Salt Springers wow Sooke Fine Arts Show jury

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Salt Spring artists have once made their mark at the Sooke Fine Arts Show, both in terms of overall presence and on the awards roster.

Local talents who claimed prizes this year are photographers Mike Azzarello and Seth Berkowitz and painter Josephine Fletcher. Awards were announced Saturday afternoon during a livestreamed event, as the entire 2020 show has moved to an online format.

The annual juried show is open to residents of Vancouver Island and the coastal islands. This year at least 16 Salt Springers were accepted, out of 270 to 280 artists in total.

Berkowitz had three photos accepted into the show and won awards of excellence for two of them. He previously won a Sooke award in 2014. Besides being incredibly surprised to receive even one award this year, Berkowitz was impressed by the strong cohort of fellow islanders.

“The first time I won an award I was excited there were a couple of other Salt Springers on the stage as well,” he said. “I did a quick comparison of the population of Salt Spring versus the population of Vancouver Island and realized Salt Springers are really really over-represented — and that’s true this time as well with three of us among the 10 award-winners. It’s extraordinary.”

Berkowitz received one of his prizes for a piece called Screamers 4, which is part of his  Torn and Splintered Ridge project, an homage to Emily Carr’s Screamers paintings of clearcuts.

“She was very much upset by the devastation being caused, even back in her time,” Berkowitz explained.

Also awarded was Cold On The Lake (Bobcaygeon). Berkowitz took that image in January while exploring the Kawartha Lakes area of Ontario, which is best known for summer recreational activities. As he explains in his statement, “the snow and the cold of winter transforms the landscape, bringing out the structural elements in winter monotones.”

Fletcher was also inspired by a visited landscape for her painting Pine Trees and Barn –  Sibley, which earned both an award of excellence and the Juror’s Choice Award bestowed by Terry Fenton.

Fletcher explained she was travelling in the area of Sibley, B.C. and painting views of old houses last summer when she came across a barn. Green light coming through a nearby pine forest and gathering storm clouds compelled her to immediately start painting and capture the scene.

“I was just reacting to what I saw and I was really thrilled to paint it,” Fletcher said.

The work was previously shown as part of Fletcher’s Houses exhibition at Duthie Gallery.

One of Fletcher’s favourite places to paint is the west coast of Vancouver Island. During the COVID shut-down she has been painting flowers since she’s had to focus on her “own little world at home.” A painting of a giant camellia tree behind Helen Ruckle’s house at Ruckle Farm can be currently viewed at Pod Contemporary Gallery.

The 2020 Sooke show was the first one that Fletcher has entered, and she was also surprised and delighted to receive her awards. She observed it’s not easy to be an artist and art supplies are expensive.

“Getting the award was like, ‘Yay! I get to be a painter,’” Fletcher said. “I love colour, and I get to play around with colour. That’s what I’m really doing.”

Azzarello received the Jan Johnson Memorial Award for Social Commentary for her photograph Ofrenda, which portrays a woman placing offerings on an altar for Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca City, Mexico.

“It’s perfect to be recognized for social commentary because that is what I shoot for. My interest is community and social justice, and to be recognized for that in my photography is really great,” Azzarello said.

Azzarello said she was really swept into the spiritual events she witnessed taking place in Oaxaca, and deeply moved by the willingness of the people there to include outsiders.

“The woman in the photograph and everyone there were really open to letting strangers in to something that was so intimate. They are communing with their ancestors, or anyone in their family who’s died. It was a really moving experience,” Azzarello said.

The Sooke Fine Arts Show can be viewed online at https://sookefinearts.com through Aug. 3. Islanders will have more chances to see work by local award-winning artists in the coming months. Fletcher has an upcoming show at Auntie Pesto’s Cafe. Azzarello will show at Ulrieke Benner’s studio Art You Wear starting Aug. 25.

ArtSpring’s executive director Cicela Mänsson is hoping to exhibit all the Salt Spring pieces from the Sooke Fine Arts Show at the island arts centre once the official event is closed. Details between the two organizations are yet to be finalized, but look for an announcement soon.

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