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Monday, October 26, 2009

Art isn't 9 to 5

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear, does it make a sound? If an artist creates a body of work and no one is there to see, is it still art?

A friend, Sheila, in Montreal is a truly fine artist but somewhat private and secretive. She is driven to quietly create. Photography, pencil sketches, oil paintings, wood sculptures and more are all in her remarkable and extensive repertoire.

Name an artistic endeavour, such as film making, and you will discover that she's tackled it, done it, and filed her completed work in her bulging portfolio.

This is a woman for whom everything is art. Everything demands, and receives, creative attention. A simple lemon pie in her hands becomes a work of art exhibiting culinary creativity. At the very least, her pies are works of fine craftsmanship, beautiful to behold.

Wonderfully tart, thanks to fresh lemons and a bit of lemon zest, this is a pie that owes nothing to Shirriff lemon pie filling. Her pies are truly her pies.

Nosing about Sheila's kitchen, I came upon the cookbook she gave her husband. Each page illustrated with a pencil sketch. The drawing above the challah recipe, a traditional Jewish ceremonial bread, was a strong, stylized image. Then I came upon the lasagna illustration and I gave a loud gasp. From the other room I heard, he's found the lasagna recipe, and then laughter.

This woman has been creating art her entire life. Since her graduation from art school decades ago, she seems to have never taken a break. Except for her 9-5 job, she has dedicated her life to the pursuit of the real. (A Hans Hofmann reference-.)

My wife went to the Ontario College of Art. We have two of her works from that period on our walls. But when she left the college, for the most part, she left her personal involvement with art behind.

I attended art school in Detroit and I got a degree in filmmaking from Ryerson in Toronto. Ask me how many of the students in my classes actually went on to work in art or film. The answer is not many. This is not uncommon.

One thing that one learns in art school is that art is tough. Art is not just lines or colour on a stretched canvas. I would argue that a lot of fine art is the culmination of the artist's thoughts on the subject at hand and the artist's visceral reaction to the work as it takes shape.

Sheila spends weeks thinking about her art, planning, anticipating, and then modifying her approach continually while she works. Once she has the statement complete and on display in a finished piece, she creates another work building on a different visual riff on the original theme.

For instance, think of her rich, complex, series of flower paintings. One theme in these works is the fleeting nature of time; flowers bud, bloom and shrivel. This is a powerful theme and the organic, swirling flowers are steadied, grounded by the repeated visual riff of different, large geometric shapes in each piece in the series.

Sheila deserves a show. She has earned one.

Cheers,
Rockinon

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