A Dash of Colour: Getting to Know Sara Alex Mullen

July 11, 2016 2:00 pm
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Sara Alex Mullen knew she had found her artistic calling when she made the final brushstroke on her first landscape painting. The local artist has been painting for 15 years, but discovered her real affinity for capturing the Canadian outdoors while taking courses at the Ottawa School of Art in 2009. Luckily for us, over the last two years Mullen has made painting a professional focus. Mullen is represented in Ottawa’s Santini Gallery and is a rising star within the Capital’s artistic community.

For those who have not already been struck by the elastic contours or piqued by the energetic colours, Mullen’s landscapes evoke the spirit of the land from which they come.

“I paint classic Canadian landscapes and I like finding my inspiration in my everyday surroundings.” says Mullen. “To describe it I would say I’m Impressionistic–using bold strokes and vibrant colours.”

page19_GALERY-SaraAlexMullen-1To anyone who’s been to a Canadian art gallery, these landscapes may recall the work of the Group of Seven painters, and rightly so.

“I love the Group of Seven,” says Mullen. “I love how they show so much underpainting through. I cover more of my canvas but I’m definitely inspired by them.” Underpainting, as the name suggests, is the process of layering the stages of a painting, gradually adding detail to the base colours which block out the scene’s compositions. The Group of Seven is famous for leaving chunks of these base shades visible underneath the detail, creating a collage of complementary colours. While Mullen’s local scenes recall this impressionistic approach, her work exudes a more youthful tone, with unrestrained brushstrokes and splashes of turquoise and yellow.

For her, finding inspiration in the everyday means never leaving the house without her camera. Working by photograph in her studio, Mullen then sits down to sketch and underpaint. Often planning the painting is what takes the longest, Mullen says.

“I like to put a lot of energy in my pieces so I like to complete a painting in one sitting. I try to paint different moods of nature and my mood is often reflected in the painting.” This kinetic energy visible in her work has becomes her signature, and her paintings owe their captivating quality to it. “I find if I pick up on a different day I have a different energy and it comes out disjointed,” she says.

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Looking at Mullen’s paintings, you can trace her instinctive and intuitive process in every brushstroke. Mullen mixes colours before even setting brush to canvas, picking and choosing what to use as she goes. Painting with a limited colour palette of only four to five colours, and simplifying her scenes down to variations of the two main hues lets her kinetic and bravely intuitive energy shine from within the art’s surface.

“Once I sketch from the photograph, I never look at it again. Instead I paint based on my instinct and intuition, recalling my interpretation of colours from the live moment or letting my artistic senses take over,” says Mullen.

Mullen’s exciting career is expanding through a recent commission for 16 paintings by the new Opinicon resort, nestled among the Rideau Lakes. Her vibrant landscapes will be hanging above the fireplaces in each of the resort’s newly renovated guest rooms. The quiet but poignant energy that they exude makes Mullen’s work the perfect fit for the historic site’s reopening.

Another exciting spot on Mullen’s horizon is an event of her own organizing—a New Edinburgh Studio Tour (NEST). From September 17 to 18, Mullen, along with a dozen other neighbourhood artists, will be opening her studio to the public to give them a glimpse behind closed doors, and enjoy a free chance to engage with the artists in their space.

“Studio tours are a great way to engage with the public in a new way and make new connections with artists in the neighbourhood,” Mullen says. For this rising star, being active in the community and looking for opportunities to grow and evolve is an important key to her success.

For budding artists, she offers sage advice. “Study the art that you love. I spent a lot of time in the museum just studying Group of Seven paintings – looking at every brushstroke, dissecting them, thinking ‘how can I recreate that or interpret it?’” She suggests seeking out opportunities to grow, to challenge yourself, and engage with what’s around you.

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With such a bright future, it looks like this young artist’s career is only just getting started. Mullen’s story can stand as a valuable lesson to those hoping for similar success. With such a positive attitude, obvious talent, and cheerful ambition, it’s no wonder that Ottawa is responding so well to the charming achiever. Needless to say, we wish the artist luck on her future plans, and will be keeping an eye out for more news of her success.

As well as her position in the Santini Gallery on Preston Street in Little Italy, Sara Alex Mullen and her body of work is taking flight on social media. You can find her online at saraalexmullen.com, on Instagram and on Facebook for sneak peeks of upcoming works.

Skyline Gallery Will Capture Canada in Stark Colour

June 23, 2016 9:45 am
near Picton, Ontario

All photos by Mark Schacter. 

After travelling the world and publishing three books of photography, Mark Schacter is putting down roots in Ottawa’s artistic scene and inviting locals to come see his work.

On Saturday July 9, Schacter will open the doors to Skyline Gallery, a space set aside in his Trillium Avenue home for the public to explore some of our country’s most breathtaking corners.

Western Brook Pond, Newfoundland

Western Brook Pond, Newfoundland

Schacter’s photographs are minimalistic and sometimes even harsh glimpses of Canada and the US. He captures looming forests, empty fields and old but well-loved diners that should be recognisable to anyone who’s let on arm hang out a passenger-side window and stared off into the distance during a long drive through the country.

“I think that’s how a good photographer adds value,” Schacter says. “Making you see something familiar in a way that you never had before.”

Schacter’s photographs don’t seem like brief flashes of time. They’re scenes that you imagine would look exactly the same if he’d taken them a year later, or a year after that. Schacter has lived in the US, the UK and South Africa, but it was these Canadian landscapes that inspired him to start taking pictures.

“I think when people think of being a photographer…your initial impulse is to go abroad,” he says. “One of the things I’ve discovered is there’s just so much variety and so much intensely interesting stuff in Canada.”

