A few years ago, the Community Arts Council was on the ropes. This largely volunteer organization, then 25 years old, was forced from its rent-controlled gallery in the Sussex Building downtown and wondered how to proceed with an elderly board and failing finances. The council managed to keep its annual Look art show going as a feature of community outreach every year, but much else was in doubt.
And now? The council has its new headquarters (and its own fine show space) at the Cedar Hill Rec Centre, where it also offers effective input into many other community art activities; the board of directors is infused with new blood; and the council is showing signs of growth, both in membership and outreach to the other arts. This is a renaissance organization.
And the annual Look show continues. This year, the 14th, is bigger and better. With two storefronts on the second floor of the Bay Centre, the Look show now fills — floor to ceiling — twice as much space, housing 420 artworks by 250 artists. While the Sooke and Sidney annual art shows draw from an even larger pool of entrants, in Victoria, everything submitted is hung. It’s a democratic look at the Greater Victoria art scene, and you are the judge.
There is art that attempts to please and seduce you, and art that confronts and confuses. This is a report of what the artists, professional and amateurs, think is worth consideration. Admission is free and, as you are not really expected to buy anything, don’t even consider the prices. (Almost everything is for sale, with a 20 per cent commission to the council).
Leave your prejudices behind, open your eyes and respond to what appeals to you — even for a moment.
For reasons I can’t explain, a painting titled Dragonfly Dusk by Gary O’Connor stuck in my mind — a view of a city at night, seen across the back of what appears to be a giant dragonfly.
And how about the portrait of Martin Luther King, a mosaic made of shattered glass? Silversmith Linda Rajotte made a complex set of silver chains named Weaving Around Silver, the tiny links spiralling around like DNA out of control.
Photography seems to get better every year. Of note are Barbara Burns’s magic view of the pier at Sidney, and Richard Webber’s intensely coloured print Mount Tolmie at Twilight. And Tom Gore, whose work I look forward to every year, won a prize for his striking bust-length portrait of a woman. She’s a Renaissance beauty reborn in front of his camera, titled Recollection of Ginevra de’ Benci.
Two superb portrait photographs, showing Jaleen Grove and Frank Lewis, are part of Raymond St. Arnaud’s large series celebrating the Island Illustrators Society’s 25th anniversary. Cunningly staged and superbly realized, they show Grove, an artist and art historian, posing in a red dress at Fan Tan Alley, and Lewis (until his recent death, the greatest muralist this province has ever seen) with his huge painting in the Galloping Goose underpass under Gorge Road.
Don’t assume these artists are all realists, copying photos from calendars. There is a broad range of abstract practice here.
The Island Blue award went to Solar Alignment, which is a predominantly blue work painted by Paul McNair in a style reminiscent of Toronto’s Painters Eleven of the late 1950s. Other artists (you know who you are) have been too much inspired by the success of Laura Harris’s crusty and dripping landscape forms liberally basted with acrylic resin.
Most popular with the judges was the elegant painted panel by Anina Kunstler, in which small symbolic elements — crown, key, envelope — surface out of a tinted mist. They gave it the Best In Show ribbon, one of 31 cash and material prizes shared among the artists.
At a show this big and diverse, you will very likely be surprised by someone you didn’t know you were looking for. I discovered Debra Berner, winner of the Victoria College of Art Award, who builds small, dreamy sculptures on bases of weathered driftwood. Working with clay, she models figures that emerge from the grain of the wood — sinuous maidens, cherubic children. These enchanting little figurines may be enhanced with rocks, twigs and snail shells and painted so the transition from organic wood to articulate sculpture is seamless. The relation of the parts is poetic and there’s a bit of magic in each.
This column is a mere glance at Look 14. Take a look.
Look 14, the annual open show presented by the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria, is on the second floor of the Bay Centre during mall hours. The exhibition continues until April 27.