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Vintage photos inspire

The figures in Victoria artist Kate Scoones’ painted scenes are nostalgic and lonely and awkward. A woman with an elaborate bouffant floats on her stomach in an empty swimming pool.
Tramp the Speedway Poodle, by Kate Scoones.
The figures in Victoria artist Kate Scoones’ painted scenes are nostalgic and lonely and awkward.

A woman with an elaborate bouffant floats on her stomach in an empty swimming pool. A man poses on a scooter for the camera, in front of a miniature poodle looking on from the background. And two couples dance at a distance in a 1960s scene.

Harkening back to a specific era, if not always a specific time, Scoones’ subjects in Time Is a Place, opening tonight at Polychrome Fine Arts, are also rooted in reality: They’re inspired by found photographs.

“The images I find, I don’t feel are random,” she said. “I am really drawn to a particular composition.”

For source material, Scoones regularly mines websites that archive found photos, such as While she began painting the series using her own family photos for inspiration, she moved to found photos of strangers when her subject matter began running short.

“It ignited an interest in that discarded photograph,” she said.

The thousands of photos she has come across suggest thousands of families have lost or discarded their photos. At the same time, there’s something touching in the way strangers find them, appreciate them, take the time to scan them and describe them online.

And as she stumbles upon ones that speak to her, she files them away until she’s ready to paint. A folder called The Perils of Childhood is full of images that she feels have an undercurrent of something else going on, for example. While the images in The Limits of Memory speak to the way shots can capture a moment where names, locations and dates are forgotten. “And yet there’s an incredible amount of information in the image,” she said.

Being born in the 1950s is probably what has drawn her to paint scenes from around that period. She made her first paintings as a child growing up on Pender Island, despite not having easy access to paper and art supplies.

“My mother was very generous,” she said. “She allowed my sister and I to draw and paint on our bedroom walls, to be able to draw our dreams or anything that came our way.”

She would go on to study fine arts at UVic as well as the Banff Centre. And apart from a stint as a sheep farmer, she has spent most of her professional life working in art education, with stints working at the Banff Centre, Burnaby Arts Centre and the Vancouver Island School of Art, where she worked from 2005 to 2010. After decades helping others with their art, she is finally focusing on her own.

“I’m totally passionate about painting and I paint full-time,” she said. “But I’ve waited a long time to do that, working in arts organizations basically helping other people find their path. I really relish this opportunity to go at it and that’s why I don’t relent, I work every day.”

Nostalgic art series like Time Is a Place are only part of her practice. She also creates “botanical collages,” and other, more abstract works. But while the scenes and portraits at this month’s show represent real people, Scoones doesn’t re-create the images verbatim or consider herself a realist. In many cases, she combines parts of different images to create a new composition.

The woman in the swimming pool, for example, was surrounded by children in the original photo.

“Her life was probably falling apart, or might in the near future,” said Scoones. “There’s that moment of perfection where you just want everything to stop and it just carries on and you have to accept it.”