Archive for March, 2020

You’ll enter into Gallery 1 on a snowy March day and think you’ve been dunked into a lovely multi-coloured pot of paint. This is Brigitte Bere’s exhibit, The Imaginarium. Bere has exhibited her work for over twenty years, and her art has been sold to various clients across North America and Europe. She works from a wide variety of sources of inspiration and reference materials. As she herself says, she tends to “paint from the heart, rather than the head.” Bere uses many mediums, including acrylic, watercolour, encaustic, callography (print making), pastel, felting, sculpture, high relief works, acrylic collage, acrylic ink, graphite, and alcohol ink. The vibrancy of the colours, when you walk in, sort of makes you make a little circle around yourself with your feet as you turn. It’s a bit of a slow twirl, really, to take in all the beauty. It can all be that lovely and eye catching, especially on a grey winter afternoon.


The felted pieces of Manitoulin are the ones that first drew me in. I’ve loved Manitoulin since I was a girl, when my parents used to rent a camp on the edge of Lake Mindemoya for one week every August. That was our summer holiday, and we swam and went fishing, hiked through meadows full of wildflowers and cows, and climbed all over the split rail fences. Show me a Manitoulin field and I get a bit teary eyed right away. The three felted pieces, “Manitoulin Landscape,” “Quilted Landscape–Railway Tracks,” and “Manitoulin Shores,” are evocative of the Island’s raw and magical natural beauty.


Bere had me, though, with two of her more ethereal pieces. “Beltaine Celtic Rite of Passage” made me think of a day I spent hiking in Caherconnell, an ancient stone ring fort on the Burren, in Co. Clare, Ireland, a year and a half ago. Walking there, touching the stones, I could imagine people like the ones she has presented in this painting.


Further along, you can’t help but smile at the mermaid-like quality of Bere’s “The Diver,” which makes you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a sighting where you hadn’t been expected in the first place. Here is someone who is busy diving, her eyes focused on the depths rather than on the shallows, not minding that you’re trying to see if she really has a tail, or if she’s just a human woman diving for pearls. The suggestion is that she’s a supernatural being, someone with a purpose and power that we may or may not be able to divine.

IMG_4427.jpg“Floating Dreams No. 4” is intriguing because it takes up a large part of an end wall of Gallery 1. You can’t miss it. It feels as if its on fire with colour, and so you have to stand in front of it and wonder what’s happened to this woman. She looks as if she is asleep, or resting, but also feels to be defeated by something bigger than she can articulate. Her body becomes a part of the landscape, which I found interesting, given that the exhibit in Gallery 2 is all about how we view and interact with landscape and ecosystems. IMG_4432.jpg

“21 Pillows,” by Cheryl Wilson-Smith, was organized and curated by the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, with assistance from the Ontario Arts Council (OAC). Wilson-Smith wants you to interact with her exhibit, placing a little bucket of stones near the entrance with a sign that invites you to place a rock somewhere within the space, on one of the burlap pillows. It’s a bit like when actors break that fourth wall in theatre, when they walk into the audience or pull someone up on stage. You feel as if you might be stopped, as if someone might scold you or slap your hand, if you take a rock and then place it somewhere you maybe ought not to. But then you look up to see this…and all bets are off.

IMG_4450.jpgThe exhibit is lit to simulate the time of day around dusk, and there is the sound of ravens calling. It’s beautiful, really, to sit there on the rustic bench and listen to the ravens while you ponder the various patterns of stones. All of them, all 10,000 pieces, are glass pieces but tend to look like actual stones. It took Wilson-Smith two years to create all of the glass ‘stones’, which are reminiscent of the granite of the Canadian Shield near her home in Red Lake, Ontario.

For a poet who likes to hike, and who has piles of rocks in her home, well, this was a very tempting exhibit. Your eyes are caught by the shimmer and gloss of some of the glass pieces, but then are drawn again to the rough layers that other ‘rocks’ seem to have. Each pillow has a different ‘thing’ going on. (The gallery attendant, Tad, told me later that he takes photos at the end of each day, just to see how visitors to the gallery have shifted the patterns or organizations of the stones.) IMG_4440.jpg

IMG_4438.jpgIMG_4449.jpgIMG_4439.jpgIMG_4443.jpgObviously, this is my requisite foot selfie. Had to go in here somewhere…

While I loved the riot of colour and texture of Brigitte Bere’s exhibit, my rock hound collector’s heart (and hands!) loved the ability to get right in with the pillows and ‘rocks’ in Gallery 2. It’s a sensual experience when you can pick up handmade stones and hold them in the palm of your hand, moving them from one place to another. What Wilson-Smith has said before, in interviews, is this: “When you pick up a layered piece, it’s got another piece of glass inside that will rattle, and sound like breaking glass. I’m hoping that people will just help move the landscape, because we all affect the environment, so how can we do it in this room?” She hopes, as an artist, that everyone who interacts with the exhibit will realize that they all “affect the environment and change it. For a long time, I blamed big business and corporate for our environmental problems. And, just recently, realized that it’s not just their fault. We’re allowing it, we’re changing it too.”

These are big messages that Wilson-Smith conveys in what seems to be a minimalist sort of presentation, but if you take some time at the gallery on your own, or with someone else who can sit next to you quietly, you’ll listen to the ravens, and notice the light, and think about how we are in the natural world. Interestingly, I couldn’t bear to alter the patterns of stones on the various pillows. I thought each pillow was fascinating. Some stones were grouped according to colour or shape, whereas others were arranged in patterns. Aren’t we all looking for pattern and meaning in our lives? I kept thinking this as I walked around the gallery, and as I sat quietly on the bench, watching the way the light hit the rocks.

My grandmother used to collect stones when she was on road trips. She’d go down to the shores of lakes around Northern Ontario and pick up little stones. Then, she’d put them in a glass bowl that sat–for most of my life–on the sill of the kitchen window above her sink. I thought of her today, this afternoon. There I was, sitting in a dimly lit gallery on John Street, and there her house was, down on Wembley Drive, with someone else living in it. All of that made me think of how time passes, and of how people are only here for a short while, and of how my Gram Ennis seemed to gather those stones as ways to keep memories of times spent with people she loved. Maybe that’s why I pile little bunches of rocks around my house. They remind me of her…in the loveliest of ways.

Anyway: Sudbury people should go see these two exhibits soon. They run until Sunday, March 22 at the Art Gallery of Sudbury. Be sure to just buy a membership. It’s really inexpensive, and it is such a good way of saying you love and support arts and culture initiatives in Greater Sudbury, and in the Northeast as well.



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