Painted Skies

I’d like to share with you an inspiring piece of artwork that I witnessed (alongside some family and friends) during a cool watery Saturday evening this past weekend. However this masterpiece is not part of a museum’s collection, nor is it part of an exhibition on gallery row…it’s SUSPENDED in mid-air between a 24-storey skyscraper and the Vancouver Convention Centre, a site where TED talks will be hosting their annual conference this week. This is a true example of where art and science meet!

Skies Painted With Unnumbered Sparks” is a massive aerial sculpture conceived and built by the world renowned artist Janet Echelman in collaboration with a huge technical support team of aeronautical and mechanical engineers, architects, lighting and fabric designers and Google’s Aaron Koblin, who masterminded the lighting effects on it’s interface in addition to an interactive component the public prompts using their Smartphone. Echelman also conceived a similar billowing sculpture Water Sky Garden” which premiered during the Olympic games, outside the Richmond Oval in the winter of 2010. Here are just a few images I was able to capture of the public art-piece under very soggy conditions…..


Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks – view from Vancouver Harbour


Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks – detail


Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks – centre detail

A bit about the artist and her fascinating work….Janet Echelman builds living, breathing sculpture environments that respond to the forces of nature — wind, water and light — public art installations that become inviting focal points for civic life in order to reshape urban airspace. Exploring the potential of unlikely materials, from fishing net to atomized water particles, Echelman combines ancient craft with cutting-edge technology to create her permanent sculpture at the scale of buildings. The one Vancouverites inaugurated last night spans 745 ft at its’ longest point and it is of a size and scale never before attempted! Experiential in nature, the result is a sculpture that shifts from being an object you look at, to something you can get lost in.


Janet Echelman with Mayor Gregor Robertson (right)

Janet will be giving a TED talk this week at The Vancouver Convention Centre and I managed to find her last TED presentation Taking Imagination Seriously in 2011 where she explains how she found her true voice as an artist after her paints didn’t show up during a residency in India. This forced her to look at an unorthodox new material while staying in a fishing village…thus learning how to weave and then ultimately installing her first sculpture on the beach entitled “Wide Hips”. The TED talk is definitely worth the watch!


TED talks comes to the Vancouver Convention Centre March 2014


Logan and some spectators interacting with the sculpture with their Smartphones

Her work has certainly evolved since then, to massive proportions, and her collaboration with Aaron Koblin and his team takes it to a new level. They were all on hand to enhance the visual effects by having the members of the public go to the http://sparks web browser. Once the program is activated the person could draw on their phones with their fingertips, this in turn becomes projected onto the surface netting of the moving aerial sculpture…a very cool effect that didn’t manage to show up on any of my photos.You can click on Aaron’s Ted Talk as well, where you can hear about how he takes vast amounts of data from thousands of people and weaves them into stunning visualizations, much like what Vancouverites witnessed last night.


Aaron Koblin explaining the interactive component works

Google interviewed many audience members Saturday night and asked us numerous questions about how we felt about Janet’s public artwork and installation. Here are just a few buzz words that people were throwing around about “Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks” and what it evoked: oyster, vessel, jellyfish, wave, aurora borealis, orb, oscillating, blowing and billowing net….a connector to the new generation! I myself connected to the sculpture on so many levels. Not only because of its primal/archetypal form but how it evokes motherhood and gathering… which is something I believe the artist herself tries to instill in her work. Everyone that can, should take in this awesome sight and see it for themselves. If you live in the lower Mainland you can drive down to Vancouver’s waterfront (preferably during the evening to experience it’s full effect)… but don’t wait too long… it will only be here until the end of March, after which it destined to paint skies in another part of the world!



Recently, I made a donation to the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation here in Vancouver.  Anne, a member of the art committee visited my studio in the springtime and selected one of my mixed media works on paper entitled Berçeau/Cradle”.Image

Last week I was finally able to pay a visit to the hospital where my painting is appropriately displayed in the main corridor of the Maternity Ward located on the 3rd floor of the building. I was happy to find that it fit very nicely into the surroundings and that many proud parents and grandparents will be rocking their babies in front of my symbolic cradle!



As I walked around the hospital, I couldn’t help but notice the rich and diverse collection of artwork that adorned all of the walls. All of it has been generously donated by collectors and by the artists who created it, many of them well known B.C artists such as Sylvia Tait, Jamie Evrard, Bratsa Bonifacho, and Geoff Rees. Here are just a few of the artworks at St. Paul’s by Sylvia Tait (Concerto for Left Hand), Bratsa Bonifacho, and Geoff Rees (Loose Change).




