Open to Interpretation: Three Peace River Artists

by Wendy Stefansson

Kristine McGuinty.  Untitled composite photo of images from her altered book, The Limits of Words.Kristine McGuinty

Kristine McGuinty has long been known in Peace River as a talented portrait photographer. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that human faces and figures feature so prominently in her other art work, particularly females.

McGuinty’s women are simplified, abstracted and set in similarly simplified backgrounds. They are depicted with heads cocked on improbable angles, their necks gazelle-like, their eyes sometimes closed. They have, on occasion, been compared to Renaissance madonnas; or perhaps to the more stylized faces of Byzantine mosaics. The resemblance is there, but for McGuinty the specifically religious content is an unintentional reference. Rather, she is drawn to Renaissance images of women for the peacefulness and serenity in their faces, and the sensuous draping of their clothes. About her women, she says: “I want to portray the power they have within, their strengths, the hardships they have endured, their heartaches. In the end, it’s the power of survival I am looking for.”

These women have appeared in a recent series of acrylic paintings collectively called Liminality. They have appeared in a mixed-media altered book on which McGuinty has been working over the last two years, and now they are turning up in some of her photographic works. Using film and camera, McGuinty has layered images of her own artwork by means of multiple exposures, creating associations and meanings through chance juxtapositions. Far from the crystalline clarity and light of her professional portraits, these works are filled with complexity and ambiguity. Meanings are layered one upon another, images are lost and found, text emerges from and disappears back into texture. Writing about art becomes writing as art. It is as if several pages of her altered book have been combined and compressed into a single image. To quote McGuinty: “Art becomes art becomes art.”

Paul Martel.  Prayer for Sunset, acrylic on canvas.Paul Martel

Self-taught artist Paul Martel is best-known for images loosely laid in using vibrant colours, then overlaid with fluid black marker lines; lines that outline areas of colour while they describe and energise landscapes, skies, suns. These works are nearly-abstract paintings with their own interpretations superimposed; the drawing and the painting distinct but related entities in animated conversation with each other.

Favouring primary and secondary colours – colours straight from the crayon box – and using them undiluted and unmixed, Martel’s colour palette is perhaps in part an outgrowth of 18 years of teaching elementary school. His black lines are evocative of colouring books or school worksheets. There is an unapologetic childlike exuberance to his paintings. Martel reflects, “If I hadn’t been teaching my art would be totally different.”

Recently, however, Martel has been moving back into abstraction – returning to his roots as a painter – having felt limited by the demands of representation. In his new work Prayer for Sunset, a piece completed for a show of art inspired by poet Leonard Cohen, his lines have acquired a new freedom and complexity. Evocative of – and perhaps inspired by – a Jackson Pollock drip painting, these lines convey raw, unmediated emotion. They capture but don’t literalize Cohen’s words: “The sun is tangled/in black branches.”

When Martel opens up about his work, his words flow as rapidly and freely as the lines in his paintings. He tells me he uses “flowing line trying to show a Buddhist way of thinking. Everything is a flow of energy and we’re kind of caught up in it, all part of this flowing, fluid energy that is always changing.” Martel is trying to interact with this stream as it flows by and through him in the moment of painting.

Sonia Rosychuk.  A Little Birdie Told Me. Mixed media.  Detail view of installation.Sonia Rosychuk

Mixed media and installation artist Sonia Rosychuk describes her art process as “flying by the seat of (her) pants!” Preferring not to start with a clear idea of where she will end up, she lets the work evolve and become whatever it becomes. There are no sketches, and no maquettes. She doesn’t say, “This is what it will be like.” She says only, “This is what I’m going to try.”

Because she doesn’t go into a project with a preconceived idea of what it should be, Rosychuk is happily surprised. She says: “Even if it doesn’t look ‘pretty,’ I feel it’s beautiful because I’ve created something out of nothing.” A piece that she doesn’t like can always be reincarnated in another form when integrated into a new work, continuing to evolve through its second (or third) life.

With play as her primary process, nothing is ever wrong, and everything is interesting. Rosychuk has taken workshops in techniques as diverse as metal weaving, Chinese brush strokes, and altered books. Similarly, her media are many. From driftwood to scrap metal, from nail polish to watercolours, from Chinese newspapers to National Geographic magazines, it all fuels her creativity.

Recently, Rosychuk came across a box of 157 decorative birds for $10 in a local liquidation store. Compelled by the “Made in China” sticker attached to each one and the way these handmade objects had become so grossly devalued – by what this says about the fickle demands of western consumerism and how those demands are both supporting and altering the lives and the economy of the Chinese – Rosychuk created an installation piece posing the birds on a long cable between a retro-style black telephone and its receiver.

About this work, as about her life, Rosychuk says only, “it is what it is.” She says it with both passion and serenity.

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