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Review

Okanagan Artists in their Studios

By Patricia Ainslie

October 21, 2015

Review By Maria Tippett

It is often said that the images that come to mind when thinking or writing about the cultural history of British Columbia are the province’s varied landscape and the art of the First Nations people. One look at Patricia Ainslie’s Okanagan Artists in their Studios tells a different story. Among the thirteen artists featured in this book are three landscape painters: Joice M. Hall, David Alexander, and Ann Kipling. And there is one sculptor, Byron Johnson, whose installations comprise cast-off farm implements. Yet these artists are in the minority. While Bryan Ryley’s studio might be surrounded by dense woods, the source of his stunning non-objective paintings and collages comes from within: “ . . . I am searching for a language wherein perceptual change is activated through a constant flux of elements from one edge of the painting to the other . . .’ (26). Jock Hildebrand’s bronze and stone sculptures, among which are Dancing Pedestrians (2001), speak to the human form rather than to the landscape. And while photographer Fern Helfand might have turned her camera to clear-cut logging in West Kelowna, it is in her photographs and digital montages of Inner Mongolia, Las Vegas, and Paris where she finds her “voice” as a photographer.

So why did Patricia Ainslie choose to approach the artists featured in her book through their studios? Was she inspired by Robert Amos’s Artists in their Studios, Where Art Is Born  (TouchWood, 2007)? Did this approach offer the only way of coming to grips with the mélange of styles and subject matter of her chosen artists? Or did the author feel that viewing artists’ studios was “user-friendly” in that it offered her readers a segue into the sometimes difficult-to-understand contemporary art of the twenty-first century?

Ainslie gives her own view. “Artists surround themselves with objects and materials that are an intrinsic part of their ideas, thought processes and work” (7) and, she continues, they “are the sanctuaries that inspire their work” (8). The spaces featured in Okanagan Artists in their Studios are as different as the artists. Julie Oakes’ studio on the outskirts of Vernon is high-walled and pristine. The arched stained-glass windows and vaulted ceiling of Jim Kalnin’s studio-home leaves no doubt that this space was once St. Mary’s Anglican Church. On the other hand, there is little romance in Fern Helfand’s multi-screen computer-printer dominated studio. Only David Alexander’s studio fulfills the cliché of what we think an artist’s studio should look like: splattered paint dishes and brushes, rolls of canvases, and a cabinet stocked with art books. In the midst of this apparent chaos stands the artist looking at his work.

Patricia Ainslie presents these Interior images to us through the eyes of her photographer, Glenna Turnbull, who played no small role is shaping this beautifully presented and informative look at artists and their studios in the Okanagan.

Okanagan Artists in their Studios
Patricia Ainslie
Calgary: Frontenac House, 2013 208 pages. 202 photographic images $50.00 cloth