It’s interesting to find out that studies that have been published in both interior design and medical journals have left no doubt that well chosen and placed art can have great therapeutic value in hospitals and clinics.  Here is what one man said about a recent trip to St. Paul’s while his partner was getting treatment. “I brought my partner into St. Paul’s emergency and while he was being operated on, I walked around the hospital and was immediately drawn in by the fine art collection.  I felt embraced by the works of artists I knew and many I didn’t.  The artwork made me feel much more comfortable and at home in those long hallways, and the day passed quickly.  That day, your (St. Paul’s) art saved my life.”

Doctors and other health care professionals often say that medicine is an art and I truly admire their continued strength and energy into the giving of themselves in order to heal other human beings day in and day out. Undeniably without them, we would be toast!  However I believe that art can be good medicine.  Research has indicated that psychologically appropriate art can substantially affect patient outcomes as blood pressure, anxiety, intake of pain medication and length of hospital stay. So if you’d like to make a gift of art or simply make a donation to support the hospital’s greatest needs, please contact St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation at 604-682-8206 or visit the Foundation at . My fellow 5enses artists Catherine Fields, Therese Joseph, Mena Martini and Sara Morison have all generously donated a painting to this great cause as well as my artist/friend Heather McAlpine, who in the past year has also donated numerous works on paper to the Foundation.

Lastly, if you happen to drive or walk down Burrard Street at night during the Christmas season put aside some time to take in  St. Paul’s legendary light display appropriately entitled Lights of Hope. If you are a resident of the lower mainland or a visitor to our beautiful city, this is one Vancouver icon you won’t want to miss! Happy Holidays to you and yours! XOXO


Rembrandt & Self-portrait: A lesson in simplicity and humility

I was keen to visit the SAM last weekend in Seattle to check out the Treasures of London’s Kenwood House. Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Gainsborough are just many of a vast array of Flemish and English painters in its collection.  It’s also known as the Iveagh bequest (aka the Guinness family) and 50 of its masterpieces have been loaned to Seattle’s Museum until May 19 2013.

The last Rembrandt painting I saw was in the Frick collection in New York around 2011: a self-portrait he achieved in 1658 when he was about 52 years of age. A year earlier to that date he had been forced to hawk his art collection and later he would lose his home and go bankrupt.  The self-portrait from the Guinness collection and on display in Seattle was a painting he had done in 1665…4 years before his death. It is also known as “Self Portrait with 2 Circles”.


The museum’s doors had just opened so I was able to stand in front of this masterpiece alone, before the other visitors began to trample in.  Immediately I am seduced by the tonal contrasts – Rembrandt’s signature style.  His bold lights and rich darks – a strict palette of earthy tones, burgundies and smoky umbers juxtaposed against the rapid strokes of white he used to depict his painter’s cap leading up to his humble glance – one he had captured before in more than 40 self portraits.  Upon further study I also notice a simple composition…. the triangle that made up the positive space of his body – from his head to his torso and taking up the bottom half of the painting. What I found to be the most intriguing however was what Rembrandt had done with the negative space in behind him. Two half circles had been drawn in, becoming the key elements to his entire composition. As I followed the curve from the top right of the painting I landed into the painter’s palette. The rhythm that Rembrandt created by the fanning of the brushes led me up to his radiant face that he depicted inside the curve of a second circle located in the top left of the composition. This curve then led back again to the second circle…. simple, sublime, and carefully executed by the master…. the composition was perfectly balanced. But I wondered if there was another reason as to why Rembrandt had included these two half circles in this particular self portrait? I went to see if there was another explanation and found the curator’s notes. In this self-portrait, Rembrandt was making a reference to Giotto, another master painter from the 13th century (the frescoes in the Church of San Francesco of Assisi  I visited 10 years ago are definitely something to put on your art bucket list.)  Story has it that upon being summoned by the pope to demonstrate his artistry, Giotto responded by drawing a perfect circle in one single sweeping motion. According to the curator, Rembrandt’s two circles in this self-portrait were drawn in order to symbolize a perfection of his artistic skills.

Rembrandt was someone that experienced the high highs and the low lows of being the genius of the artist he was.  In his time he was considered to be one of the most subliminal innovators of the chiaroscuro technique. Every young painter wanted to apprentice under his wing, every nobleman and woman wanted to have their portrait painted by him.  Mismanagement of his works and collection led him to losing his home.  By the time he had painted this self-portrait, his wife had died, he had gone completely bankrupt, but he continued to paint showing complete humility and his mastering talent.  It’s as if he was trying to tell everyone – “you may take away all my worldly possessions but one thing remains – I can still draw and paint.

By executing these simple yet precise gestures, he still owned it.

On the way out of the SAM, I’m thinking back to one or two “kind of “ self-portraits I had done…. particularly one I had completed 25 years ago during my first year of art school which still sits in my studio today.  It too included a circle.

