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ArtWalk, one step at a time



When I took a buyout from my editing position at The Guardian in 2003 in order to move back to Canada, part of the HR severance package included funding for professional upgrading or retraining.

Right across the street from my home in Clerkenwell was the London College of Communications and I mulled over training in radio — my favourite medium after print.

I had been fully focused on my journalistic career in London for 15 busy years but started thinking about other options — on a hunch I asked the HR rep if retraining might take the form of flying to Italy and studying Byzantine mosaic making, something I had been studying part time in London for four years.

The rep said: "I can't see why not!" To this day, she remains one of my favourite people.

Going to Italy — the UNESCO World Heritage city of Ravenna to be more exact — was life changing. It was something outside journalism, something visually artistic and not wordy — almost a month being taught by master mosaicist Luciana Notturni revealed new potential in me. 

Months later, living on the West Coast, I was teaching a mosaic workshop in Surrey, selling pieces and winning prizes. Two mosaic flowers I made were inlaid into a waterfall feature at the national garden show in Toronto — Canada Blooms — and the garden it was part of earned the People's Choice Award in 2004.

Then life got complicated, journalism is a demanding job, family stuff was also time consuming — and mosaic is a slow art form. I put away my hammer and hardie (the medieval tools still used to cut Italian smalti glass cubes and marble).

Years passed and I dreamed of having more time for it, but of course you have to move past the dreaming. Fast forward to late spring 2016.

I heard ArtWalk had been moved to fall this year and I thought, "Hmmm, should I? Should I?"

At a timely moment I read the aphorism, "Start before you are ready."

And, dear reader, I went for it.

I gathered the material and equipment, reminded myself how to use cement and grout, how to cut glass and marble, and how to stop said glass and marble flying into my eyes.

Finding a Whistler subject was too easy — I made a bear.

I'd been writing about bears in British Columbia for Pique and before that for national and international readers.

It wasn't a happy story. In B.C. around 1,000 black bears are killed yearly because of preventable human-animal conflicts, thanks to entitled, careless people. That bears become habituated and dangerous to humans and are culled accordingly shouldn't be surprising. It's not the fault of conservation officers; the problem begins much earlier.

And there have been several shot in the resort in recent weeks so it is front and centre again in the news.

I decided to combine my art form with my very current concern for these animals and the result is a largish mosaic called The Saint of Blackcomb.

It's a portrait of a black bear done in the style of a medieval saint — a martyr to the way we live. Twenty per cent of its sale, if it does sell, will go towards Whistler's Bear Smart program, which educates residents and visitors.

Completing it — it took over 60 hours to make — means everything to me. I am incredibly happy to be working my art again.

And it's the start of a series of other "animal saints."

The Saint of Blackcomb and three mosaic tables go on display at the Maury Young Art Centre on Friday, Sept. 2, until November.

I am one of around 60 artists participating in Art Walk. Each artist has their own version of the above story — whether self-taught, part-timers or art-school graduates, each person has dedicated hundreds of hours of hard work to their craft.

Check out (and even buy!) their works on show in public venues and businesses in Whistler until the end of November.

Part of my job as arts editor for Pique is to connect artists with the public. I didn't suspect it would reconnect me with art in a personal sense. I've been hugely bolstered by seeing what people are creating — whether in arts, culture or music — and I've been supported and encourage by artists in my own work.

For that I am grateful.

And if you, dear reader, have had a "Should I? Should I?" moment yourself, I have two words for you: Do it.