Schacter grew up in Thunder Bay, and he says his Northern Ontario upbringing inspired the starkness that’s clear in so much of his work.

“That’s what Northern Ontario’s like,” he says, “and that’s really affected the way that I see things.”

Marysburg, Saskatchewan

“Deadmoose Lake.” Marysburg, Saskatchewan

After taking quite a few years away from photography to pursue a career and build his family, Schacter jumped back into it in 2004, a time when he was missing the creative outlet and discovering the potential of digital photography. Since then, he’s returned to Thunder Bay to take photos for each of his three photography collections, Roads (2010), Sweet Seas, Portraits of the Great Lakes (2012) and Houses of Worship (2013).

Now he’s moving away from book publishing, and his new collections will go into the gallery. The idea for this latest, and arguably most ambitious, project reared its head when Schacter and his wife were exploring Santa Fe, which he calls “gallery heaven.”  They saw plenty of galleries built right into people’s houses, and decided the idea could work just as well in Ottawa.

That idea grew, and now the Skyline Gallery’s opening is just a month away. The space will feature plenty of the landscape work Schacter is known for, and there will be a wall dedicated to prints from Houses of Worship. For Schacter, the gallery will be a unique chance to showcase his work, but it also gives other locals a great opportunity.

When most people think of art or photography galleries in Ottawa, they probably imagine exhibits at the OAG or NGC, or one of the smaller galleries scattered throughout Centretown. But Skyline will sit in a residential corner of Nepean, so it offers something new and close to a lot of locals who would otherwise have to hop into their cars to track down great art. On top of that, if people are looking for photography that captures Canadian landscapes in such an arresting style, Skyline will be the only place they can find it.

Once the gallery’s opening weekend is behind him, Schacter says he’ll start to look at putting together a new collection. One plan that stands out is to focus on an area rather than a theme. He’d like to put together an exhibit that really digs into one of Canada’s unique geographies. He hasn’t decided where to look yet, and when I asked him what his favourite part of the country to photograph is, he laughed.

“That’s like asking me what my favourite child is,” he said. “The point is in photography that you’re going to find interesting things everywhere you are.”

 Skyline Gallery is having its grand opening Saturday July 9 and Sunday the 10th. Regular hours are Saturday and Sunday 11-5 or by appointment (appointments can be made at (613) 277-6777). The Gallery’s address is 3 Trillium Ave.

You can find more about the Gallery’s opening and Schacter’s work at luxetveritas.net/skyline.

OAG’s Sold Out Le pARTy Exceeds Fundraising Goal

June 10, 2016 4:04 pm
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All photos by Simon Stiles. 

Art lovers, artists and Ottawa’s creative authority flocked to the Ottawa Art Gallery for its 20th anniversary fundraising auction.

Sold out in advance, Le pARTy was buzzing with close to 500 people eyeing up the bidding competition for the 65 original artworks from emerging and established artists. The auction showcased a variety of media including painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, new media and installation.

Le pARTy is the gallery’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Marking their 20th anniversary and last year at Arts Court, OAG staff joyfully exceeded their fundraising goal, raising $108,000. The funds raised go to support the gallery’s exhibition and educational programming needs. Unlike many fundraising art auctions, Le pARTy returns 40 per cent of the sale price of each work back to the artist.

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A side note to the bidding action was the notable elements of food and fashion. Throughout the evening, Ottawa’s culinary artists from the city’s top eateries offered several courses of flavourful hors d’oeuvres and an array of cocktails were served from the open bar. Fashion and art collided with creative and style enthusiasts, bloggers and the fashionably cultivated who dressed to impress. If there was any doubt that Ottawa has an expansive art and fashion scene, there shouldn’t be now. Part of the social season of fundraising events, Le pARTy is another opportunity for the fashion community to come together to support a complimentary realm.

Le pARTy 2016 is the last auction to be held at Arts Court before the OAG opens the doors to its expanded gallery next door in 2017. Soon to be located at 50 Mackenzie King Bridge, the OAG expansion coincides with the revitalization of Ottawa’s downtown which includes the reconstruction of Rideau Street, the expansion of the Rideau Centre and construction of the new O-Train Confederation Line light-rail transit project.

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For more information on The Ottawa Art Gallery and Le pARTy, please visit ottawaartgallery.ca.

The Mechanics of Modern Art

May 26, 2016 9:00 am
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A glimpse of Inferno. Photo by Gregory Bohnenblust. 

Imagine if before watching a contemporary art piece, you and 24 others were strapped into robotic exoskeletons that jerked, twisted and lit up in front of the rest of the still-sitting audience. Some people might say that would be hellish, which is exactly what artists Louis-Philippe Demers and Bill Vorn were thinking when they called the piece Inferno.

Inferno, which will be taking the stage at the ELEKTRA festival on June 3 and 4 in Montreal, is partially inspired by Dante’s Circles of Hell. The people standing in the exoskeletons have no control over what the armor-like machines will make them do, as each of their movements are controlled by a computer. This suggests “an infinite and mundane control loop under which the body will be forced to move endlessly.” Only 25 volunteers from the audience will be put in the exoskeletons and become performers in the piece.

Inferno is exactly the sort of out-of-the-box performance audiences should expect at the 17th ELEKTRA festival, which is synchronized with the opening on June 3 of their International Digital Art Biennial (BIAN) – now in its third edition – for a full month of cutting edge contemporary art. Together, the festivals’ theme is AUTOMATA, which explores what could be art made by machines for machines. But don’t worry, us humans should find it more than fascinating as well.

The ELEKTRA festival will run from June 1 to the 5th, and the BIAN festival continues until July 3. They’re bringing more than 50 international artists to Montreal to show their work at Arsenal Contemporary Art.