When this classical theme was given to my class as an assignment for our 1st year photography course my immediate response then was that in the past, artists had typically portrayed their faces in a self-portrait…. seems normal since your face reveals your identity and so the idea of “self” is revealed.  I believed that the idea of self could also be revealed by showing other parts of the body so I decided that I was going to manipulate simple black and white images I had taken randomly of my own body – hands, feet, legs arms, neck torso and so on. I suppose it is also important to mention that at the time I was influenced by the contemporary work of Andy Goldsworthy – like the way he pieced beach stones together in his ephemeral spiral composition of 1985 entitled “Pebbles Broken and Scraped”.


In this one particular composition, I used 3 repeated images I had photographed of my legs that I then puzzled together. By playing with the positive and negative spaces, a simple circle began tracing  itself out to follow a natural continuum….and  so I entitled it “Continuum: Self-Portrait”


Some last thoughts about the Kenwood collection – this is the first time the collection has left European soil so if you can get to Seattle it is worthwhile to see this vast 17th century collection from some very important artists. If you are hoping to see many Rembrandt oil paintings, then you’ll be disappointed, however there are more than 20 of his exquisite etchings on display in a room off to the side of the main gallery.

Back to Rembrandt and his self-portraits…. he remained diligent and true to this subject matter in 4 more self-portraits he achieved before his death in 1669.  I’m glad I got to see this one in person…it was a humbling experience and an important lesson from a grand master!

Kindred Spirits

Two Saturdays ago, I was able to visit The 16th Annual Eastside Cultural Crawl, under a grim Vancouver sky. The weekend-long visual arts phenomenon takes place predominately in the east part of the city where the public can take a sneak peak inside hundreds of multiple-disciplinary artists and artisans studios. I commend all the talented artists for allowing thousands of visitors every year, to trench through their sacred creative spaces. Simply amazing!


As I started making my way down from the 4th floor to the main level of studios in 1000 Parker Street, with my artist/friend Lynne Green, and across the street to the adjacent building known as The Mergatroid building – I immediately began to connect to a certain number of artists whose visual stories, imagery and subject matter was akin to mine on many levels.

In the Mergatroid Building I stumbled upon Jacqueline Robins’ stunning ceramics, and, a series she entitles Home Sweet Home, immediately caught my eye. Besides the beautiful craftsmanship of a vast array of vessels she hones, her imagery of crows resonated long after in my mind.


VanEast – platter by Jacqueline Robins

 I’ve asked her to give me some insight as to why she chooses to work with “crows” illustrated with impact, on the white clay background of her ceramics. Here is her response: “For me, my Home Sweet Home line is a visual record of my route to and from my studio, crows included. They catch my attention because they are badass, irreverent and non-majestic. As with power lines, warehouses and train tracks, crows do not pretend to be anything they are not. Gritty is beautiful!” 

Wonderfully put Jacqueline!

Next artist on my Crawl list is Arleigh Wood.


City Dweller by Arleigh Wood – 4×4 – mixed media 

 Arleigh’s studio is located inside the infamous warehouse known as 1000 Parker Street on the 3rd floor suite 326. 1000 Parker Street houses hundreds of artists’ studios. For anyone lucky enough to have a studio space inside this building, it must be inspiring. Besides using images of crows and including archetypal shapes such as circles in the representation of urban landscapes, Arleigh and I share the common bond of showing our work in a few galleries, one in Oakville Ontario known as In2art and The Art Room, formerly of West Vancouver. I am especially drawn to  Arleigh’s beautiful mixed media work entitled the  Migration Series. I asked Arleigh to reflect a bit upon why she uses crows in this particular body of work – made with a combination of photography, encaustic (painting with wax), oil paint and etching on wood panel.

This is Arleigh’s repsonse: “This series was inspired by the daily commute made by thousands of crows in Vancouver. Reminding us of our part in the cycle of life, changing seasons and urban expansion”. Arleigh’s ethereal images are not depictions of the past or the future but exist somewhere in between, floating in memory and dreams. Interestingly enough, Arleigh and Jacqueline are both using images from their daily commute to and from their studios, which are located across the street from each other.

Jennifer Conway at Raven’s Rest Studio is another mixed media artist employing images of crows into various paraphernalia – jewelry charms, magnets, greeting cards, prints and paintings. Although she was not part of the Crawll last Saturday I previously had met Jennifer at several openings at Bird on a Wire Creations. We also show our artwork in there and have had Private Views and have both been featured as “ Artists” in the Window” on occasion. What I love about Jennifer’s work is her conjuring of nostalgia while she juxtaposes her crow images on carefully selected recycled objects (like domino’s, scrabble letters and Rummikub tiles, and bottle caps).  


