Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Annual Juried Student Exhibition, Great Work from the Lakehead University Visual Arts Department

Local artists! Be afraid! Yet another crop of young people with skills, ideas, imagination and commitment are beginning their incursions into our community that will shatter the ensconced recalcitrant cliques, batter the old fuddy-duddies, and jiggle the juxtapositions of the obstinate ideologues. We, in this small city with too big an artistic community for its working class britches are in even further trouble. Where some of us protested against egalitarianism to support the belief that funding and attention should go to the best of the best, we now say, "Hold on! Maybe this sharing of finite resources is not a bad thing."
     If you're an artist and you want to see what you’re up against head to the Thunder Bay Art Gallery soon. If you're a collector and lover of art, it's only out of duty that I inform you of the amazing talent ready to explode from the forested encampment for intellectuals found on the hill. 
     The variety of mediums used and subject matter vary dramatically. The quality of the work this year is excellent. There are many pieces worth writing about and many young artists who will likely have solo shows elsewhere very soon if they haven’t already done so. 
     Many of the artists featured also had work at the Urban Infill show hosted by the Definitely Superior Art Gallery. Do check out their current exhibition featuring international artist, Diane Landry whose kinetic works employing common materials is a lot of fun. An annual event is Dr. Bob Chaudhri’s latest additions to his art collection, a good variety of contemporary pieces. And a short art film installation appears in gallery 3 titled, A Game of Chess by Marcel Dzama. 
     To categorize this year's student art is difficult. Influences come from everywhere. Execution, aesthetic style and content are all over the map. Personal preferences on which you judge art should be set aside to take in all that is offered; the students are throwing a lot at you to think about. 
     Many of the students are concerned with an unseen world that needs exposure. A visual subtitle to the entire show is summed up the three paintings on the wall across from the entrance. Lisa Makela’s landscape is a perfect metaphor for all that you will see. And with the concerns come a combination of great drawing skills and imaginative use of the materials. Many of the students do this really well: Lisa Makela, Vanessa Ervin, Amanda Toope, Shaylyn Bishop, Cheyeanne Vanderlind, Katy Poirier, Marielle Orr, Katrin Huerzeler, and Katie Kramer. 
      Many works that make environmental statements, revealing our dependence on behaviours that are harmful to the environment and to our own bodies; Lisa Makela, Vanessa Ervin, Bronte Normand, Mary J Kakekapetum, and Robyn Burns. The problems facing bees is of big concern to young people. 
      Using more symbology and allegory are Bronte Normand, Shelby Gagnon, and Mary McPherson. Political and humorous works: Bronte Normand, Aidan Domenis, and Mary McPherson. Bold imagery of our relationship to nature or a man made environment are featured in works by Violet Cross, Mary McPherson, Robin Faye, Cheyanne Vanderlind, Katy Poirier, and Katie Kramer.
     Introspective psychological works that reflect on the creator’s inner life, dealing with change, appearances, the building up or dragging down of self; Violet Cross, Shayla Hickerson, Vanessa Ervin, Asia Schultz, Rebecca Widdes, Amber Leppanen, Claire Everett, Courtney Davis, and Robyn Burns. 
     You can likely come up with more categories than I’ve listed here to include many of the students I’ve missed. All the works are quite wonderful and worth checking out. Make sure you take the time to take in what are likely to be the first works for a whole crop of new artists to influence the scene in Thunder Bay and beyond. 
    The annual Lakehead University juried exhibition for the students of the Visual Arts Department is on display till April 9. Go quick. Capping this gang with great work are the fourth year graduating students of the visual arts department whose show runs till April 16. The opening reception for them is Friday, April 7 at 7:30 pm. They will be presenting Artist Talks Monday, April 10 from 1 – 4 pm at the Gallery.


Monday, 20 March 2017

Vik Wilen's sellout shows at Espresso Joya.

Vik Wilen (Photo by Sachicko Bradshaw)
Up until the end of April are thirteen new works by Vik Wilen in a new show at Espresso Joya, 8 Cumberland St. South. Vik is an artist and yoga instructor whose splashy and fun works are a hit in Thunder Bay. Five minutes before the opening of her show last week Vik sold her first painting of the evening. She was a little worried that she wouldn’t get the same response she had with her Joya show the year before, which was a complete sellout. She didn’t have to worry, Tom, the owner of Joya, went dashing for his sheet of red dots and by the end of the night Vik had sold half her show and taken on a number of commissions.
     It’s not hard to see the appeal of big bold friendly paintings done with expressionist zeal featuring pleasant subject matter: mountains, lakes, trees, wind, water and skies. Generically treated, not tied to local landscapes, the freedom of play exhibited is brazen and even brave. Vik is not worried about capturing the likeness of anything, but the feelings of freedom, play and escape associated with beautiful places at beautiful times of the day, whether sunny or stormy. The paint comes alive and still looks wet on the canvas. The trees are painted like little explosions and the mountains look like they are about to roll away or lose their coverage like ice cream in the sun.
     Even when Vik cages the images with black lines to delineate colour variations the energy of the brushstrokes still come through. The paintings technical quality in a few paintings might not appeal to trained artists, but the generous carefree use of paint and love of the subject matter make up for anything lacking. It’s a lesson to artists, not to take ourselves too seriously.
     Vik Wilen is all about getting away from that. “I practice yoga everyday and I have become pretty in tune with the way that I’m feeling and I try to evoke that into each piece that I paint. Nature’s a huge part of my work. I wanted to bring light to the water and just got really obsessed with that. Surf culture is also a big part of why I paint water.”
     If she had to title the show, Vik says, “…off the top of my head it would be called ‘Samadhi’ which is a state of being present in mind and body. I felt that way throughout the series.” Vik adds that she works intuitively. “Technically my style is quite free flowing. I don’t over calculate. I just mix a bunch of colours and try to stay as present as I can so the painting takes on its own shapes and forms.” 
     When asked about her artistic training, Vik states, “No art school for me.” Vik studied fashion before she came to Lakehead University to study environmental management. “I paint and create as innocently as possible. I didn’t want too many influences or techniques impressing upon my own creativity. I remember my ex boyfriend… he got really good at replicating the Bob Ross style and his paintings always turned out so good… but I would just look at his art and think.. that’s so not his. That’s Bob Ross'. I always wanted my style and technique to be completely original so I shied away from youtube clips or classes or getting overly logical about making art look ‘good'" 
     “The inspiration for this series was drawn from my time in California this past summer. A lot of my paintings were of mountains. And I spent the summer in the sierra Nevada range. I also got to rock climb in Yosemite valley which completely blew my mind. A lot of my mountains are inspired by that place. I love to climb, I love the feeling of being high and the fear that is accompanied with the act of climbing. I love pushing myself past my comfort zones and the feeling of being so accomplished after a big adventure up a mountain.”
     Another aspect to her paintings, a fundamental use of art today is its therapeutic value. “For me painting has always been a way for me to express myself. In 2014 I went through some really hard times and that was what helped me open up my creative block and start to channel the things that I love out onto canvas. At that point I definitely used art as a form of therapy and healing.” 
     Vik says she’s working to play with and improve her technical approaches but loves what she’s doing now and doesn’t see any dramatic changes in the near future. 
   Duncan Weller is a writer and visual artist, soon to open a gallery on Cumberland called The Rogue Planet Gallery. In the meantime you can find his books and art Saturday mornings at the Country Market. 
     You can see more of Vik Wilen’s art at: