Artists on their creative
drive and inspiration
Introducing six participants in the 2019 Mount Royal Cemetery Art Exhibition
By Carmen J. Michaud
It was a time to breathe. Having escaped a toxic work environment and seeking new employment, I found myself with time to pursue painting. A lost love. I had put away paintbrushes many years before but had, from time to time, bought paints and brushes, sometimes on travels. It was the perfect time to start again.
One day in a local paper I saw a call to artists for an art exhibition at the Mount Royal Cemetery. It seemed an odd place, and a wonderful opportunity. I submitted some photos of my work and was accepted.
The organizers do all they can to make your displays and your days a pleasure. Everyone is warm and welcoming. There is a sense of community.
The first day was a bit intimidating. Entering a new environment, particularly in a funeral complex, where some people seemed very familiar with one another, I was feeling a bit out of place. It did not take long, however, for a few artists to strike up conversations and offer help – where to put your bag, how to hang your works, where the washrooms were.
That was five years ago. I return time and again. The atmosphere is inviting. There is a great quality and diversity to the art, and the artists. There is a fluctuation in the number of artists. New people join. Some artists who have previously shown, return. The organizers do all they can to make your displays and your days a pleasure. Everyone is warm and welcoming. There is a sense of community.
There are prizes given. It is a juried exhibition. This feels secondary. Everyone wishes everyone well.
I asked a few of the artists two questions:
What drives your creativity?
What inspires you to capture an image?
One day, after I had an operation to remove breast cancer, my daughter-in-law said to me, “Why are you lying under a tree when you could be doing something?” Then she told me about her friend’s mother who joined a dragon boat for exercise. “I’ll do it!” I decided. Well, that’s what I did. In 1999, joining a breast cancer boat escalade, I met three other women in the same situation and the four of us became The Power of The Dragon. We advertised in the paper and soon had twenty paddlers and formed the team, Power of the Dragon for Cancer Survivors and Caregivers. It is 2019 and the team is still paddling with the Power of the Dragon. We are proud. I am proud.
I don’t know what drives me to paint. I have been painting since I was about 8 years old. I studied with Arthur Lismer. I have often said to myself “it is enough” but then I see, hear, imagine something and I start again. At 89, I have now stopped fighting it and I paint all the time.
When I was younger, I used to go to the discos and dance… uniquely by the vibration, because I am deaf.
From childhood, I always loved to draw and colour. I love to express myself through colour.
Sharron M. Gallagher
I almost drowned when I was 6. My brave sister had found a branch and was trying to pull me out. My uncle arrived to rescue me as I was going under for the third time. I had hot coffee at my grandmother’s that day.
Another time, I and two others were lost in the deep woods without food or a map, in the late afternoon on a bitterly cold winter day. Our party had split up to try out other trails in a potential new centre for my cross-country ski club. A full day of skiing in, I was cold and worried about the darkness that was falling on unknown and poorly marked trails in relatively uninhabited terrain. After several hours of chilling temperatures, we began looking for shelters where we could stay the night. In the dark, exhausted and shivering, we finally found the chalet.
Ironically I am happiest surrounded by water, trees, snow. I love moss and mushrooms and micro-things, like raindrops, fireflies and sprouts. All these things are magical to me. I love the wonder and magic I feel in nature and with some people.
I am driven by a need to express myself – my emotions, my passions, my dreams, my worries about the environment. I love colours found in nature.
Jackie Rae Wloski
Every year in high school I entered the Arts & Literature Festival. Winning first place one year, (I had won a prize at least twice) I was asked to appear on a TV Show with the winners of other categories. Magic Tom, I believe it was. This was back in the early-mid 1960s. I remember exactly what I wore, my favourite wool jumper, turquoise, but I don’t remember the interview. This was before the day of being able to get a tape of the show, so I only have my memories.
My creativity is driven by seeing what is around me, focusing in on what I find interesting and having the composition fall into place. I can get really excited by the many possibilities that appear. Having a camera at the ready makes using these finds a definite possibility. After going up the staircase in the MMFA, The Bourgie Pavilion, I was suddenly struck by what was in front of my eyes and this led to a series of paintings. This Eureka moment. Click! Click! Click!
Something not many people know. At age 5, thoroughly indoctrinated at kindergarten in Central Siberia, I happily recited Russian revolution songs and gathered flowers for Stalin, whom we were taught to worship. At age 13, in a different country (the fourth for me at that time, more would follow) I wanted to become an artist, but my father said, “No future in it,” and cancelled my painting and sculpture lessons. So I became a mathematician, and enjoyed a long career (fifty years or so!) of teaching at colleges and universities. Now, in Chapter Two, I returned to my artistic activity, trying to catch up and learn as much as I can.
People talk about “left” and “right” brain, and ask how does math go with art? To me, they are actually totally complementary. Both can be quite beautiful, and, sometimes, are quite frustrating.
People’s faces fascinate me. I love to draw and paint portraits, or an intimate scene with a particular mood, reminiscent of a Checkhov play – a corner in a garden, an interior, or a still life inviting the observer to come in.
I was born in the Far East and I am a Japanese concentration camp survivor. My father was deployed with the British diplomatic corp. After the war years, however, I have fond childhood memories of the incredible cultural experiences and exchanges living overseas gave me.
Curiosity definitely drives my creativity! Movement and colour inspires me to capture an image. I believe my life experiences and travels definitely contribute to how I express my creativity. Movement and colour for me are expressions of life and love!
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And then there is Andrew Sarrasin, who along with his wife Rae, his son Chad, and a terrific team, put the show together.
Having envisaged and executed this exhibition, is there anything that has surprised you?
In 2002, once decided that the Mount Royal Cemetery would hold this exhibit to celebrate its 150th anniversary, we began questioning ourselves as to what were we thinking? How on earth do we organise an art exhibition? Would artists even want to participate in an exhibition at a Funeral Complex? We had so many other questions with no precedent or model to follow, just questions. Would it be a flop? How could we even measure success?
To this day we still find it hard to believe how this has grown from an unknown event back in 2002, run by people who knew nothing about hosting an art exhibition, to become a destination for local artists, with art associations and local interest groups wanting to collaborate with us. In our wildest imagination we could never have dreamed that we would create such successful and fun annual exhibitions, or that we would meet countless interesting, inspirational and kind people, or attract so many talented artists, musicians and floral designers, all while gaining the recognition of the public, our management and staff, as well as volunteers, visitors and the Media.
‘… we still find it hard to believe how this has grown from an unknown event back in 2002, run by people who knew nothing about hosting an art exhibition, to become a destination for local artists…’
Through my journey in Funeral Service to what I am doing now, I have to say that the most gratifying part has always been meeting the people who have crossed my path along the way; people teach us the value of helping others and open our eyes to possibilities we could otherwise never imagine and truly make us what we are today.
Feature image: courtesy of the Mount Royal Cemetery Complex
Portraits: Carmen Michaud, except Andrew Sarrasin, courtesy of the Mount Royal Cemetery Complex
Read also: other articles by Carmen Michaud
Carmen J. Michaud likes to write (and paint) and is majoring in Curiosity.