SSNAP show closes with kudos and prizes

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The 2017 Salt Spring National Art Prize season ended Sunday night as Mahon Hall closed its doors on another successful exhibition featuring some of the most exciting contemporary artists from across the nation.

For the sophomore event, a panel of expert jurors managed to whittle down 2,100 entries seen as JPEGs into a physical show, where 49 strong finalists competed for  $30,000 in prizes. David Garneau, an artist and professor at the University of Regina, Esker Foundation curator/executive director Naomi Potter, and Denis Longchamps, artistic director and chief curator at the Art Gallery of Burlington, agreed that introducing the prize has been an incredible feat for the Salt Spring Arts Council and supporters.

“[I’m] super proud of this community for doing an exhibition like this,” said Potter, who grew up on the island. “It’s pretty remarkable. Things like this don’t happen every day, for a new prize to come onto the Canadian landscape, particularly the Canadian contemporary landscape, so I applaud the organizers and you as a community for doing this.”

Potter said the jurors worked alone while selecting their first round of cuts but had remarkable consensus in their choices. They made their final deliberations together at the Mahon Hall exhibition, which ran from Sept. 22 to Oct. 22.

“Walking in here there’s always surprises — things like scale, colour,” Potter observed.

The Joan McConnell grand prize of $12,000 plus an artist’s residency worth $5,000 went to Judy Anderson, a Cree artist from the Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan who teaches at the University of Calgary. “This one brings me the most pride . . . .” combines traditional First Nations crafts with contemporary culture in a hockey mask made from tanned hide ornamented with beading and a beautiful otter pelt.

Anderson created the piece in honour of her second child Riel, who is a trans person. The hockey helmet references that identity with a rainbow grille, and also plays on topics such as warrior culture and pride.

“There’s so many things that recommend this piece,” Garneau said.

“It’s an exceptional piece in many ways and if someone doesn’t pick it up now, it’s going to be in the National Gallery next, I guarantee it,” he concluded.

Garneau noted the work has many layers, starting with the history of Indigenous beading and how that changed and adapted to the technologies and materials introduced after colonization.

“I bead myself, I know about a bit about beading, and there’s some interesting surprises here,” Garneau said. He added that in the contemporary period, Metis beading and First Nations beading are among the most exciting Indigenous work.

The three juror’s awards went to a wide variety of pieces. Garneau gave his nod to Jan Little for her painting Jael Suddenly Found Herself With That Beard She’d Long Dreamt of — a traditional portrait in oil on aluminum panel in terms of style but not in subject matter. Little has studied animation at Emily Carr University and now has a studio gallery in Penticton.

Potter was taken with an emerging artist from Oliver, B.C. She gave her award to Katherine MacNeill for her lovely paper collage landscape, which combines “big-picture perspective” with fine attention to detail. Potter pointed out MacNeill had just started to practise art two years ago after retiring from a career in accounting, and predicted this type of scenario will increasingly be the new face of exciting work.

Longchamps selected the multi-media piece Guard on the Edge (of the forest and the night) by Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft. A sculptural tableau combined with a photograph of the sculpted elements forms a surreal metaphor on difference, with satyrs caretaking horses that are “damaged, abject and vulnerable, and epitomize the grotesque,” according to the artist’s statement.

“The 49 finalists made it to the top five per cent of all the applications we had to go through, so just that in itself I think is a feat,” Longchamps said. “And . . . there are probably in my case 12 I could have chosen, but I decided to go with someone who deals with a subject that is maybe more difficult to tackle, disability.”

The jurors awarded the Alliance of Salt Spring Artists prize for best Salt Spring finalist to Garry Kaye for his painting Roadside. Noting Kaye’s painstaking attention to detail and meticulous process, SSNAP’s founding director Ron Crawford joked that Kaye had been working on the painting since 1988. All jokes aside, the award was a triumph for the born-and-raised islander for a couple of reasons. First is the fact that he’s a very formal painter and the SSNAP platform tends to promote conceptual work. Secondly, the jurors reportedly would rather not have awarded any artist with two prizes. Kaye received the top people’s choice award at the show, but their integrity forced the judges to bestow the second honour nevertheless as they felt it was the strongest work.

Salt Spring’s Peter McFarlane earned the second-place people’s choice award with his metal sculpture Reclaimed, which transforms the image of a heavy-duty chainsaw with a forest cut in relief along the blade. Dave Parsanishi from Port Alberni earned the third spot for his moving multi-media piece on residential schools, Mamaatni (A Transformative Mask). Parsanishi was also a 2015 SSNAP finalist.

People’s choice awards for the SSNAP Parallel Art Show at ArtSpring were also announced Saturday night. The top spot went to Karin Millson for her mixed-media installation Memory Hive. Also honoured were Martin Herbert in second place and Donna Hall in third.

SSNAP’s eight prize winners will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at the Bau-Xi Gallery in Vancouver. Dates have yet to be announced.

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