I always loved what I called making things, but as I was growing up I never met an artist or saw an original piece of art. Then, in eleventh grade, a new girl moved to my school – a girl who had spent her childhood in galleries and art classes. With her as my new sense of what was possible, I began college two years later as a painting major in a BFA program. Since then my art career has taken many twists and turns, but there’s never really been anything else I wanted to do.
My paintings look realistic but they’re not just about surface appearances. I decided a long time ago that if I could paint someone or something so it looked the most like itself, it might help us see not just the painting’s subject, but ourselves in it. I want to say, “See how beautiful this is. How beautiful you are. Look at how much is there. Just look.”
Throughout much of my artistic career, I explored the relationship of the self to the spirit. For most of 20 years, this imagery was representational, narrative, and figurative. Then during the production of the work that became part of a two-person exhibition called Bequest, with Honor Kever, and which toured western Canada for over a year and a half in 2002 and 2003, the figures left my work. Searching to find what might replace or stand in for that human presence, I discovered the rose. This discovery has led to over 12 years of production which focuses on the relationship between beauty and how we perceive it.
When preparing a new painting I begin by arranging the flowers to create a composition that both appeals visually and suggests meaning. I use multiple light sources to produce layering of shadows and intensity of color, to say something not only about the roses but also their world. I photograph them and often manipulate the digital image to achieve a desired range of colour and richness. I then work out the image in an elaborate contour drawing and mix colors in response to the photo.
When I start painting, I aim to develop one area thoroughly before moving to another, so that the viewer might see clear relationships between the areas. The rest of the piece follows. Though I have two degrees in art, this way of working wasn’t taught to me in any school. It’s just what feels right.
I’ve been painting and exhibiting for almost 35 years, and have more than two dozen solo or two-person exhibitions on my CV as well as over forty group shows, but the process and its results have never stopped being challenging. This uncertain, oily medium, applied with a stick that won’t completely let you direct it, and placed with one slightly transparent brushstroke next to or on top of another, becomes something that didn’t exist before. You never know until it’s finished whether it’s all a big mistake or not! And you hope it makes sense.