Do you ever have images or common themes show up at different times in your life and every time it shows up you find a different meaning or strength in it? Maybe the first couple times you don’t really notice but after a few times you start realizing that perhaps there is something to it. Once you become aware that there could be more to things then face value, you begin to feel more receptive and you start to notice it more and more - call it intuition if you like.
For me it’s not about trying to assign value or reason to something - usually when I am grasping for meaning I often eliminate all possibility of finding it, or if I do assign a meaning it doesn’t feel genuine because I had to dig for it. I think the trick is to acknowledge it in a relaxed way, peripherally being aware there is something going on: like being aware of a raccoon casually watching as you garden… you do your thing and it will do it’s thing and there’s no need to cause a stir about it, it’s just life happening and you are a small part of it. You don’t want to focus on the raccoon because it doesn’t like being in the spotlight, however if you just let it hang around on the side it stays content and that’s all that you have to do.
My artwork and art practice is rooted in balancing regular ‘daily life’ with these peripheral raccoon visits.
Sometimes a particular art piece gets super rooted and comes around again and again and has a new layer of experience attached to it when it comes back. To start this art blog off I thought I would begin with Bear Dreams of Spring, as it just resurfaced a week ago.
First, a bit of backstory on how and why I made the original piece.
In 2015 my dad and I had a father-daughter exhibition at the Port Moody Arts Centre. For the exhibit we each made artwork that corresponded with locations that we had both been, together or separately. When proposing the exhibition concept to my dad I suggested we reference locations simply because most of my life we have lived in different provinces, so physical location has played a role in our relationship. Rather than focus on just making artwork that reflected holiday photos (cause like, why bother if you already have the photo?!), I suggested that we select places we had both experienced as individuals - to try and incorporate the story telling aspect or memory of a place instead of just doing pure landscapes.
Every set of artwork that we made were matching in size and hung side by side so the viewer could compare each artists’ take on the location depicted. Every piece had a little write up included with it from the perspective of the artist, outlining their connection or story depicted. One other element of this show was that we didn’t see what the other person had made until the installation day.
Bear Dreams of Spring was my piece inspired by Minnekhada Regional Park in Port Coquitlam.
I’ve been to the park countless times and seasons, most often in the warmer months, and during those visits I almost always see bears wandering around. However the photos that inspired this particular piece were taken on a winter day when I happened to visit the park with my dad, who was visiting from Alberta for a few days.
I recall that on the day of our visit we were both really taken by the colours in the park, a blend of frosted blue shaded areas and bright warm sunny patches on the fields. At the time of the walk I also had my two dogs with us (a theme you will hear about frequently from me as I build this art blog).
When It came time to working on the artwork for the exhibit we both wanted to use this park and this day as one of our locations to depict. Below are the two pieces displayed at the gallery.
For my piece I wanted to reflect the feeling of the wintery visit, but also to incorporate a sense of anticipation and change as I knew that somewhere nearby there was a mamma bear about to have cubs. I also recognize that this is about a strong female caring for her two kids, she is dreaming of a future with them by her side, she is showing them how to be. Given the story of this piece, I wanted to focus on the colour, line details and dreamy quality.
On the last day of the exhibition someone came in and bought this set together. The curator let us know that it was someone from out of town and we were so happy to know the set had been sold together. As it turned out the couple who had bought the set came in from Victoria direct to the gallery to buy them and I later learnt that it was a couple that I was incredibly fortunate to meet and work with many years ago, a couple who had become very dear friends, so much so that I consider them to be part of my chosen family. As if they are my older siblings, they often supported and guided me in my 20’s and they have always been really big supporters of my art practice. Knowing that they purchased these two pieces by my dad and I resonated beautifully: inspired by nature and family, and ending up with a couple who had become family to me. That is a lovely history and story for this piece just as it is.
Now fast forward to 2018.
After a lifetime of wanting to work for myself as a professional artist, I decided that it was time to let go of my fixation on only selling original art pieces. By offering print options and embellished print pieces I could more quickly provide images available for sale, expand into new outlets and also respond to more opportunities. Creating and selling the original works remains a crucial part of my art practice and vision, but if I want to take the next step towards being a full time artist I need to become open and more fluid on some of my own restrictions (my ‘originals only’ philosophy was keeping me in a day job) . So, this image is one of the works that I decided to offer (cropped) as a small framed print, an archival paper print, and as an embellished resin piece on wood panel.
