Two painters inspired by the limitations of the pandemic era have created works that explore the idea of distance – both personal and geographical – which are on display at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery this month.
British-born, Vancouver-based artist Louise Dee and Prince Rupert-based Suzo Hickey met dozens of guests at an opening reception for their respective exhibits on Saturday, July 9.
Dee’s series of oil paintings, Public Pool, depicts lithe-limbed figures adorned in swimwear, huddled together on pool decks. Bodies flex in unlikely directions, negotiating for space. The swimmers’ paraphernalia fills in the gaps: buoys, pneumatic pumps, towels and goggles. The scenes are languorous; a couple of bathers paddle lazily. The others lean against each other, skin to skin, with a calculated naturalism that evokes the striking intimacy of Picaso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Dee’s initial career in physiotherapy provided him with an understanding of anatomy and body kinetics. She went on to study at Capilano University and Emily Carr University of Art and Design, launching her artistic career with a group exhibition eight years ago.
“I’ve always had an interest in how the body works and that sort of thing,” Dee said. “I did a lot of still lifes and realistic figurative drawings. I got to a point where I knew I was still interested in figurative painting but wasn’t interested in accurate representations. I became more interested in broader ideas than capturing specific people.
His work on Public Pool began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when social distancing rules were put into effect. Struggling with loneliness and separation, Dee sought a framework rich in human relationships. The pool — where strangers strip naked and define territorial boundaries with colorful beach towels — does the trick.
“Everyone is close [at the pool], especially in Europe where there isn’t as much space,” Dee said. “Somehow in public gatherings, when different people come together, the rules are different, but people still understand the rules. I was thinking about my own experience of going to public places like a market. You don’t necessarily talk to everyone or just anyone, but being around people gives you a sense of connection.
Oversized swans appear in paintings like Untitled (Swan Lake) and I Didn’t Even Ask Her What Music She Likes. For Dee, the bird image was a literal echo of “black swan events” – the once-in-a-century pandemic and social unrest. “I was thinking back to the black and white of division and separation,” she said. “And so there are black and white swans that appear as floats.”
Suzo Hickey’s landscape exhibition, Small Fish Big Landscape, was born out of the freedom she found during the early COVID lockdowns. “Every show I had was canceled,” she recalls. “All of a sudden, you could do whatever you wanted. You’re not going anywhere, so I thought, what can I access around me? »
Hickey’s acrylic paintings depict time-worn structures in contexts unique to his northern British Columbia home. At Port Essington Pilings, the wooden stanchions that once supported a bustling promenade are winnowed at the waist and shaded by bulrushes. Across From Roosevelt School depicts a network of power distribution lines and transformers suspended from wooden poles that blend into the nearby evergreens.
Wilderness and rough-hewn domesticity are cozy neighbours, as in Picaso’s Underpants, in which starched underpants flap on a clothesline against a distant backdrop of untouched forest.
“There’s a lot of space up north,” Hickey said. “It’s a bit empty up there, even in summer. When driving from Prince Rupert to Terrace, there isn’t even another place [between the cities].”
Highways and angular mountain ranges appear frequently in Hickey’s works. She was trained at Emily Carr in the early 1990s and finds that her style of hue-rich realism has at times become imbued with unexpected geometric shapes and symmetries.
“My style keeps evolving and going in new directions,” Hickey said. “It’s going to keep changing as you paint, and then you think, well, this really works. If you look at your work in chronological order, you can see the colors you really like. And then it starts to change; you get a new color. It’s just like the peas that started coming [in my paintings] in 2019. I just thought they were so wonderful and fun and you never knew what they would look like: spots on a windshield or wild leaves blowing in the wind.
Public Pool and Small Fish Big Landscape remain at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery until July 24. The gallery is open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is by donation.