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Robert Amos: Local artists share national stage

Victoria’s Shawn Shepherd has been accepted as a finalist for the Kingston Prize 2015 exhibition, the sixth biennial presentation of contemporary portraits of Canadians.
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Shawn Shepherd, Self Portrait, oil on canvas, 56 x 71 centimetres.

Victoria’s Shawn Shepherd has been accepted as a finalist for the Kingston Prize 2015 exhibition, the sixth biennial presentation of contemporary portraits of Canadians.

The Kingston Prize is awarded in a competition for the best portrait of a Canadian by a Canadian artist. This is the third time Shepherd has tried, and he was among 30 finalists in a field of more than 400. Shepherd, owner of Polychrome Fine Arts, 977-a Fort St., joins another Victoria artist, Joe Coffey, who is represented by the Winchester Gallery, in the competition.

Shepherd will send his self-portrait, an oil on canvas, 56 x 71 centimetres, to Kingston, Ont. The show opens in Gananoque, a town near Kingston, and then travels to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, N.B., and concludes at Galerie d’art Desjardins in Drummondville, Que. First prize is $20,000, sponsored through the generosity of the Weston family. There are lesser cash prizes, and a “people’s choice” award of $1,000 at each showing.

• Here on our coast, a new prize has been created. The Salt Spring National Art Prize (with the catchy acronym SSNAP), offers a major cash prize. It will be awarded for the first time this year at the exhibition of work by 52 finalists, from six provinces and one of the territories, to be on display in Mahon Hall on Salt Spring Island from Sept. 25 to Oct. 26.

The intent of the Salt Spring National Art Prize is “to encourage artists whose practice demonstrates originality, quality, integrity and creativity, resulting in significant work with a real visual impact and depth of meaning.”

• Things were quiet at the University of Victoria’s library this past week — which I guess is how it should be. I enjoyed an excellent show at the Maltwood space there (on the lower level next to Special Collections), featuring the work of Karl Spreitz. Spreitz came to Canada from Austria in 1951. He is a talented graphic artist, and the university has a fine collection of his best work on paper.

With painter Herbert Siebner, Spreitz was part of a tag-team duo who were at the fun-loving centre of much of Victoria’s art scene through the last generation, one of the founding members of the legendary Limners. Adept with a still camera or a movie camera, Spreitz honed his skills working professionally in the field for Beautiful B.C. magazine and others, and then turned his lens on his close associates, creating an important record of his time.

Spreitz took many of the photographs upon which Myfanwy Pavelic based her portraits of the rich, famous and talented. Though she rarely acknowledged this, it is instructive to see two comparison sets, showing the Spreitz photo and her painting. It also comes as a surprise to find that the majority of the work on show here from the University Art Collection was donated by Pavelic.

Spreitz’s papers have been preserved by the university archives, and his films are available online from the archives. While he produced many zany experimental films with his artist pals, he also created widely appreciated commercial productions.

First was Spring Steelhead (1964), a film portrait of artist and fly fisherman Richard Ciccimarra. He went to Bali with Vicky Husband and Patrick Pothier in 1981 to make Offerings in White and Gold. This was followed by another collaboration with Husband and Pothier, telling the story of Ninstints (1983), the World Heritage Site on Haida Gwaii.

The university show offers new insight into Spreitz’s biography. It is a wonderful combination of documents, art works, narrative texts, film and photographs. My compliments to the two student curators.

• In the Special Collections Reading Room next door, you’ll find the 33rd Alcuin Society Awards for Book Design Exhibit (Room A003, Mearns Centre — McPherson Library Special Collections, to Friday, Aug. 28).

It’s the kind of exhibit where you are given a pair of white cotton gloves and let loose to explore the best-designed books, cover-to-cover. Eight categories include books for children, and categories for poetry, limited editions and “prose non-fiction illustrated.” In this case, it’s not what the book says, but how it looks.

The winning titles will be exhibited at this year’s Frankfurt and Leipzig book fairs in Germany, at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo in conjunction with the Tokyo International Book Fair and in nine Canadian provinces.

• And don’t miss the Buddhist Arts of Asia at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (1040 Moss St., 250-384-4171, until Sept. 20). Barry Till and “his” collection of the arts of Asia at the gallery continue to set standards that other curators around here can’t reach.

Buddhism is a theme through which he can showcase some of the amazing material owned by the Victoria gallery. A philosophy, a practice, a religion, Buddhism was the motivating force behind our Japanese Zen ink paintings, a Tibetan shaman’s apron of human bones and stone carvings from Afghanistan.

You’ll see a painting from the Silk Road painted in the Tang Dynasty — our year 748 — that must be the oldest painting in Canada. It’s on paper and looks to be holding up well.

The major focus of the show is sculptural, with powerful, prayerful, soulful statues of Buddhas of many persuasions. Who knew that Victoria’s collection has six examples of “stone heads from Thailand of the Sukhothai period (14th to 15th century)” given by a number of different donors? The wealth of this city’s collection of Buddhist artifacts, and its breadth, are remarkable cultural resources.