One of these new versions were available through Seymour Art Gallery gift shop this fall and sold. Usually I don’t get to hear what happens to my artworks after they sell unless the collector reaches out to tell me their connection to the piece, and fortunately that is what happened.
I met the new owner because she had signed up for a member workshop that Seymour Art Gallery had invited me to run. On the day of the workshop, just before we started, she introduced herself and said that she had a connection to my artwork that she wanted to share with us, and that she had signed up for this workshop not knowing it was me leading it. She then explained that in 2017 she had purchased one of my small original works at the gallery because it had an abstract character included in it that looked just like a toy that one of her sons used to have; one of her sons actually recognized their childhood toy in the image so she purchased the piece.
This year, 2018, her son was back at the gallery and came across my rendition of Bear Dreams of Spring, and he bought it as a sort of follow up gift for his mom for Christmas, unbeknownst to her of course.
Apparently the week leading up to the workshop she had a very powerful dream about a bear running up a hillside with two cubs behind. She felt that the dream was about her with her boys and their current family situation. The next day she told her son about the dream and how it had deeply resonated with her, and his response was that she needed to open a Christmas gift in that moment. Upon her opening this piece they both started crying.
As any artist will tell you, it is personal connections like these, where the artwork takes on a whole new meaning for someone else, that inspires us to keep creating. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to hear about the second life of this image.
That also is a lovely history and story for this piece just as it is.
Since hearing her story I have started thinking about this piece again and what it means to me now that it has this additional level of meaning. Like that raccoon in my peripheral, it’s been hanging around and mucking a bit with my heart to be completely honest.
Some of you reading this will already know that this fall I had to say goodbye to my canine-son Bruno, the larger of the two beagles included in the photos above. He was 11. Having this piece come into my peripheral now further embedded with feelings of family and love, memory and aspiration, dreams and the emotions around change, loss and growth has really struck a deep chord with me at this time in my life.
I am not one to ignore my feelings, however I do not fully vocalize them to others, or at least not to the full extent. One of my goals since turning 40 this fall has been to be more authentic and honest and to attempt to be a little more vulnerable, even if just through talking about my art.
My husband and I decided not to have kids, but we did adopt our two dogs in 2007 (Bruno) & 2008 (Jenna). I have been intently caring for them since they came into my life. Bruno in particular had ongoing health issues his whole 11 years, and as I was his primary care giver he looked to me for reassurance with every vet visit, physio appointment, every procedure, and every check up. I was the one who administered meds, bathed him, carried him, walked him, catered to his stitches, rushed to pick him up when he had to stay at the hospital, talked to him non stop to reassure him that he was okay. He taught me that all animals have the capacity to express love and concern and fear and that they respond to reassurance and calm demeanor and peace. Through loving him my compassion for animals (both wild and domestic) expanded immensely. We did not have to speak the same verbal language to have a lifetime of conversations and shared experiences with each other. Frankly, we was my soul mate.
At the time of writing this post Bruno has been gone for two months, and I still cry daily and miss his array of beagley sounds, facial expressions, ear flops, pure love and physical presence at my side. He always wanted me to be in my studio: he was glued to my side and every time I would walk past my studio door he’d walk in and try to get me to spend time with him in there. He understood I that I am happiest when creating.
His passing was not how I would have wanted it and I think ‘what if’ about his final hours constantly. I don’t know if I will ever get over those final hours it to be honest. After spending 11 years caring intently and being in tune to his body language I can’t shake this feeling that I didn’t do my part to speak up for him fully in the moments that mattered the most.
Perhaps it is this feeling of letting him down that is fueling me to take significant steps towards being a full time artist in 2019. I don’t want to let him down on that front too, I just can’t. I also can’t miss out on the final years of living with Jenna, who is now starting to show signs of kidney issues that Bruno had as part of his long list of health issues. She has changed a lot since the loss of her mate, and she needs family support too.
Anyway, I know that this kind of emotion is off-putting to those who may have their own emotional weight to carry, and I certainly don’t say these things to seek sympathy or condolences; I simply have a mountain of feelings at the moment and opening up a bit to express this experience is a bit of relief as I allow my identity to change.
Raccoon in the garden, just let it be there with you.
Bear Dreams of Spring has become a much more personal story than when I first created it. Now it has multiple payers of emotional backstory, it reflects a positive time in my life and simultaneously represents future personal and spiritual growth.
Published Dec 23 2018