Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

“On the Curve: The Life and Art of Sybil Andrews”

April 12, 2019

by Janet Nicol

Published by Caitlin Press, Halfmoon Bay, May 31, 2019
$28.95 paperback, fully illustrated

Sybil Andrews was one of Canada’s most prominent artists working throughout the late twentieth century. From a cottage by the sea in Campbell River, Andrews created striking linocut prints steeped in feeling and full of movement. Inspired by the working-class community that she lived in, her art is known for its honest depiction of ordinary people at work and play on Canada’s West Coast.

Although she was raised in Bury St Edmunds, England, “On the Curve” focuses on Andrews’ life after she immigrated to Canada in 1947. Settling in Campbell River, Andrews taught private art and music lessons and created artwork that gained her recognition across the globe. In the final years of her life, retrospective exhibitions of her prints in Canada and Britain skyrocketed her popularity. Prints of her artwork became even more valuable after her death in 1992.

I visited England, the Glenbow in Calgary and Campbell River in 2018 and in this biography, interweave stories from Andrews’ letters, diaries and interviews from her former students and friends, to create a portrait of this determined, resilient and gifted British-Canadian artist. Andrews’ work is as popular today as it was in her lifetime and continues to celebrate the cultural, industrial, agricultural and natural world of Canada’s West Coast.

Watch for announcements of a book launch in Campbell River this upcoming June, 2019 followed by book talks in Vancouver. For more information, go to

A lithograph print of Sybil Andrews by author Janet Nicol, inspired by an archival photograph of Sybil on Sark Island, off the coast of Normandy, France in the 1930s.


That Seventies Show

January 30, 2018

by Janet Nicol

The cleverly titled Rereading Room, an installation by Vancouver artist Alexandra Bischoff, is a centerpiece for Beginning with the Seventies: Glut, which celebrates art, archives and activism as they pertain to the women’s movement. On view at UBC’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery until April 8, Bischoff’s work consists of some 100 books assembled on shelves lined along a wall, covers facing outward.

Viewers browsing the collection are transported back to the 1970s, when women awakened to the pervasive sexism around them aided by books such as Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman and Our Bodies, Ourselves, which takes a frank look at women’s health and sexuality. Bischoff based her archive on an early inventory list from the Vancouver Women’s Bookstore, a downtown fixture from 1973 to 1996.

Additionally, 13 female artists and activists are occupying the installation, here in its second iteration, giving the work a performative dimension. At various times, they sit at the installation’s table or on the couch, reading and writing reflections that will be archived later. Visitors are welcome to join in.
The Rereading Room underscores the importance of feminist texts and the once-pervasive network of independent women’s bookstores across Canada, both for the wider community and for artists. The Vancouver bookstore was the first, and like the others, created a space for women to gather, engage in dialogue and offer mutual support.

Curator Lorna Brown says social movements of the 1970s are of keen interest to young artists today. “They have observed the activism and cultural production of the 1970s, but there is a gap in their knowledge about many of the organizations in this period,” she says.

Feminist, environmental and anti-racist movements, to name a few, left a document trail in public and private archives throughout Vancouver’s Lower Mainland. The exhibition exposes, celebrates – and critiques – this abundance (or “glut”) of materials. “We are able to build a complex and rich understanding of our histories as a result,” says Brown.

Other artists in the show explore language as a medium and material. These pieces include a series of provocative posters by Winnipeg-born Divya Mehra and Vancouver artist Allyson Clay’s Double Self Portrait, an unsettling photograph of books being tossed from an apartment window. Also on view are works by two Vancouver-based artists – Kathy Slade’s text-embedded weavings and Gathie Falk’s glazed ceramic piece, 14 Rotten Apples. The gallery’s commissions include Lisa Robertson’s Proverbs of a She-Dandy, a limited-edition book. Also in the show are Jamelie Hassan, Germaine Koh, Laiwan, Kristina Lee Podesva, Elizabeth Zvonar and others.

Re-printed from Galleries West Digital magazine, January 30, 2018 – link at

Historic Photos of the North

February 28, 2017

When Geraldine Moodie created a 1906 portrait of several Inuit mothers with their offspring, including two naked babies, her camera captured an atmosphere of maternal ease and warmth. “Inuit women and children at summer camp, Fullerton Harbour, Nunavut,” like many of her other images, reflects her affinity for northern women.

Like her subjects, Moodie, who lived from 1854 to 1945, raised a family in isolated communities. Once her six children were grown, she and her husband, Douglas, a senior officer in the North-West Mounted Police, travelled to the Far North in 1903, where they documented the way of life in settler and Inuit communities for the following seven years.

