goods, jewellery, soaps, and honey.

Several organizations had booths, such as the Chilliwack Cultural Centre, showcasing their upcoming children’s programs; as well, the Fraser Valley Arts Guild was present, showcasing the array of talent under their wing. For some artists, it was their first time presenting their work publicly.

“Our mission is to promote arts in the community; not just provide an opportunity for our artists to sell their artwork but to help patrons appreciate the work and the creativity that goes into the art,” said Patti Lawn, the executive director of the Chilliwack Community Arts Council.

Every artist and vendor was approachable, forthcoming, and friendly. There was a great deal to talk about with each artist, and they were more than willing to share their stories.

Chilliwack’s Education Centre — under the Chilliwack School board — had a booth setup displaying the art of up and coming high-school artists. Curated by Bonny Burgess, several of the young artists waited eagerly by the tent, ready to discuss their art. Their keenness and sincerity in their work was inspiring. They had works in a variety of mediums, coming from their school’s multi-media program, including paint, pencil, pastel, and photography.

“We were very happy with the event and the turnout in spite of the windy day!” Lawn said. “We guess-timated over 100 [visitors] during the course of the day.”

Although Art Under the Umbrella was designed to take on the Fraser Valley’s stereotypical rainy setting, it was not wholly prepared for the storm brewing over the northern mountains. Even from the early hours, tents lashed down with stone and water pails were beginning to move and tip, caught like kites in an unexpected gale.

The wind was unforgiving, in some cases blowing away works of art, knocking over tables, or even lifting away entire tents, lodging them in nearby trees.

However, this did not deter most artists. Many of them, with the help of some kind patrons, would go around assisting other fallen tents. Though by early afternoon, a few had no choice but to pack up.

Despite harrowingly windy conditions, Art Under the Umbrella was a joy, filled with the energy of young artists excitedly showcasing their work to the Fraser Valley. Storm or no, their art will persevere, and so will their energy.

“We will be back next year on June 10,” said Lawn. “We are adding an event the night before. Hopefully the word will spread and Art Under The Umbrella will be even bigger. Let’s hope there won’t be any wind, just sunny skies.”

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Never too rainy to raku: Despite the weather, Chilliwack pottery- glazing event fired up attendees

If you don’t like the rain, you may have missed out on one of the Chilliwack Community Arts Council’s first events of the summer: the second annual Raku in the Valley at Thompson Regional Park.

Yet the setting was perfect to practice an old Japanese technique of glazing pottery. Nestled into the cloud-filled valley a short drive up Chilliwack Lake Road, the wet weather lent a sense of mysticism. And luckily, it didn’t keep too many people away.

“We still had lots of people here,” said Patti Lawn, executive director of the Chilliwack Community Arts Council (CCAC). “We have a whole bunch of people coming to watch, because it’s a fascinating thing if you don’t know about that pottery form.”

Raku produces beautiful ornamental cracked- or metallic-finish pots. One begins by choosing the type of glaze: either clear, which results in blackened spider-web cracks, or an eye-catching, rainbow-coloured metal glaze.

At its maximum temperature, the pot is taken out of the kiln, transferred to the ground, and covered in shredded paper, which ignites. Then, metal tins are placed overtop to hold in the heat and smoke. This part of the process cracks the clear-glazed pots, allowing black smoke to set into the cracks. With the metallic glaze, the sheen is brought out by the heat without cracking it.
The entire process takes roughly an hour and a half, from glazing to firing to cooling. Once cool, the pots are wiped clean of excess smoke and residue.

All 65 pots made for the glazing process sold out well in advance of the event. While pots can be any size, depending on the tins that cover them, the pots used at the event were smaller for portability and ease.

“Last year, because it was the first time, we had pots we could sell here,” Lawn said. “This time we don’t.”

The event is made possible by a partnership between the arts council and Devon Road Pottery and Rainforest Pottery. Potters from the local studios perform the raku portion, and the arts council puts on the event, which also includes vendors and food, as well as providing volunteers to clean the finished pots before handing them over.

To the right of the raku pit where two portable kilns were located, were pottery vendors, artisan soap-makers, and hand-crafted jewellers. The Chilliwack River Valley Fire Department was also on scene to manage any possible issues from the heat and flames that go with the raku process, and to host a barbeque by donation.

With the success of this year’s Raku in the Valley, the CCAC plans to expand next year.

“We’re going to try to double the number of pots,” said Lawn.

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“Uncomfortable, messy, and exhilarating” : Art Battle #398 takes over The Reach

Four artists stand, palettes and brushes in hand, staring at the empty canvases before them. The air is electric with pulsing dance music and anticipation. Raw talent ready to shine. One of the artists shouts, “I have no idea what I’m doing!” But it’s too late to turn back: it’s the final round of Art Battle #398 with a trip to the regional finals in Vancouver on the line.

The crowd of roughly 85 people gathered at The Reach on May 13 had been waiting all night for this showdown between previous champions Stephen Chen, Cindy Dohms, and Shannon Thiesen and new challenger Rose Ross.

Soon, the volume from the CIVL DJ booth dipped and MC Aaron Levy began the countdown. As the crowd finished shouting out the final numbers, a flurry of activity took over the floor, paint splashing off canvases as runners were dispatched to fetch beer and wine for the painters racing against the clock to complete their pieces in under 20 minutes.

The audience started circling the painters in what Levy refers to as a “slow-moving tornado,” casting shadows across the canvases, further obscuring the artists’ already compromised light. Passers-by keenly scrutinized the emerging images, considering which painting might win their vote to crown the Art Battle #398 champion.

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My World art show sheds light on the lives of Mission youth

Minutes from bustling downtown Mission is the Rock Family Gallery. Entering the Mission Arts Centre building that houses the gallery, I was immediately struck by the history of the space, which features a large front porch and exposed wooden beam ceilings. Juxtaposed against all this history is an abundant array of artwork created by Mission teenagers.

This is the fourth annual student art show hosted by the Mission Arts Centre. The theme, My World, was created to encourage students to share where they draw inspiration from and what is important to them.

The show featured a plethora of styles, subject matter, and media ranging from drawing and painting, to photography and sculpture. From my perspective, the show would have benefitted from being more selective, only showing pieces that truly reflected the theme, as some works are obviously the result of teacher-directed school projects.

That being said, I did appreciate the glimpse into the minds and worlds of some of these students. Theirs is an uncontrived perspective, simply showing the world as they see it, without the need for concepts and theories as they explore different techniques and materials. Some of the pieces are unique to the adolescent viewpoint, such as the watercolour painting entitled “Boys in the Library.” The piece depicts a scene so mundane and everyday I’m instantly transported back to my own high school days when I was bored out of my mind, and I wonder if that artist feels the same way.

Another piece that stood out to me was “Platonic” by Jaden from Hatzic Middle School. It’s a photograph of a young girl, presumably a friend of the artist, who stares directly at the viewer without apology. The title is curious. Why would the artist feel the need to point out that nature of the relationship? Perhaps it points to key issues at play in the lives of teenagers today — those dealing with relationships and sexuality. Regardless, it is a beautiful portrait, expertly composed, and certainly left an impression on me.

Art shows like these are important because they give young artists an opportunity to have their work showcased to a wider audience. My World ran from May 10 to 28 and featured student work from Hatzic Middle School, Mission Secondary School, and the Summit Learning Centre.

For many of these students, this is their first taste of artistic success. The show was juried to determine the winner of Best in Show in both secondary and middle school categories. The winners were announced on May 28.

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