Marni Martin’s “Northern Light, Algonquin”
By: Leona Nikolic
Working within the complex dialogue of craft vs art, Muskoka-based textile artist Marni Martin merges the precise craft of weaving fibres with the intense artistic impulse of creative expression. A graduate of Canada’s renowned Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Martin’s textile works have been featured at the Algonquin Art Centre over the past decade. Like her regional peers, Martin’s work is often visually derived from her surroundings of natural landscapes and wilderness. Much of her body of work is rendered in a realist manner with great attention to detail, colour, and composition. In Martin’s own words, these textile works “[embody] the lines and rhythms of the natural world.” Thus, these representations of the natural world not only appear visually accessible and accurate to the eye, but they also convey a certain sense of awe, mystique, and subliminality that has guided Canadian landscape art for well over a century. Bridging the obscure gap between craft and art, Martin’s work is both; neither skilful attention of the weaving practise nor the essence of creative intent is compromised.
While Martin produces realistically rendered natural scenes – unambiguous voyeuristic snapshots of her surroundings like Ablaze and Autumn Leaves which can be viewed at the Algonquin Art Centre – she explores more abstracted forms of representation as well. Northern Lights, featured in the AAC’s special exhibition Algonquin at Night, is a carefully patterned masterpiece evoking the natural phenomenon of the aurora borealis. Striking in its simplicity, Northern Lights stands out amongst the hyper-detailed night-time scenes surrounding it. With this piece, Martin distils the dazzling visual experience of the aurora borealis into pure corporeal sensation in the minimalistic jagged gradient of purple to pink to green to blue of the soft woven texture. A long, loose fringe hangs at the base of the tapestry, unwoven, confessing its absolute materiality and utilitarian potential.
Sylvia is a fiber artist who combines her love of the natural world and her sense of design to create a tiny universe of threads as deft as a painter’s brush. By lowering the feed dogs and removing the foot on her old sewing machine, Sylvia can move the fabric in any direction, allowing her to create intricate threaded patterns, which have become the staple of her landscape art. “Sylvia’s works stand out in our exhibition” says Joel Irwin, the General Manager at the Art Centre. “People think they’re looking at paintings, until they lean in and realize that it’s really thread they’re looking at, not brush strokes.”
In recognition of Sylvia’s talents, the Art Centre has organized a featured artist exhibit for her, “The Art of Free Motion Embroidery” which will be held at the Algonquin Art Centre from July 16th – July 31st. Admission is free and no Park Pass is required to attend.
Sylvia will also be bringing her sewing machine to the Centre on July 28th to do an artist demonstration on site, from 11 am – 4 pm. Admission is free. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this incredible talent at work.
Discover the wonders of the night sky and the curiosities of Algonquin’s nocturnal life. New originals from landscape artists such as Tony Bianco and Joseph Pearce, Scratchboard art from Lori Dunn, and Bronze sculpture from Siggy Puchta. This and much more in our “Algonquin at Night” wing.
For over 25 years, landscape artist Joseph Pearce has sought out the tranquility or the drama of a northern wilderness, looking for distinctive scenes to turn into captivating paintings. Celebrating his 100th trip into Algonquin Park, Joseph’s newest landscapes will be featured in his first AAC solo exhibit, “The Paddle Meets the Brush”.
Sheila Davis’ impressionistic landscapes combine elements of value, line, and colour harmony into powerful compositions. Come and meet Sheila at the Art Centre as she paints en plein air right on site. Free Admission.
Tim Packer’s landscape paintings combine elements of expressionism and the abstract with a refined sense of composition to reveal to viewers his own impressions of the Algonquin landscapes. Come and experience his work in this special featured exhibition.
Wildlife Artist Lori Dunn is quickly becoming one of Canada’s premiere scratchboard artists. Although scratchboard is one of the most difficult mediums to master, Lori has perfected the technique, combining precision with composition to produce incredibly detailed and beautiful wildlife art. Experience it first hand with this very exciting solo exhibition.
Meet Scratchboard artist Lori Dunn as she discusses her solo exhibition, “My Life is Wild.”
Michael Dumas’ art is characterized by masterful drawing and an unusual sensitivity to the subtleties of detail, form, colour, and composition. His featured show, “Inspired by Life” showcases Michael’s incredible eye for the nuances of light and shadow.