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205 prepared dc-motors, cotton balls, cardboard boxes 55 x 55 x 55 cm, 2013. Photo courtesy of Studio Zimoun.

One of the BIAN’s noteworthy exhibits will be 205 prepared dc-motors, cotton balls, cardboard boxes 55 x 55 x 55 cm, 2013 by Swiss-artist Zimoun. The outside of the piece is a massive tower of cardboard boxes which create an architectural sound platform that has a mechanical rhythm. On the outside, the piece appears very relaxing and the boxes work together to create an illusion of reliable sturdiness. In many ways, it looks like a box fort that sprung right out of an eight year-old’s wildest dreams.

A much less relaxing work is Machine with Hair Caught in It by Korean duo Ujoo+Limheeyoung. In this work, long black hair surrounds a maze of shining gears and cogs where the person’s face would normally be. It leaves the viewer with an ominous question, has the person’s head been swallowed by the machine, leaving some ‘hair caught in it,’ or is the machine the head itself?

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Machine with Hair Caught in It, photo courtesy of Ujoo+Limheeyoung.

The BIAN and ELEKTRA festivals are bringing in countless more fascinating works between June 3 and July 3 that explore the relationship between people and machines’ growing influence over contemporary thought. Inferno, and the rest of ELEKTRA’s programming will be held in Montreal’s Arsenal Contemporary Art, while the dozens of works making up the BIAN are filling up a number of different spaces around the city. You can find more information, including a full list of performances and venues, at bianmontreal.ca/en.

Shining Light on Turkish Art

May 24, 2016 12:34 pm
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image001Art is just one of the many ways countries around the globe connect with one another. Different areas may have different practices, laws, traditions and cultural norms, but art is art.

The Embassy of Turkey in Canada and Terra Art is putting on an art exhibition, “Mavi Art – Colours From Anatolia and Beyond.” The opening reception will be held on Wednesday June 1 at 6 p.m. at St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts located on 310 St Patrick Street. The Turkish Ambassador to Canada Selçuk Ünal, expressed how the exhibit is focusing on furthering cultural ties between Canada and Turkey.

“The cultural ties between our countries also provide a platform for future cooperation as the two nations continue to re-discover each other in this pleasant way,” said Ambassador Ünal. “As we embark upon building a common social history in openness and respect for each other’s culture, these are the very elements we must build on today and tomorrow.”

The exhibition will feature some vibrant artwork by a number of artists, including renowned Turkish contemporary painter Mustafa Çetin. Using raw colours, shapes and textures, Cetin brings bursts of excitement into his everyday lifestyle and experiences. He paints a variety of familiar scenes like landscapes and cityscapes then abstracts them to showcase a world rich in perspective and full of life.

“The natural world is one of my inspirations. My paintings strive to capture the place where city and nature meet. There are buildings and lakes, people and birds, sounds and drama, and especially trees, which are a source of peace and perspective,” Cetin says of his artwork.

Other artists featured at the gallery include Sara Bilge Caglar with her poetic paintings, Sevim Onen, who is inspired by Turkish folklore and nature, Vladimir Topal sprinkles his happiness onto a canvas and Hulya Coskun expresses a whirlwind of emotions through her work.

“In my paintings, I use the female figure in different dimensions and forms,” says Hulya Coskun, explaining her style. “I express their sadness, shyness, beauty, ugliness and timidness in a realistic and romantic way, while I reflect on the canvas the folkloric characteristics of the women who carry the contemporary stance inside them by combining plastic elements and miniature tradition.”

At the exhibition you have the opportunity to meet the artists and see their work. The gallery is open to the public and is free of charge. Beginning on June 1, experience Turkey in all of its glory; the food, the drinks, and of course, the artwork.

To find out more about the event, you can visit St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts.

Contest: Kick-Off Your Collection with Le pARTy 2016

May 3, 2016 11:48 am
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Photo by David Barbour.

Looking for artwork by regional artists? We have two tickets to the Ottawa Art Gallery’s 20th Le pARTy Art Auction, the spring celebration that may be the best way to get inspiring artworks off the gallery walls and onto your own. Both tickets will go to one lucky winner.

To enter your name into our contest draw, all you have to do is follow or like the Ottawa Art Gallery (on Facebook at ottawaartgallery and on twitter at @OttawaArtG) and use Facebook or Twitter to tell us who your favourite artist is! The artist doesn’t have to be local, or even alive. You can choose anyone from Bernini to Warhol. Make sure to include the hashtag #LepARTy2016 in your post so we can find it and add it to the draw.

You can enter separately on Facebook and Twitter for two chances to win, just make sure to follow/like the Gallery on both networks.

Here’s an example of a tweet that would work perfectly:

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The night will feature art from 65 emerging and established artists, and the food will be fantastic. Fantastic culinary artists including Beckta, Sidedoor, Thyme and Again, and Town will be behind the dining, so you know that every bite is going to be scrumptious. Our contest winner will receive regular tickets, priced at $85.  Art Lovers Tickets, which give the holder a chance to see and bid on the art an hour early, are $150.

The contest will run from May 2 to the 17th, when we will make the draw and announce the winners. That will give you plenty of time to plan for the auction, which is on June 9th! You can find more information on the event at ottawaartgallery.ca/le-party. For our contest rules, click here.

Good luck and happy collecting!

OAG Announces a New, Very Artistic, Gift

April 26, 2016 1:36 pm
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Wilfrid Flood, Frenchtown, Cobalt (Chambers-Ferland Mine), 1939, watercolour on paper, 38.1 x 45.7 cm. Collection of the Ottawa Art Gallery. Photo: David Barbour.

The Ottawa Art Gallery has received a generous gift of 88 paintings and sketches done by late Ottawa artist, Wilfrid Flood. The paintings were donated by Flood’s daughter Francesca and her husband, George Heaslip.