Now, the work of this talented and adventurous couple is the subject of an exhibition, Historic Photographs of the Canadian North, on view at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum from Feb. 18 to Sept. 10.

See my full review in Galleries West digital at –


Lethbridge’s Galt Museum explores life of early artist

May 7, 2015


by Janet Nicol

“She sought adventure and she had courage,” says Wendy Aikens, who organized an exhibition about early English-Canadian watercolorist Edith Fanny Kirk at the Galt Museum and Archives in Lethbridge, June 6 to October 12.  Watch for the full article in summer, 2015 issue of Galleries West magazine.

Watercolor painting above by Edith Fanny Kirk is entitled “Banff at November,” 1947.

Ruptures in Arrival: Art in the Wake of the Komagata Maru

May 31, 2014


“Ruptures in Arrival” at Surrey Art Gallery, April 12 to June 15, 2014

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

This powerful group exhibition is one of several events this year to mark the 100th anniversary of Canada’s refusal to allow entry by 376 Indian migrants aboard a Japanese steamship, the Komagata Maru. Much has been written about the incident, part of Canada’s troubled history of thwarting immigration from Asia, but curator Jordan Strom believes this is the largest exhibition to engage the topic. The show includes 10 artists who use painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, video and installation to reflect not only on the specific incident, but also on more recent histories of oceanic migration. It features work by Vancouver artists, including notable figures such as Ken Lum and Paul Wong, along with artists who live elsewhere in Canada, as well as India and the United States.

Full article in Galleries West magazine, Fall/Winter, 2014.
Link at

Artwork shown above is created by Raghavendra Rao

Gordon Smith Gallery

May 1, 2014


A “one of a kind” Art Experience for Kids

By Janet Nicol

Vancouver artists, both young and old, have been creating great works beneath North Shore’s twin lion-shaped peaks.   Among them is Gordon Smith, internationally renowned for his art–and as an art educator.  So it’s no surprise a unique artist program for youth, “Artists for Kids,” which Smith helped establish, has been thriving in North Vancouver for more than two decades.

A year ago, the organization moved to the newly-built Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art, housed in the North Vancouver School District building. In the lobby, students’ art work from the area’s public schools is displayed.  The exhibit changes each month—and since the building opened—has been in high demand.      

The lobby exhibit is only a small portion of this unique ‘teaching gallery’ for “kids,” supported by the Gordon and Marion Smith Foundation and conveniently located near retail shops at the top of Lonsdale Street. A visit, whether to register your child for art classes, or to take the family for a gallery walk, is a great weekend outing.  

The concrete and glass building is fronted by a small park, with a meandering path to the entrance foyer.  That’s where I met up with the Smith Foundation director, Astrid Heyerdahl and Artists for Kids director, Yolanda Martinello, to have a tour of the building and learn more about the programs offered.

“We have many public events,” Astrid says as we move through castle-size cedar doors, beautifully carved with storied images by Xwalacktun (Rick Harry), a Coast Salish artist.  Astrid says the Foundation is just getting started with its plans for outreach events for youth and families all over the Lower Mainland.   There is plenty of parking space nearby and transit access is only a sea bus and chain of bus stops away. “Our location really opens this up,” Astrid says.  

Below the gallery’s high ceilings is a maze of low partitioned walls.  The current exhibit, pulled from more than 500 art pieces from the program’s collection, has many recognizable works by Canadian artists, including Artists for Kids’ other co-founders, Jack Shadbolt and Bill Reid.

“We offer a one day program to grade five classes across the Lower Mainland,” Yolanda says.  “In the morning students view and critique the gallery exhibit and in the afternoon, they work on their own art.”

At the back of the gallery is a space for students to watch videos and examine artist tools, such as print makers’ carving tools and wooden blocks.

“We hire Canadian artists and critque Canadian art,” Yolanda emphasizes, although she says educators will discuss art influences from other parts of the world.    “Canadian art is very rich, she says, “British Columbia especially.”

Yolanda says the grade five program captures a keen age group, willing to take risks.  It’s a popular “school field trip,” and interested participants can then consider enrolling in Art for Kid’s after school program and the summer camp.  

The after school program targets youth from kindergarten to Grade 12 offering courses in everything from jewelry making to acrylics painting. Classes are once a week, for eight weeks, at an affordable cost.   Students’ works are exhibited in the gallery space when the course ends.

At the summer camp, youth of all ages have an exciting opportunity to create under the direction of a Canadian artist.  Last summer’s guest teacher was Vancouver-based artist, Attila Richard Lukas.