Sylvia’s landscapes are inspired from sketches, observations and photographs taken from her enjoyment of the outdoors while walking, cycling, canoeing and gardening. The ideas she gathers are then roughly sketched on paper, or a paper collage. “I never draw on the fabric because that would mean that I would have to keep to the drawn line. I prefer my work to evolve.” The fabric is dyed and/or painted before any thread touches the fabric. Different types of fabrics are used depending on what types of effects she wants to obtain, such as silk, cotton or polycotton. Before starting the free machine embroidery, the feed dogs are lowered and the foot is removed so that the fabric can no longer be moved by the machine. The background fabric is stretched in an embroidery hoop, which enables the work to move in any direction, this freedom of movement requires great control. The intensely coloured, exquisite renderings of nature are obtained by using a large palette of threads. These are constantly being changed both through the needle and the bobbin. The stitch tension is also frequently manipulated in order to make loopy, textured stitches. Embellishment with hand embroidery sometimes completes the artwork.
Check out the video of Sylvia at the Art Centre
The rugged Canadian Shield provides the inspiration and the materials for my new series of sculptures. While scouting rapids on wild rivers, hiking through dense forest or snowshoeing along frozen shorelines, I encounter special stones. Eroded and etched, some fractured and split by the powerful forces of wind, water, ice and changing seasons – I choose each one for its natural beauty. With great care and effort, I bring these stones back home and create sculptures to compliment their unique characteristics.
Last fall I paddled the north shore of Lake Superior. It was a unique experience, with some calm, easy-going days that could turn wild very quickly, forcing us to shore to escape crashing waves which could capsize a canoe in an instant. It wasn’t uncommon to watch three metre waves tumbling onto the shoreline, and for half of our six day trip we were windbound. I remain awestruck by such dramatic shifts in weather, from glassy waters when you could see the lake bed 60 feet below, to screaming tempests which can rip massive trees out by their roots.
In Canada, I have paddled the northwest passage in Nunavut, tripped in northern Ontario towards James Bay, and run whitewater rivers in Quebec.
Every journey presents unique challenges, and over the years, there were moments of bliss and adventure that could so easily have given way to disaster. Three years ago in Quebec, I stepped into a narrow crevasse while portaging around a falls, canoe on my shoulders. I gashed my leg, and within a day had developed a severe infection. It took another three days to get off the river, and arriving at a local hospital, the doctor took one look at my leg and said, “we better get to work. I don’t want to have to amputate it!”
Not every trip is so dramatic, thankfully! But I am inexorably drawn to wilderness, to experience the land as if I was the first to explore it. In some cases, I may have ventured into wild, far-away areas that few if any people had previously travelled.
I remain humbled to this day, when coming face to face with the power and majesty of our vast Canadian wilderness. Influenced by my journeys into the wilds and by those whose lives remain connected to the earth, I strive to make compelling works of art for the viewer that evoke our dynamic natural world.
Every year, the Algonquin Art Centre organizes a new art exhibition that explores environmental themes through the perspective of Canada’s leading landscape and wildlife artists. Building on the success of last year’s exhibit, “Water”, the Art Centre has developed their 2013 show by turning to one of Canada’s most significant geological formations –
The Canadian Shield.
“When you look out at all the rocky shorelines and pine clad cliffs in Algonquin Park,” says show organizer Joel Irwin, “you’re really looking back in time, far back in time. In fact, the rocks that make up the foundation of Algonquin are among the oldest in the world and are part of the ancient geological core of the continent – The Canadian Shield.”
The Canadian Shield is a vast expanse of ancient rock, stretching from the Arctic Islands in the North to Minnesota in the South, and from the Coast of Labrador in the East all the way to Great Slave Lake in the West. It was formed over 4 billion years ago, when drifting landmasses collided on a sea of molten lava, forming vast, volcanic mountain ranges, “Thanks to millions of years of erosion,” says Joel, “the secrets of this ancient rock did not remain buried in the earth, but rose to the surface, where the sun could illuminate its beautiful patterns and colours. As miners began traveling to the Shield to extract its hidden treasures – such as nickel, gold, silver, and copper – artists began traveling here to capture its unique beauty through their art.”
In recognition of this artist tradition, the Art Centre organized its 2013 theme, which reveals to audiences the sublime beauty of Shield Country. “The beauty in this part of the country is tied to the ancient rocks beneath our feet,” says Joel, “ and this year’s art show explores the many connections between them.”