“We are so honoured to bring such a substantial donation of Wilfrid Flood’s work into our permanent collection, especially now as we are building a new expanded home for the Ottawa Art Gallery,” said Alexandra Badzak, the gallery’s Director and CEO. “Particularly skilled in watercolour, Flood’s artworks evoke a strong sense Ottawa and surrounding region during a period of great change. This acquisition allows the OAG will be able to research, interpret and most importantly, share Wilfrid Flood’s work with generations of Ottawa citizens.”

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Wilfrid Flood, ‘Paper Mill,’ Thurso, Quebec, 1944, watercolour on paper, 40.6 x 50.8 cm. Collection of the Ottawa Art Gallery. Photo: David Barbour.

Flood was an artist throughout his 42-year life (1904 -1946). He was associated with fellow painters like Henri Masson, Dr. Maurice Haycock, Captain George Pepper and A.Y. Jackson. Although Flood’s early death put his artistic output to a stop, his daughter Francesca was strongly influenced by her father’s work. Born in Ottawa, Frances studied Fine Arts at Alfred University in N.Y. She and her husband George were married in the 90’s and lived on Long Island, as well as the Palm Beach Gardens in Florida. Frances passed away in 2012, and George in 2015. Flood’s artwork was gifted to the OAG through their wills.

#170 - Storm Over Farrelton, (Quebec) 1938

Wilfrid Flood, ‘Storm Over Farrelton,’ 1938, watercolour on paper, 38.1 x 45.7 cm. Collection of the Ottawa Art Gallery. Photo: David Barbour.

John Flood, son of Wilfred Flood and Frances’ brother, says that Canada was his father’s first love and that is why Frances wanted the paintings to remain in Ottawa.

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Wilfrid Flood, ‘Self-Portrait,’ c.1942, oil on canvas, 45.7 x 35.6 cm. Collection of the Ottawa Art Gallery. Photo: David Barbour.

Flood’s works are a mix of urban and rural landscapes, and portraits that will be a lovely contribution to the new art gallery set to open in 2017 at 50 Mackenzie King Bridge. To keep up with the expansion of the OAG and the Art Now-L’art ici Capital Campaign, visit artnow-artici.ca.

Glen Bloom on the Art of Collecting

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Glen Bloom and wife Deborah Duffy with Leslie Reid’s ‘Cape Pine: The Barrens,’ 2012, Oil on canvas, 127 x 182.9 cm.

When Glen Bloom thinks about the Ottawa Art Gallery’s annual Le pARTy fundraising art auction, the first thing that comes to mind is the list of talented Ottawa artists who’ve shown at it over the years.

One of the paintings he mentions from his primarily Canadian collection, which also includes works by Evan Penny, Rodney Graham, John Massey, Barbara Steinman, Arnaud Maggs and Max Dean, is by Ottawa’s Leslie Reid.

“Leslie creates her paintings from photographs,” says Bloom, an Ottawa lawyer who lives in Perth. “This is one about fog. It’s in a very abstract environment that includes reference to the fog and landscape.”

Bloom didn’t purchase Reid’s painting at the auction, but the painter has donated works to it for many years, and will return for 2016’s event in June.

When the collector perused the list of artists contributing to this year’s auction, he found nine artists whose work appears in his collection, including Jinny Yu, Andrew Morrow, Mimi Cabri, Jeff Thomas, Uta Riccius, Marie-Jeanne Musiol, Carol Wainio, Anna Williams and Russell Yuristy.

Related: OAG Announces a New, Very Artistic, Gift

Asked about the auction’s value, Bloom said it’s especially useful for people who want to start a collection.

“In recent years, there are larger, more substantial pieces in the auction, and for those looking to grow their collection, they’re quite affordable,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to see a wide selection of works by a large number of Ottawa artists working today. You might like the work at the auction and might want to purchase it, or you might want to follow up on that artist separately to explore what they’re doing. That’s probably the greatest opportunity.”

The man speaks from experience. He himself has used the auction as a survey of what Ottawa artists are doing today and who he’d like to add to his collection.

Bloom suggests Ottawans should count themselves lucky to live in a thriving art city: “There have been, over the years, some very important Canadian artists who’ve participated in the Le pARTy art auction,” he said.

Le pARTy Art Auction is Ottawa Art Gallery’s signature fundraising event, a silent art auction of 65 original artworks by regional artists working in a variety of media. It will be held June 9, 2016 at the Ottawa Art Gallery, 2 Daly, Ottawa. Buy your tickets today at ottawaartgallery.ca.

High Art and Hot Tea

March 17, 2016 2:52 pm
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Springs Dream, by Ramona Organ.

The Tea Party Café is making its walls even more colourful next month with a brilliant exhibit from local artist Ramona Organ.

Beginning on March 31st and lasting until the final day of April, the “Colour in Motion” showcase will feature Organ’s vibrant and flowing works. These paintings are inspired by the artist’s own life and experiences, and each one captures a different emotion. Many are quiet and contemplative, while others surge with an almost-angry energy.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase my work at the Cafe,” says Organ. “It is my hope that my art work can bring as much joy to someone as it has brought me while creating it.”

Organ’s show is part of a larger effort by the café to promote local artists, and work like hers is right at home in the already quirky space.

“We recently filled some of our walls with Alice in Wonderland chalk art from various local artists and had great feedback from customers,” says Christine, The Tea Party Café’s owner. “I thought about how we can use our entire space, including our hallways, to exhibit their own art work. It is a colourful and beautiful way to change up our space every month.”

The “Colour in Motion” vernissage will begin at 6 p.m. March 31 and run until nine. That night, and for the rest of April, anyone who visits the Tea Party will have a gorgeous accompaniment to their locally roasted coffee, scrumptious scones or afternoon High Tea.