 “It’s an enriched art experience,” Yolanda says.  “Students work with highly qualified artists who collaborate with art educators.”

The visiting artist also donates an original work of art from which limited edition prints are made.    Every year Artists for Kids sells the prints to the public and the original piece is added to the program’s valuable collection.  

 “We have alumni from our program come back to teach at the summer camps,” Yolanda says. “Some of these students go on to be artists and art teachers.”  The artistic process allows for youth to work in a non-judgemental atmosphere, Yolanda believes.  “They become self-aware, confident and can voice their opinions,” she says.   She has also observed students who are at-risk in school environments may “fit well in an art room.”

“We nurture their creativity and this stretches in to other aspects of their lives.   It’s life changing.”

For more information go to:

Susan Point – Coast Salish artist – a profile

January 3, 2014


by Janet Nicol

When Coast Salish artist Susan Point was getting her start back in the 1980s, she found galleries weren’t interested in her work with glass. “They said it wasn’t a native medium,” she recalls. “I didn’t care.” That commitment to her own vision has served Point well. One of the West Coast’s most acclaimed indigenous artists, she is a groundbreaker within her community and beyond, working not only with glass, but also a variety of other media – everything from carving to printmaking. She has produced many public art projects and her numerous accolades include appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada and honorary doctorates from four British Columbia universities.

So begins a story about Susan Point and her remarkable artistic family in the spring issue of Galleries West magazine. The full story is on-line at
Watch for Ms. Point’s upcoming exhibit of more than 300 prints at Spirit Wrestler Gallery in Gastown (Vancouver) this spring. A book of her prints will also be available. More information at

Observation of Wonder

April 27, 2013

When Brenna Maag browsed in thrift shops, she noticed crocheted doilies, created by women to decorate and protect furniture, selling at rock bottom prices. “In one display case, the doilies had been lovingly stacked,” she remembers. “But they didn’t seem to be popular items anymore.“
Still Maag thought women must enjoy making these elaborated designed textiles, using one continuous white thread and a hook. “All that creativity was abandoned,” Maag says. She started buying doilies at 50 cents to $1.50 each. “I wanted to honor women who made them and their beauty and complexity–their patterns and their mathematical details.“
“I knew an installation was the right form,” she says. “I tried one idea but it didn’t work so I put the doilies away and did another project about nature.“ That project had Maag thinking about diversity and patterns in the natural world. ”It reminded me of the doilies,” she says, so she took another look at her collection.
Four years later, Maag had created a two-part installation and in 2009, she showed her work in Richmond. Now exhibiting “Observation of Wonder” again, Maag is pleased with the larger gallery space at The Reach, which also happens to be closer to her home in the Fraser Valley.
“Conservatory“ invites the viewer inside a 9 foot high dome made with a collapsible steel structure. Maag glued doilies on to fabric panels and attached the panels to the structure with magnets. Viewers can marvel at the intricate designs of more than 700 doilies, illuminated by exterior lights, and contemplate the relationship between the phenomenal diversity of nature and human creativity.
Domes can be sacred places, Maag says, and are like a scientific observatory. “I am conserving the doilies, so the name “Conservatory” came to mind,” she also explains.
Maag’s second installation, “Taxonomy” consists of 146 doilies, captured in a unique type of print known as cyanotypes. Each print is named and assembled on the gallery wall like a graph. Maag’s method is loosely based on the principles of taxonomy, a hierarchical way of ordering plants and animals used by scientists.
Maag’s invented categories and two-part names for each doily, labeled in Latin, are based on the doilies` patterns of stars, flowers and spirals. “By giving a scientific name (to the doilies), it gives an opportunity to look at women’s work in different ways,“ Maag says. “Science carries weight. It’s legitimate.“
Her use of cyanotypes, developed in the early days of photography, also fits with her themes. The process was originally used in the 1840s by British botanist Anna Atkins to illustrate botanical specimens.
Maag argues the textile design work by women has traditionally involved mathematical complexities. She also believes some patterns may get worked out unintentionally. “It’s as though they are subconsciously creating patterns,” she says of women who make doilies, “that turn out to be an atomic symbol.”
“I hope people see the wonder and slow down,” Maag says of her exhibit’s intent. “There’s lots of wonder to observe out there.”

