BY KIRSTEN BOLTON
After Salt Spring Arts’ 16th Annual Spring Art Show at Mahon Hall opened its Archipelago exhibition last Friday showcasing six Southern Gulf Islands artists, ArtSpring follows suit with its presentation of six San Juan artists this Friday. An opening reception welcomes the public for a first sneak peek from 5 to 7 p.m., with the American artists and special guests in attendance.
The exhibition, entitled Archipelago: Contemporary Art of the Salish Sea, is framed as “twelve artists, six mediums, three exhibitions, two countries, one sea.” A unique collaboration between the creators and communities of two of North America’s most feted art communities, it marks the first international exchange of this nature and scale on Salt Spring. Partnering organizations ArtSpring, Salt Spring Arts and the San Juan Islands Museum of Art are each hosting different elements of the exhibition.
An aspect about ArtSpring’s exhibition that local co-curators Richard Steel and Patrick McCallum are particularly excited about is Salt Spring Island can also claim another first with this extraordinary presentation.
“None of the San Juan artists has ever shown in the Gulf Islands before, or even in Canada to my knowledge,” says Steel. “This is a fantastic opportunity for everyone to see these remarkable artists’ work and explore how their approaches, viewpoints and techniques are different or similar to our own.”
The exchanges and presentations of international work is a development that Howard Jang, executive and artistic director of ArtSpring, is committed to supporting.
“This exhibition serves as an opportunity for artists, and we as art centres, to engage in meaningful cultural exchange, foster relationships, introduce our communities to world-class artistic excellence and form a bit of pride that for such a small specific region, we can celebrate something unique on the global stage,” he says.
ArtSpring will show the work of established San Juan stone sculptor Tom Small and painters Joe Miller and RaVae Luckhart, along with a younger generation of artists like printmaker Glenn Hendrick, photographer Danielle Dean and Indigenous glassworks artist Raven Skyriver.
As with the Southern Gulf Islands, the artists of the San Juans have been significantly impacted by their profound sense of place. From melancholy weather affecting their palettes to the desire for self-imposed isolation; from creating their work in old-growth forests and on mountaintops to focusing attention on the ocean and its creatures; from the Salish Sea being a location versus a state of mind, the artists have a shared ecosystem of inspiration.
Millennial Skyriver from Lopez Island grew up connected to the land and its surrounding waters. He was introduced to the artistry of glass at 16 and, through it, discovered a way to celebrate biodiversity and better understand his heritage.
Today his renderings of the aquatic life of the Pacific Northwest are created with such exquisite detail and sensitivity, he is widely collected in the U.S. His ability to recreate the features and hues of salmon, whales, seals and octopus and imbue them with life and movement has been reviewed as truly exceptional.
“My work is almost exclusively derived from the marine ecosphere,” explains Skyriver. “Using earth tones and the natural translucent element, I love to capture the creatures’ fluid nature in molten glass and place them back into their environment, as if swimming weightlessly and suspended.”
From his remote home studio atop Cady Mountain, surrounded by old-growth forest, ravens and foxes, veteran artist Small practises his art and craft of stone sculpture. From rough-hewn and functional stone basins and benches to sensuous and futuristic pieces, architectural sculptures and monumental basalt forms bearing carved sketches from the natural world, Small is also a master of his medium.
With the two San Juan painters, Miller and Luckhart, the words “visual” and “visceral” have been aptly used to describe their work. Moving from the South Dakota plains to the atmospheric Pacific Northwest, Luckhart is a painter, print maker, but most of all a “mark maker,” who requires total immersion into her paintings.
In her challenging, large-scale collection of deer carcass paintings, she examines bold themes of love, terror, grief, redemption and culture, and invites viewers to do the same.
“This work is not about a deer on a hook,” she states. “Ultimately, I am expressing the human condition. Objects such as flesh and bone assume cultural and spiritual significance reflecting values and beliefs. Attempting to unearth the mystery, I represent the story with the mark, the colour and the composition with deer as the metaphor.”
Miller, on the other hand, is a painter of emotional landscapes, born from his desire to create “visual music.” He is described as bold, magical and rhythmic, with work fresh from his imagination inspired by the years and geography that have sustained him.
“Personally I find a real sense of joy in looking at Miller’s landscapes,” says Steel. “With the strong colours, his compositions and the unexpected interpretations of nature, it just makes the clouds part.”
Raised in the Midwest U.S.A. with flat topography, Hendrick found her move to the San Juans offered a stacked perspective as she moved between the sea islands. It would profoundly influence her woodblock work, as seen in her abstract landscape prints. She blends the Pacific Northwest with the sensibilities of ancient China and Japan, creating highly technical, layered, ghostly images that shift like the backdrops of a stage.
Photography lies at the core of Dean’s artistic practice, but her pieces are ultimately multidisciplinary. In her spiritual meditations of the Salish Sea, she uses charcoal and wax on her prints to accentuate textures and moods related to her images of, and submerged in, the ocean. Often, quietly, the pieces allude to the effects of climate change and human interference on the ocean.
“My goal for viewers is to be immersed in these meditations, finding connections to their own ecology and spirituality,” says Dean. “My work encourages an awareness of how the natural realm sustains us and what we can do to preserve the environment, both for our own well-being and for the future of our planet.”
With the theme of cross-border creativity, connection and cultural exchange at the forefront, the dialogue gets underway with two artist panels on Saturday, April 22. Mixing the Gulf Island and San Juan artists equally into different six-person panels, the first free public panel starts at 10:30 a.m. at ArtSpring and the second is at 2 p.m. at Mahon Hall, moderated by curators Steel and McCallum.
Volunteer opportunities at both exhibitions to be gallery ambassadors are still open.
The Southern Gulf Islands artists will be journeying down to the San Juan Islands Museum of Art for display from Sept. 22 to Dec. 4.
For more on the ArtSpring’s Archipelago exhibition, see artspring.ca.