You can find out more about the artist on her site ramonaorganfineart.com or by reading the Q and A below:

How did your art career start?

I actually started in photography and took classes at The School of Photographic Arts of Ottawa.  That first course and my instructor John Hewett Hallum opened my eyes not only to photography but how I saw art in general.  After a few years in photography I wanted to do a photographic project.  My goal was to do some small abstract paintings and photograph them for a series.  My style was very much macro photography and I thought close ups of abstract paintings, especially ones I had created would be a great subject.  I asked someone I knew who was an artist and an art teacher if they would give me some basic painting lessons.  They refused and as I generally do when someone refuses to help me I find a way to do it myself.  So I read books, I watched videos; I studied other artists and taught myself how to paint.

How do you know that a painting is complete or that you are happy with it?

Knowing when a painting is done is more of a feeling for me and if I stand back and find myself smiling, I know that the painting is something I am happy with and proud of.

In your exhibit “Colour in Motion,” did you have a particular theme in mind when you put it together?

Yes, I gathered all of the art I had that made me really happy and that I was proud of and I thought people would respond to. I picked pieces that in my view were strong and demonstrated my style, how I looked at colour and how the pieces flowed together. Seeing them all together in one room, the title “Colour in Motion” described how the paintings made me feel and how they fit together.

You have mentioned that it can be tough for emerging artists to be recognized and find establishments where they can display their work.  What advice would you have for other artists starting out and encountering the same situation?

Never give up.  Believe in yourself and your work.  If you are passionate about it, do not give up on your dream.  Talk with artists and learn from them.  Share as much and as often as you can. Takes risks and don’t be afraid of applying to exhibitions, galleries or smaller out of the way venues.  You never know where opportunity awaits.  Always remember there is a difference between “critique” and “criticism.”

Kat Jetté Showcases Work at Oz Kafe

February 12, 2016 1:54 pm
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All photos by Samantha Lapierre

Local artist Kat Jetté will be showing her magical abstraction paintings in Elgin Street’s Oz Kafe until March 13th. The show, titled HighLights, is an exhibit of Jetté’s most recent works. All paintings are for sale.

We chatted with Jetté back in September about her 15-year history as an artist in Ottawa, and Jetté showed appreciation for Oz as a cafe that makes an effort to showcase the work of local artists.

The show launched on February 7th, and Jetté is thrilled to have her colourful fine art on the walls of the restaurant.

“I am delighted to have my work hosted at one of my favourite eateries in Ottawa,” Jetté tells us. “My dreamy sci-fi landscapes look right at home on the dark walls and cozy corners.”
Oz Kafe is located at 361 Elgin Street. You can learn more about Jetté’s work by visiting her website.

The Art of World Peace

January 28, 2016 5:48 pm
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Edith Betkowski and Dominik Sokolowski in front of the artist’s Heart painting. Photo by Eric Murphy. 

From February 10 to 21, Alpha Art Gallery is completely dedicating its walls, and plenty of the floor, to love. In their Love and Peace exhibit, gallery owner Edith Betkowski and artist Dominik Sokolowski will spend 11 days and nights on a bed they’ve set up in the gallery, surrounded by Sokolowski’s meticulously detailed heart paintings.

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The first day of Lennon and Ono’s Amsterdam Bed-in. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

This living exhibit is inspired by John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s two 1969 ‘Bed-ins,’ where the couple famously spent a week in bed, first in Amsterdam, then in Montreal.

Alpha’s Bed-in is also meant to be a message of peace, and Betkowski argues that symbols like that are as relevant now as they were in 1969.

“How, with all our education and experience, we’re still not able to keep the globe at peace?” she asks. The exhibit’s living element is also something Ottawans often miss out on in the art world.

“Nobody has ever seen anything like that in Ottawa,” Betkowski notes. “Why not bring art to the level of New York, where they have performance art all the time?”

The gallery owner is adamant that there will be no cheating in the exhibit. All their meals will be brought to the couple in bed, and they are only leaving for two nights. The first will be on the 12th, to attend a Valentine Gala Betkowski has been organizing at the Museum of History – more on that later – and the second night will be to go dancing at the Mercury Lounge.

“They also have a bed for us there,” Betkowski points out.

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Edith Betkowski and Dominik Sokolowski will spend 11 days and nights on a bed in the Alpha Art Gallery.

The bed-in is only one aspect of the Love and Peace exhibit. Alpha will also host a number of poets and guest speakers who will discuss love, and of course, there will be the hearts.

Sokolowski’s heart paintings are a more detailed take on his geometrical style that emphasizes colour and found objects. During the gallery’s press conference there was only one heart painting from Sokolowski’s collection on display, but promotional photos suggest the hearts will come in a wide range of sizes and colour schemes.

Although it’s easy to see hearts as kitschy, especially around Valentine’s Day, Sokolowski elevates the symbol with the gorgeous fields of colour and the found items. Each work holds an incredible collection of tiny objects from the artists’ life. There are lines of pins from a clothesline, pieces of Edith’s sewing machine, gifts from friends, comic book pages and lego men. These items are artifacts from Sokolowski’s life and many represent his connection with the people he loves.

“Every time I lose an earring the second one goes automatically on the painting,” Betkowski laughs. “I have to really watch my buttons. If I lose one before I have a chance to sew it on it’s already on a painting.”

By adding these real pieces from his life, Sokolowski turns each painting into an autobiography, and elevates the once-stale heart symbol. Trust me, if the works start off looking kitschy at all, take a few steps closer.