Brenna Maag’s exhibit “Observation of Wonder” is showing April 18 to June 30, 2013 at The Reach Gallery, Abbotsford, BC

Reprinted from Galleries West magazine, summer 2013


September 6, 2012

by Janet Nicol

1-200 East 20 Ave, Vancouver, British Columbia, V5V 1M1
September 6 to 29, 2012
On Main Gallery, Vancouver

Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak have been collaborating on video, performance and photographic work since 1983. With The Long Time, the artistic pair bring together work created over the past ten years. They say their goal is to “engage the viewer and ask questions.” Becoming is a major video installation that captures the evolution of the urban environments of Toronto, Vancouver and Berlin. “It’s an observation of the continuing urban architecture,” Tomczak says. “We look at old buildings against new towers.” Steele adds that they wanted to “create a dialogue between the old and the new.” A second video installation, Before I Wake, turns the camera on the artists. “We’re hypnotized as part of the study,” Steele says of the self-portraits. The final piece is called The Miniatures, a series of videos installed in small frames. Images of nature are juxtaposed with the text of protest slogans. A new photo-text series, ….bump in the night, will also be on public display at the Broadway and Cambie Skytrain station in Vancouver. The artists asked young people on the verge of leaving school at Vancouver’s Native Education College, “what are you afraid of?” — rather than the more frequently asked question, “what are you looking forward to?” Asking the right question led to intriguing results.

Reprinted from Galleries West magazine, Fall/Winter, 2012

Kesu’: The Art and Life of Doug Cranmer

May 6, 2012

A retrospective exhibit – March 7 to September 3, 2012 Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver

by Janet Nicol

Northwest coast carver and artist Doug Cranmer shunned the limelight in his lifetime (he died in 2006), but now a retrospective exhibition at Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology shines a bright light on a collection of his works known as indigenous modern. “It was all about the process,” says curator Dr. Jennifer Kramer. “He was always trying new things. In his work, traditional and contemporary merged without his losing a sense of self.” Kesu’, the title of the show, means “wealth being carved.” Doug Cranmer was given the name by his Kwakwaka’wakw parents when he was a child growing up in Alert Bay. “His family saw him being carved to be a noble person,” Kramer says.

Kesu’ captures the spirit of an artist who would have rather remained elusive. “He hated to be labelled,” Kramer says. He didn’t want to be called a ‘master carver’ if it meant there was nothing new to try. “He wasn’t going to be able to ‘play’ if he was a ‘master’,” she adds.

While Cranmer took on the traditional leadership duties expected of him, he also worked as a fisherman and logger, and in the late 1950s, he met artist Mungo Martin, who showed him how to carve totem poles. Soon after, he was hired by Haida artist Bill Reid and worked with other carvers on the Haida houses and totem poles for the Museum of Anthropology. His life as a full-time artist had begun. Cranmer stayed on in Vancouver, and became very much part of the art scene in the 1960s and 1970s, creating works in several media and establishing The Talking Stick, the first Native-owned gallery in Canada in 1962, which he ran for six years.

Cranmer’s art sold across Canada and internationally but he wasn’t looking for fame and fortune. “Doug Cranmer was part of the Northwest coast renaissance at the same time as Bill Reid, but he wasn’t interested in selling himself,” Kramer says. “He wasn’t into pleasing others. He followed his own internal focus.”

There are 105 pieces of Cranmer’s work in the MOA exhibition, including carvings, paintings, jewellery, prints on burlap and abstract paintings on mahogany. In fact, Cranmer pioneered abstract and non-figurative paintings using Northwest Coast ovoids and U-shapes. He taught and inspired a generation of First Nations artists, and 20 of these artists’ pieces are also part of the retrospective. In 1996 Cranmer left Vancouver to return ‘home’ to Alert Bay. He was still teaching in the island town’s carving shed in the days before he died.

The show centres on a canoe and paddles surrounded by undersea creatures, carved by Cranmer in 1970. “His work is spare, refined, elegant and simple,” Kramer says of the work. “There’s also a painting of a canoe which is abstract,” she adds. “He was using geometric shapes to show a canoe from every perspective,” she says of an abstract painting of a canoe. “I put this next to the carved canoe, so people can look at Doug’s work from many perspectives too. He can’t be summed up.”

Audio elements in the show include interviews with the artist, the sound of chainsaws — a tool he relished, jazz music, which he loved to listen to and the sound of laughter, representing Cranmer’s sharp wit. It also includes details of his life and personality in family photographs — Cranmer’s widow and sister worked closely with the curator. “I didn’t know Doug Cranmer personally,” Kramer says. “But I spoke to over 50 people who knew Doug.”

Reprinted from Galleries West magazine, Summer 2012

Also check out my book review of Jennifer Kramer’s “Kesu’: The Art and Life of Doug Cranmer” in British Columbia History, Fall, 2012.