Jennifer Conway – mixed media

Here’s what Jennifer had to say about including crows as a main image in her work :

“I was born and raised in East Vancouver, and I guess crows are just a part of me.  I didn’t think anything of it, until I did my craft show in Edmonton, and everyone was asking me “what’s up with all the crows?”  In Vancouver, my crow creations are very popular, but in Edmonton they viewed the crows as sad and lonely and preferred not to wear the crows!”

 Why did she decide on Raven’s Rest for her studio name?

“ A few years ago, a local culture crawl artist was having a “name my studio” contest.  The winner would win one of her beautiful pieces of art.  She has a rustic little wooden garage-turned studio space behind her house in the alleyway, and I came up with the name: “Raven’s Rest Studio”.  I quickly realized that I would be upset if I won her contest, because then she’d have the name that I liked so much…so I didn’t enter the contest after all!” 

That’s a great name Jennifer!

Last but not least comes my own intrigue with our Urban Cousins .

I started including crows in my paintings a few years ago, around the same time, as I was teaching art part-time in the high school located in my neighbourhood. One day, my grade 9 students and I wandered outside to take images of crows for my demonstration of the technique known as photo-transfer.  Typically, these black beauties hangout in masses in the branches of the majestic trees surrounding the school property.

As I continued observing and photographing them and incorporating thier images into my compositions, my fascination with their intelligence, social networking skills and their cheeky attitudes, became prevalent. I also like the way their black silhouettes emphatically  make a punctuation mark on my canvases and how well their curvilinear shapes mesh so well into abstracted patchworks of colour, and collaged bits of paper.


From the triptych –  “Theories of Integration I” ( left panel) – 2012 – 10×10 – Mixed Media 

I suppose this species of birds are like us in a way, adapting and evolving alongside our ever-changing urban environment and I realize there is so much misunderstanding surrounding these creatures, as I get feedback about my own artwork. Even their flocks have been labeled ,“ A Murder of Crows”. Nevertheless, the West Coast Native People link them to creation and in their beliefs, the Raven is known as the “bringer of light”.

Love them or you hate them, either way, these kindred spirits, are here to stay! 


Papermoons at “Papergirl Vancouver 2012”

A very cool event is taking place this week from July 22- 27th at the Roundhouse Community Arts Centre in Vancouver.  It is part of an amazing global art movement that began 5 years ago in Berlin, but now has moved into cities like New York, San Francisco, Portland, Glasgow & Istanbul (just to name a few.)

It’s called “ Papergirl Vancouver” and one of my fellow artists and friends Sara Morison from the 5enses, and I have donated some of our original artwork for this event. Sara participated last year and encouraged me to join the movement!


The idea behind the Papergirl project is to combine Philanthropy + Bikes + Art + Public.  Artwork produced with any media on paper is donated by local and global artists and will be distributed by volunteers on bikes to random members of our community.


Here are two of my  “Papermoons” that will be given out to someone somewhere in Vancouver this Saturday afternoon July 27th.


“Moon Pool” – Mixed Media on paper – 16×36 – 2012


“And the Whale jumped over the Moon” – Mixed Media on paper – 12×36 – 2012

The opening for “Papergirl Vancouver” was held last night and it was fun to see over 700 works of art displayed mostly with clothespins over lines strung everywhere around the Roundhouse’s main gallery.  Some 136 artists have donated one or more pieces of artwork and the best part about this non-commercial art project is that it encourages artists of all ages and abilities to participate.



Sara Morison – fellow 5enses artist in front of one of her donated mixed media works entitled ” Waiting for Summer” 


Lastly, anyone can become a papergirl….. Guys, girls, ladies, gents, amateurs, emerging artists and pros. Everyone is welcome to give his or her artwork to this fabulous community event.

So if you are somewhere around False Creek, or the any Vancouver’s seawalls this Saturday…. maybe you’ll be the lucky recepient of some of this artwork?…randomly selected of course, by a papergirl on a bike!

This definitely epitomizes the meaning of “Street Art” and takes it to another level!


“Paper Girl Vancouver” – the Art of giving Art – a great week-long community event!      

Paper-moons at Paper-girl Vancouver 2012

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A very cool event is taking place this week from July 22- 27th at the Roundhouse Community Arts Centre in Vancouver.  It is part of an amazing global art movement that began 5 years ago in Berlin, but now has moved into cities like New York, San Francisco, Portland, Glasgow & Istanbul (just to name a few.)

It’s called “ Papergirl Vancouver” and one of my fellow artists and friends from the 5enses, Sara Morison and I have donated some of our original artwork this year!