Dominik Sokolowski turns 40 next month, so in celebration of the milestone, he’s painting 40 hearts. 37 of them will be up for sale in the gallery, and he’s donating three to CHEO. Those three extra paintings, which in honour of the CHEO teddy logo are named papa-bear, mama-bear and baby-bear, will be auctioned off at the Valentine Gala, with 100 per cent of the money raised going to the children’s hospital.

Organizing the non-profit gala is a big way for Betkowski to give back to CHEO. Over the last 20 years, she’s spent far too much time there. When Betkowski’s daughter was born, the girl suffered from heart failure. A serious heart surgery left her in a coma for five weeks, and she’s since had more work done on her spine and foot.

“Facing a dying child on life support, five weeks in a coma, when everyday you don’t know what’s going to happen next…you realize how fragile life is,” Betkowski says. “How quickly it can be taken away by war, by sickness.”

Although war and sickness may seem like impossible opponents, Betkowski and her husband are doing what they can to fight them next month. The fundraising gala is practical as the bed-in is idealistic, and both are worth the visit.

Tickets for the gala are $200 per person. The event will take place on February 12, three days into the Love and Peace exhibit. If you want to have a chat with Betkowski or Sokolowski you’ll be able to find them on their bed in the Alpha Art Gallery from the 10th to the 21st. You can find out more about both events at alphaartgallery.ca.

Sokolowski Explores the Lighter Side of Black

December 7, 2015 2:00 pm
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A revolution is sweeping Ottawa’s Alpha Art Gallery from November 18 to December 6, as renowned visual artist Dominik Sokolowski challenges us to see black as more than tenebrosity or despair.

nocturne 17. 34x40.2015“Black evokes strength, elegance and sensuality, with a hint of mistery”, says the artist, adding: “The impetus to paint this series came while listening to Chopin’s Nocturnes. But to me, black also evokes the chic and boldness of Chanel’s ‘petite robe noire’, the emotion and sensuality of Nina Simone, the pomp of black-tie dinners, the romanticism of Paris nights and the awe-inspiring starlit nights of Gatineau Park. Those are the emotions and sensations I felt, and wanted the viewer to feel.”

The exhibit, entitled Nocturnes, runs at the Alpha Art Gallery in the ByWard Market from November 18th to December 6th. For more information, contact Edith Betkowski at edith@alphaartgallery.ca, or Alpha Art Gallery at 613-241-7671).

Seasons of Catherine Schissel

December 3, 2015 2:14 pm
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All photos courtesy of Catherine Schissel. 

Catherine Schissel has been painting for as long as she can remember. Raised in Kimberley, BC, her father, a game warden, passed on his love for the outdoors to his children.

Schissel’s early adulthood was spent raising her four children while farming in southern Alberta. During this time, she would paint elevator scenes, old buildings and barns in small prairie towns, exhibiting her creations in Calgary and southern Alberta galleries.

Schissel1Schissel says that she has been fortunate to be surrounded by people who support her passion. “In their younger days, my children were my best critics. When I was working on a piece, I would line them up on chairs and ask them what they saw. I still have them critique my work today.”

Schissel currently lives in the Ottawa Valley near the Trans Canada Trail and breaks out her sketchbook as soon as she wakes up in the morning. Much of her recent inspiration has been gathered from experiencing the changing seasons, sounds and habitats along the trail.

With sketchbook, camera, easel and paints in hand, Schissel has travelled across Canada and the United States several times. By extensively documenting these trips through thousands of photos, Schissel is never without source imagery for her paintings. She says that something new will often jump out at her while revisiting her trips through the photos, begging her to be painted.

During a painting trip to Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy, Schissel was fascinated by how quickly the tides changed a scene in a matter of minutes. Another excursion found Schissel hiking in Utah among the canyons, a storm brewing on the horizon.

 Schissel is also been moved by the changing of seasons. She loves the vibrancy of fall and the first signs of new life in the spring.

“My art is an expression of what I love…I am constantly motivated to translate my life experiences onto canvas.”

Schissel3Recently, Schissel has been inspired by the Gatineau Hills, the Laurentians, the Algonquin region, the Maritimes and landscapes from recent roadtrips that have taken Schissel across the continent. Her next ambition is to get to Fogo Island in Newfoundland to paint the Atlantic Ocean. Schissel is also looking forward to a trip along the Alaska Highway to the Yukon in the near future.

Visits to Schissel’s in-home studio can be made by appointment or make a date to attend the Nepean Fine Arts League Fall Show and Sale, December 4-6, 2015, at the Ukrainian Banquet Hall located at 1000 Byron Avenue in Ottawa.

You can find out more about her work at ceschisselart.ca.

Jennie Lynn MacDonald’s Masterpieces

October 15, 2015 1:52 pm
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Ottawa artist Jennie Lynn MacDonald’s art is a force to be reckoned with.

After attending fashion design school, MacDonald taught fashion illustration for three years before deciding to focus on her art in a broader way. MacDonald worked for an art supplier for almost nine years, giving her access to many different supplies for all visual art forms.

This job also gave MacDonald access to different artists with different styles, techniques and mediums. Working and meeting with different artists influenced MacDonald on her own work.

“As an artist, I’d say I am mainly driven by a need to create rather than (spreading) a message I need to convey.”

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© Jennie Lynn MacDonald

MacDonald’s father was a talented artist who would encourage her to draw from a young age. MacDonald gained an understanding of basic human and animal body composition at an early age. Books on Art Nouveau and Norman Rockwell influenced MacDonald’s movements and expressions in her drawings.

MacDonald likes working with Golden acrylic paints, as well as soft synthetic, long handled brushes. While MacDonald likes drawing and painting on thick smooth 300lb watercolour paper, she also likes creating her pieces on interesting wood grains or a treasure item that she finds in the woods.

