At first glance, the work of West of Main Art Walk participants Shira Gold and Crissy Arseneau could not be more different.
Gold’s moody photographs capture West Coast seascapes and skeletal trees in desaturated, greyish tones. Arseneau’s painted collages conjure colourful worlds, with stylized shapes drawn from nature, cities, and the cosmos.
But when you see their pieces side by side, as they will hang in this year’s open studio and sale on Saturday and Sunday (May 11 and 12), you immediately see what connects the artists. Together, they’ll be showing with abstract painter Amy Stewart at her Granville Island studio (1249 Cartwright Street).
“I think people are surprised how our work complements each other and hangs nicely on a wall together,” Gold says, talking to the Straight over speakerphone with her friend and colleague. “One obvious thing would be that there’s a lot of negative space and room to breathe. And there are a lot of different interpretations you can get from our naturescapes.”
“There’s contemplation in all of our work,” Arseneau adds. “It’s taking a moment to look at things and think about things. It gives the viewer a place to rest for a while.”
For Gold, exploring nature and its emotional effects has come later in life. Although she’s a born-and-bred Vancouverite, it’s only in the last 10 years or so that she’s discovered the photographic possibilities of landscapes and seascapes.
“I’ve discovered that nature invokes some message in me,” she says. “I see myself and my feelings in nature. I venture out oftentimes without a very specific destination. I’m a very emotional person and I search for things that invoke something inside of me; that could be a tree losing petals or a bird that has a hesitant landing. And it conjures up feelings and memories.”
In the case of her deeply moving series “Good Grief”, well-represented in the Art Walk, the images express the different stages she went through after the loss of her mother. The initial pieces express shock through flowering trees standing stark and alone, losing their blooms and bereft of colour.
“I felt I was suffocating. That’s what happens when your life source is taken away,” she explains.
From there she travels through vulnerability, with images of weeping willows and leafless trees amid mist. Later photographs find renewed hope, with flocks of birds rising from the shifting ocean. “They speak to the idea that you carry your loved ones with you no matter where you venture,” Gold says. “Especially if you were a caregiver for several years, as I was, there’s also new freedom and opportunity. It’s the loosening of the grip of grief.”
Elsewhere, her almost painterly new photo series “Sea Swept” finds the dramatic play of light and dark in the West Coast’s misty skies—capturing those highly metaphorical moments when sun rays suddenly cut through roiling black clouds.
Clouds, too, make a regular appearance in Arseneau’s collages—in fact, one of the series at the Art Walk is called “Cloud City”, inspired by the reflections of the floating puffs in the glass towers that fill Vancouver. In it, she plays with rounded, organic forms—in shades of not just silvery grey, but subtle sunset and sunrise hues like peachy pink and lavender—against the rectangular, geometric lines of “windows”.
“Living in Vancouver, our sky is so beautiful,” says Arseneau, who gets inspiration on jaunts outside before coming back to her studio to work on a more abstract and stripped-to-its-essence interpretation. “This rainy city gets a bad rap; that’s what makes it beautiful here. And the fact that we’re a city of glass sometimes gets a bad rap too.”
Arseneau’s complex process begins with watercolour paints, as she plays with hues on paper. She then uses an X-Acto knife to meticulously cut her shapes out of those coloured sheets, layering and arranging the pieces, photographing them as she experiments so she can consider them before gluing them into place.
“I have issues with commitment,” she says with a laugh. “Collage is an interesting thing: I have the chance to play and not commit immediately. Then when I glue them they become partners forever.
“Behind each cloud form is another cloud form; there can be as many as 10 layers,” she adds of her small-scale works.
Although Arseneau’s collages are sometimes described on first glance as simplistic, Gold observes they’re the opposite, due to the craftsmanship and carefully rendered forms.
Both formally and thematically, then, these artists working in decidedly different media create work that invites a similar reflection. But it turns out they have one more thing in common: they’re both showing at the West of Main Art Walk for the first time. They see it as an accessible way for the public to scope out the work of more than 60 artists, and to get to know stories and processes like their own.
“Even as an artist I’m intimidated by going into a gallery, and this feels more relatable,” Gold says of the two-day open-studio event.
Adds Arseneau: “There’s something very nice about the casual nature of this and the community nature of it. You can feel very comfortable coming into this situation, and you can come in without needing to know a lot about art.”
The West of Main Art Walk opens with a preview gala and exhibition at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Thursday (May 9), with the open studios happening Saturday and Sunday (May 11 and 12) from Point Grey to Main Street, and from Granville Island to 41st Avenue.