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Music

Track Premiere: “Sean” – Casinos

Casinos are hard not to like. Whether you go for the big melodies or the fuzz-dripping guitars, the rich character studies or the muscular musical chops, there’s something for everyone. Since releasing their self-titled EP in 2014, the Abbotsford pop-rock favourites have kept a low profile, playing a smattering of shows and quietly developing a…

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Features

New restaurant to fill spaces in Abbotsford’s class gaps: Abby Eats Café will allow patrons to “pay what they can”

It’s an old trope: a bumbling restaurant patron discovers they can’t afford their meal, and, after a big commotion, they work off their debt by washing dishes and serving customers. In the real, less comedic world where everyone needs food but not everyone has the means to get it, this sort of system would have…

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Art

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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Art

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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Food

Between art and science: A flight through Field House

Field House Brewing, the newest addition to the developing cultural business scene in Downtown Abbotsford, has been on a roll since it opened late last year. The brewery, which you can track with the hashtag #fieldtofist, is one of the hottest places to go for good beer, good music, and a generally good place to spend some time.

Field House is also a place for community, as they work collaboratively with other businesses that cater to a similar demographic. This includes having other breweries’ beers on tap, having Old Hand Coffee in weekly, concerts, and a lot more.

Field House also does brewery tours. If you’ve never been on one before, it’s worth going and seeing how their beer is made while having somebody knowledgeable explain the process. Not to mention you’ll also get to sample.

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Art

“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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