But sometimes, simplicity is key.

“There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a totally unconscious ballpoint pen doodle. I think most of my favourite creations have been ballpoint doodles that have all been discarded.”

One look at her work and it’s clear that MacDonald’s style is unique.

Inspired by dark emotional subjects, as well as “psychedelic chaotic neon imagery,” MacDonald enjoys the work of pulp artists Robert Bonfils from the 60’s and Nouveau artists such as Alphonse Mucha and Egon Schiele.

“Music and horror films have always influenced me and still pop up in my work now and then,” says MacDonald.

Slimy drips, skeletal imagery and flesh eating plants reoccur in MacDonald’s work, as well as her use of crystal imagery.

Jenny Morgan and Audrey Kawasaki are two artists that MacDonald has been recently drawn to, citing Morgan’s figurative painting and Kawasaki’s rendered elements of nature.

“Lately I’ve been collecting birch park pieces on my hikes, so I seem to be gravitating toward these organic themes more and more.”

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© Jennie Lynn MacDonald

When asked about her thoughts on Ottawa’s art community, MacDonald says that the idea that the art scene would be more different or exciting if Ottawa were more like Toronto or New York is a toxic mindset to be in.

“Ottawa is teeming with artists of all kinds, not to mention new galleries, cafes, festivals and groups popping up all over the city every year. The more we do here, the more it will grow.”

In particular, MacDonald likes local galleries such as Orange Art Gallery, Grey Area Gallery, Cube Gallery and PDA Products, the Ottawa Art Gallery as well as the National Art Gallery.

As for local artists, MacDonald enjoys the work of Andrea Warren, Ben VanDuyvendyk, Marisa Gallemit, Phil Osborne, Kat Jetté and Stefan Thompson.

MacDonald will be showing some pieces at the Cyclelogik Art Show in December, organized by local artist Andrea Stokes.

MacDonald’s latest projects include working with video artist Lesley Marshall by creating her costume design sketches for an upcoming film, as well as preparing and creating for MacDonald’s own sixth solo career show which will be shown at the Manx Pub in July 2016.

You can view Jennie Lynn MacDonald’s works on her tumblr.

Take a Look Inside Jordan Clayton

July 21, 2015 2:01 pm
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“Toxoplasmic Encephalitis,” Oil on Linen, 127 x 132, 2015.

If you stepped into Jordan Clayton’s studio, it might take you a minute to find anything out of place. The room in his Toronto apartment has just about everything you’d expect. There’s a wall with giant canvases leaning against it, brushes, a bit of oil paint splattered around, and of course, bacterial cultures growing on the window sill.

Like many artists, Clayton finds inspiration in his own body. He just goes much, much smaller.

It all started when Clayton was diagnosed with a digestive parasite after living with it for three years. He went through a series of procedures that introduced him to the organism, and how if affected his body, firsthand.

“It sparked this real morbid curiosity,” Clayton says. Already a visual arts student at the University of Ottawa, he began harvesting organisms from his own body and growing them in his studio. Once he’d spent enough time observing the cells, he started to paint them.

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“Periodontis: S. Mutans,” Oil on Canvas, 137 x 137, 2015.

“It sort of just made its way into my work,” he says.

Sitting inside Studio Sixty Six on Muriel street, Clayton and I are surround by that work. Although Clayton speaks like a biologist, casually throwing around words like “formic-conjugation,” he looks like an artist. He wears his short hair blonde on the top and brown on the sides and he’s got a tiny splatter of white paint in the middle of his thick-rimmed eyeglasses.

The paintings around us are like huge, colourful, Rorschach inkblots. It’s easy to stare into one and imagine a beautiful landscape or a den of snarling monsters. Some are defined by delicate spirals and others by sharp corners. While some people might find Clayton’s research methods a little unpleasant, it’s hard to see the final product as anything but beautiful.

Although the works are based off organisms that Clayton collects, none of the paintings look like what you’d see through a microscope.

“There is a lot of conceptualization involved,” Clayton says. He lets each organism’s growth process and its effect on the human body altar his painting.

“It’s all simulation, it’s meant to be familiar, not accurate,” he says.

Although the paintings are mostly abstract, Clayton does sneak in a few recognizable images to draw the viewer in.

You can see one of those images in his gorgeous painting Toxoplasmic-encephalitis, featured at the top of this article. Encephalitis is a swelling in the brain, and to represent that, Clayton painted a lobe-like streak of pink in the middle of the painting. Toxoplasmic-encephalitis is also one of the only circular paintings in the exhibit. Its bulging shape reflects a swelling brain pressing against the edge of its skull, and the meticulously detailed work carries a painful urgency.

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“Formic Conjugation,” Conté on Canvas, 142 x 147, 2015.

“To me I thought it was some sort of imagined, abstracted landscape,” says gallery director, Carrie Colton. “I guess it is, it’s sort of the landscape of cells.”

“I think he’s doing something really new, and different,” she adds.

Colton isn’t the only person to have seen something in Clayton’s work. The young artist has also shown in Toronto, and his work is currently part of a group exhibit in Chelsea, Manhattan.

Aside from his own body’s cells, Clayton also paints bacteria from blue cheese and probiotic yogurt. His next project will look at single celled organisms growing in Lake Ontario. So far though, Clayton’s findings have been a bit disappointing.

“I’ve always heard that Lake Ontario is this nasty, dirty environment,” he says.

“But it’s actually deceptively clean.”

Jordan Clayton’s exhibit, “A Dialogue with Taxonomy,” is on display at Studio Sixty Six until August 2. You can find out more about it, and the artist, on the studio’s website.

OAG on the Verge of Expansion

July 20, 2015 2:00 pm
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The view of the future gallery’s south side. Rendering by Barry Padolsky Associates Inc. Architects / KPMB Architects.

