Susan Benson’s dual art forms anchor Easter Art Show


The Salt Spring Arts Council has a special offering this year for its Easter Art Show, the annual 10-day show that kicks off on Good Friday.

Portrait of an Island and Upstage Centre: Susan Benson – 50 years of Theatre Design celebrate two sides of Benson’s career in the arts. Headlining exhibition Portrait of an Island is a collection of more than 160 portraits in oil of the people who call Salt Spring home, a project that captures the individuality of islanders and how those individuals come together to form a community.

Benson is well known for her portraiture and painting, with numerous exhibitions on Salt Spring and across Canada. She has a piece in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery of Canada, and was a semi-finalist in the prestigious BP Portrait Award in London, England. She was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts in 1986.

Benson also worked for many years as one of Canada’s most sought-after costume and set designers for theatre, opera and ballet at Stratford, Banff and the National Ballet. A new book coming out this year by Patricia Flood — a theatre, film and television designer and professor at the University of Guelph — celebrates Benson’s long history at the centre of Canadian theatre culture. To celebrate this body of work, the Easter Art Show will feature a fascinating collection of Benson’s set models, photographs, costumes, sketches and books loaned from collections across Canada.

“There is a strong connection between both sides of what I’ve done,” Benson said. “They both feed off each other. My work in theatre design wouldn’t be what it was without my background as a painter.”

While for Portrait of an Island she aimed to capture a wide cross-section of the community for the portrait project, Benson had also moved to the island only recently when she started, so a good number of the subjects came from contacts in the local art scene and cafe life close to her Ganges studio. In the end, she easily reached her target of 150 subjects; indeed, she surpassed it. There are now 164 portraits in total, and enough names on her list to contemplate starting part two.

For more on this story, see the March 28, 2018 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.


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