The exhibit, “The Canadian Shield” will be on display from June 1st – October 19th, 2013 at the Algonquin Art Centre, located on Km. 20 in the heart of Algonquin Provincial Park. Voluntary admission. No Park Pass required.
by Michael Dumas
Likening a painting to a photograph seems to be a commonplace reaction when the painting in question appears highly realistic, especially if it entails a significant amount of detail. Such a comment, however, has a number of interpretations, including some not particularly complimentary to the artist. The benign, even favorable meaning behind the comment would be that the viewer has found the painted image as being highly convincing, and they are simply using the photographic reference for emphasis. Well and good as far as it goes, but is it accurate? If it is not, and yet the viewer perceives that it is a fair comparison, both the artist and the viewer are left at a disadvantage. The artist’s intent is not getting conveyed, and the viewer is left with less than a full understanding and appreciation of what might actually be there given a greater awareness. For both, it is essential to understand the fundamental differences between the act of painting an image, however convincing, and the characteristics to be found in creating an image with a camera.
The first thing to realize is the fundamental difference between normal binocular vision, and that of the camera’s view, which could be likened to being one-eyed. The three dimensional effect that is created by binocular vision simply does not exist in a single image created by the camera. While a photograph may offer clues of dimensionality, they are largely suppressed in comparison to what is observed with two eyes. The painter has the opportunity, if skilled enough, to create a sense of dimension to defy this inherent limitation of the two dimensional surface. To do this however, a host of illusionistic manipulations must be brought into play.
The focusing system of the eye is also quite different than that of a camera. The depth of field in photography governs the areas of sharp focus. Everything within a particular distance (it might be deep or shallow depending on the camera’s settings), top to bottom and side to side within the viewfinder will be indiscriminately focused to the same degree. With some settings, in certain circumstances, the camera produces the very specific optic effect of out of focus circles. This feature of the camera’s mechanics results in many deviations from how we normally see things. For example, the way in which we observe surface reflections and sub-surface depth in calm water. If the camera is focused fairly close up on surface objects, such as lily pads, it will not be able to simultaneously include the sub-surface information and reflections of distant objects that are readily available to the eye.
The human eye focuses only on a very small percentage within our overall range of vision. To demonstrate this, simply focus on a detail within your environment and do not shift away from it. You will note that the vast majority of our vision is peripheral in nature, and goes quickly out of focus spherically in all directions away from the point of distinct attention. Our sense of the overall view of things is the result of our eyes scanning bits and pieces of the total view and forming a compiled impression within our brain. The experience is not just through the eyes, but also through the mind. Each of us has our own distinct preferences and we will pay more attention to some things and blithely ignore others. Painting with this sort of personal interpretation not only allows for individual expression, and can be most convincing because it is not literal.
The speed at which a photograph is taken has a direct influence on the final image, and much of this does not match well to what we perceive. Consider the flowing water of a stream, and the drastically different result one can achieve in photographing it. Recorded at high speed the water is frozen into odd shapes that are real enough in actuality but are moving too fast for us to effectively observe with any confidence. We can recognize water in such images intellectually, but they do not convey the subjective reality of experience through our unaided senses. Likewise with a very long exposure that blurs the water into a soft flowing mist-like element. Very beautiful, but most certainly not what we can experience directly. Even if one selects a mid-point between these extremes, there is always a sense of the image not being as we remember it. This is because our impression of a flowing stream is rooted in an extended time frame to accommodate the movement. Conveying this impression governs how naturally convincing it will appear in paint.
Lens effects can dramatically alter images away from how we see the world through our own eyes. Wide-angle lenses distort perspective and sense of distance, filters alter color and contrast, telephoto lenses compress perspective, and so on. These effects can be positive ones for the photographer, providing choices for creative and dramatic imagery. Painters my find many of the things found in photography to be useful to them also, and may in fact be influenced by such effects, but whether or not the finished product is ‘just like a photograph’ is quite another issue. Unless the painter is blatantly faithful to copying a photograph, including all of the distinctive photographic ‘signatures’, the comparison is simply inaccurate, regardless of how ‘real’ and convincing it might be.
What then are the means available to the painter who desires to create very convincing interpretations of reality? Perhaps the single greatest attribute available to the painter is the degree of selection that can be exercised, and the amount of variation that can be applied to this concept. Take for example, the issue of creating a three-dimensional effect. By softening an edge, even to the point of losing it in the background, a sense of form receding into space can be authentically conveyed. The result is achieved not through literal translation, but is a manipulation of the brain’s susceptibility to certain types of visual illusion. Moreover, this strategy can be applied to each and every object of choice within the painting. In photographic terms this would mean individual depths of fields adjusted to all objects independently rather than one overall depth of field, and this is simply not available to the mechanics of the camera.