After spending a quarter century in the historic Arts Court on Daly Avenue, the Ottawa Art Gallery is set to expand into a brand new building with four times the gallery space and a ton of other perks.

Workers are poised to begin construction just beside the old building. The machinery is in place, they’re simply waiting for city approval to start digging.

“We’re just waiting on them to finalize the contract now, which seems to be imminent,” says Alexandra Badzak, the OAG’s Director and CEO.

The new gallery should be open in time for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, but the move was in the works long before city council announced their sesquicentennial projects.

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The gallery lobby and shop. Rendering by Barry Padolsky Associates Inc. Architects / KPMB Architects.

“We’re currently one of the smallest art galleries in Canada,” Badzak says, “and given the size of Ottawa and its importance, that’s a little embarrassing.”

The new building is set to fix that problem. During the move, the OAG will go from its current 12,000 square foot space to a new gallery with more than 80,000 square feet. It will also become much more accessible than the old building.

Completed in 1871, the courthouse is impressive and beautifully detailed, but it was meant to hold police officers, judges and criminals, not art exhibitions. The building’s elevator doesn’t even reach every floor.

“We’ve always felt that we were kind of buried within this building,” says Badzak. Inside the Arts Court, the OAG didn’t have much of a public profile. People walking by the historical building had little way of knowing what was going on inside. But the new building, with its enormous windows and banner space, should draw in plenty of passers-by.

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The building’s hotel and condominium tower. Rendering by Régis Côté & Associés.

The new structure will also include a 130-seat theatre, a multipurpose room for events, and a gallery shop. The first 14 floors of the building’s tower will be an environmentally friendly Groupe Germain hotel, with condos in the remaining floors above it. The gallery itself will have five floors, breaking through to the original stone Arts Court so visitors can easily hop between the two buildings.

“When all that’s done, we’ve got almost one city block dedicated to professional arts in Ottawa,” Badzak says proudly.

The project still requires a lot of hard work before Badzak’s dream is realized, though. Over the next year, the OAG will run a “Capital Campaign” to raise money for the new building. They haven’t announced their fundraising goal or events yet, but Badzak says “they’re definitely coming up.”

Other local galleries have already begun stepping forward to help in the fundraising. Wall Space Gallery on Richmond road raised money for the OAG on their “Paper” exhibit’s opening night. That show runs until August 2.

A slight complication in the OAG’s expansion is just how close their building is to the construction site.

“We’re waiting for that moment when we start blasting,” Badzak laughs. “We’re going to watch it very carefully, because of course, we’ve got very valuable art.”

The construction team is going to give gallery employees warning before each detonation so they can make sure all the art is safe and secure. That will also give employees a chance to warn the guests, as there are few things more out of place at an art gallery than dynamite blasting.

The Arts Court expansion’s tentative completion date is fall 2017. You can find out more about the project on the OAG’s website, or by following Alexandra Badzak on Twitter, where she’ll be tweeting regular work updates once construction begins.

Playing Chicken: The line between beauty and tension in Andrew Moncrief’s “Unseen”

July 13, 2015 3:01 pm
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Moncrief stands in front of paintings featured in this month’s exhibit. All photos by Kerri Fukui.

Andrew Moncrief is a 28-year-old artist who’s talented enough to create beautiful, classically styled figures, and brave enough to smear paint over their faces. His latest exhibition, a collection of portraits called “Unseen,” is showing at La Petite Mort Gallery until August 2.

Moncrief’s obsession with baroque art is clear in each delicately-rendered figure and the way he uses consuming shadows to help them stand out. What makes his art new and exciting are the thick, often jagged brushstrokes and his use of colour, which varies from sparing to haphazard.

In each work, the Salt Lake City-based artist carefully balances perfection and chaos. If the painting looks too classical, he finds it boring. But, if he adds too many brushstrokes or extra colours, he risks obscuring his subject and putting the whole painting off balance.

“Quite often I’m playing chicken with my paintings,” Moncrief says. “When it goes good, it goes good. And when it doesn’t…I just made a car crash on my painting.”

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Andrew Moncrief, “Unseen,” Oil on Canvas, 2015

One of the most successful examples of this process is Unseen, the exhibit’s namesake. The most experimental piece in the collection, Unseen is a huge departure from Moncrief’s other work.

Normally, Moncrief uses his own likeness or a model’s in each painting, but Unseen is based off an already existing work, Saint Veronica with the Veil by the baroque artist Mattia Preti. Even more daring, in Unseen Moncrief has wiped out St. Veronica’s face with a thick layer of pink, grey and black paint.

The classical and contemporary elements of Unseen fit with Moncrief’s ‘beauty versus tension’ game of chicken perfectly. St. Veronica’s hands are familiar; they remind the viewer of hundreds of other beautiful paintings we’ve seen in textbooks or museums. The melted face though, is shocking, and it’s the reason everyone keeps going back to Unseen.

“[Unseen] is a different ballpark,” says Guy Berube, La Petite Mort’s director. According to him, part of what makes the painting so attractive is that it may represent Moncrief’s next stage.

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Andrew Moncrief, “Lost,” Oil on Canvas, 2015

“People want to be involved in the beginning of things,” Berube says. “They want to be part of finding something new.”

Berube’s job, as a gallery director and art dealer, is finding the next, best thing. Right now, he seems confident that thing is Andrew Moncrief, and Unseen.

The “Unseen” exhibit will be on display at La Petite Mort Gallery until August 2, you can find out more about it on the gallery’s website. La Petite Mort itself is closing at the end of the summer, the gallery’s last exhibit features Japanese-Born artist Noriko Shinohara, subject of the documentary Cutie and the Boxer.

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