All of the features within a painting can be applied in a selective manner, be it the degree of hardness or softness in edges, range of tone and color, detail, patterns and textures, shape, placement, and so on. None of these things are good or bad on their own. However, detail for the sake of detail, color for the sake of color, etc. denies the potential of these qualities to express meaning outside of itself. Such things take on importance only to the degree in which they contribute to the success of the overall work, both conceptually and visually. Of these, the declaration of ‘it’s just like a photograph’ seems most closely related to the presence of detail in a painting, but detail has many guises, and each one is subject to selective inclusion based on the painter’s personal preference and intention. Foundational detail would entail things like accurate shapes of the objects portrayed, shadows that conform to, and coordinate with a light source, a sense of dimension, and so on. This sort of detail is truly foundational, and it is what makes even the most broadly painted works take on a sense of the authentic. In works that incorporate greater degrees of surface detail, this foundational aspect of detail is indispensable. Without it, regardless of how much surface detail is shown, it will simply lack presence.
The photographic comparison seems to be generated by the surface detail of objects, but once again, whether or not such detail is photographic in nature is very much in question. Some paintings, for example, depict fur by placing a multitude of individual lighter hair-like strokes over a dark undercoat, others use the same light over dark system, but concentrate on the pattern that the fur as a whole makes as it conforms to the underlying form. Still others establish the basic patterns by first indicating tonal variations while leaving the surface base largely untouched. Some painters may feel the need to take an ‘every hair’ approach, others prefer limiting the depiction to foundational detail, and still others will manipulate a broad range from specific surface detail that blends into suggested detail, and continues even further into areas restricted to basic tonal values.
Each method, and the degree of emphasis or suppression of detail will govern the final, and distinctive, result. Interestingly enough, even if one were to group paintings according to the approach taken, there would still be substantial individual differences based on who created the painting. The particularities and the touch of the individual impose a degree of uniqueness, much like one’s hand writing, the brush simply replacing the pen. Even so, success in painting must also include conceptual considerations be they dramatic or subtle, and an effective means of executing an idea. Photographers face the same challenge to establish individuality within their field, but because the tools at hand are specifically distinct, so too are the choices available. The notion that they are comparable based on the common ground of being images on a two dimensional surface, regardless of how ‘real’ they both might appear, is to misunderstand and thereby disregard the creative skills of both the painter and the photographer alike. Learning to distinguish between the two not only adds to the enjoyment of viewing, but also fosters an appreciation for the very discrete and separate skills that each endeavor requires in order to achieve success.
Canada’s leading landscape and wildlife artists will be exploring the aesthetic qualities and environmental importance of Water for an upcoming art exhibit at the Algonquin Art Centre. The show, which is simply called “Water,” will trace the major headwaters that flow out of Algonquin Park and into the surrounding regions.
“Water has become a significant environmental issue in recent years,” explains Matt Coles, the Centre’s Art Director, “and our intention is to offer visitors an aesthetic experience of the water systems in Algonquin Park – water, after all, is a big part of Algonquin’s charm and appeal to artists over the years, and we hope that this charm will inspire our visitors to be more conscientious of water’s importance, both environmentally and artistically.”
Algonquin Park is a dome-shaped highland, carved out by glacial movements some one hundred and twenty thousand years ago, and it has become an iconic piece of geography in Canada. A number of important headwaters flow out of Algonquin Park – the Petawawa, Oxtongue, Madawaska, to name a few – and the show “Water” will offer a unique perspective not only of these water systems, but of Algonquin’s geological history and value as a Provincial Park.
Join Canada’s leading artists in a celebration of Water at the Algonquin Art Centre. The show will be held from June until mid-October, 2012 at the Algonquin Art Centre, km 20 in Algonquin Provincial Park.
Watch the teaser of “Water” below.
“A Painter of Wilderness”, a new book about Paul Gauthier, explores the life and works of an artist whose love of the Canadian landscape can only be expressed in the beautiful and revelatory paintings that he produced. The book documents Paul’s trips across Canada, from the Yukon to the Arctic, through photos, newspaper clippings, gallery programs and, of course, his paintings, each of which demonstrate the tremendous skill and profound understanding of a master artist at work.
The composition and harmony of a piece like “November Sunset, Algonquin Park” raises the landscape to the plane of revelation, where the bright shafts reflecting on the shimmering water betokens the promise of some illumination – whether intellectual or spiritual doesn’t matter: the landscape speaks a universal language and appeals to both thought and feeling. This piece can represent the book as a whole and, by extension, Paul’s life as an artist always seeking, always striving, and never yielding.
“A Painter of Wilderness” solidifies the artistic genius that Paul Gauthier possesses and his reputation as an artist to collect.
To see the original works of Paul Gauthier, click here.
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