Art review: Overcoming fear when pursuing life’s passions

Kayleigh Hall reviews the first solo exhibition at the 557 Artist Block, opening June 2.

  • Fri May 27th, 2016 5:00am
  • Life

Approaching Throng by Florian Maurer

Contributed by Kayleigh Hall

For the first time in Penticton, local artists Erika and Florian Maurer will exhibit their work simultaneously in a combined solo show at the 557 Artist Block on June 2. The Maurers are true explorers. Undaunted by new terrain and far off passages, the couple (now in their 60s) have consistently trekked, climbed and explored in search of the elusive meaning of life to locations including the Yukon, Italy, Romania, Chile and Nepal. Have no fear!, an exhibition curated by Vaelei Walkden-Brown, reveals the seeds of creativity that make the Maurers unique as emerging artists and citizens of the world.

“This is a dynamic couple.  They live, work and play together,” said Walkden-Brown, when asked about the significance of featuring the Maurers in her gallery’s first solo show. “Their relational symbiosis filters into their artwork and while their styles differ, it is easy to see the influence one has on another. It is a natural fit to show them together.”

Florian and Erika came to Canada in their mid-20s from Munich, Germany.

“I left Munich one day after graduation from studying architecture,” said Florian, who travelled to New Zealand then immigrated to Canada the following year. Erika joined him two years later.

They would eventually set up a homestead in Northern B.C., where the “luxury” of living in the bush was supported by a diverse number of jobs. For Florian, as a bush pilot and trail guide and for Erika, as a florist, gardener, and waitress. For both, as fishers, after the federal government opened the lower Stikine River for commercial fishing in 1979.

About her Munich upbringing Erika admits “it was a bourgeois situation: so tight, so restricted, so right angle.” Despite working for a record producer in Germany, she longed for something more in life. “I had a deep feeling to be out there and stay out there.”

Their modern Naramata residence typifies the Maurers’ ideals. Florian was awarded the Governor General’s Medal for Architecture in 2006 for the couple’s home comprised of four separate living quarters, situated around a central courtyard garden. From this commune-like escape sympathetically built within the Naramata Bench, the Maurers grow their own food in Erika’s bountiful garden and create art in studios housed within Florian’s design. Just as their home and garden provide food and shelter, so too their art allows them to grow emotionally and intellectually.

The term emerging artist is often synonymous with youth. Paradoxically, the Maurers have gravitated toward painting later in life, emerging as artists at a time when their arsenals are filled with stories to tell. Yet their abundant life experience and commitment to sustainability has supplanted formal artistic training, relying on raw talent and courage to bridge the gap.

“My whole life is self-taught, ” said Florian, who rejects the term when applied to his practice.

“I believe that we do not have free will but I must live as if I do … I don’t believe that we have made decisions. Our life has been just a stumbling along. It feels like freedom, although I am not sure it is,” said Florian, who this year started to help a small community in Nepal after almost everything was destroyed by last year’s massive earthquakes.

As with many artist couples, there are similarities and differences in their art. Florian’s work includes landscape and figurative elements inspired by extensive travels while Erika’s work is more abstract and profoundly emotive. Accordingly, Erika paints using dense, high impact primary acrylic colours often combined with other media: gold leaf, tissue paper, metal, even remnants of a wasp’s nest for texture. Florian on the other hand, methodically applies colour washes to build up the composition resulting in a study of light and shadow, translucency of tone. Erika’s paintings occupy the foreground, while Florian’s open up beyond it.

A reoccurring theme in both artists work is the pathway. In Florian’s work, he paints as a draughtsman, with pathways that lead the eye upward into large volumes of space. Erika’s work is the opposite: she paints pathways like crevasses intersecting the canvas, or roots pushing upwards breaking ground.

While Florian’s paintings deal with the built and natural environments, social commentary, philosophy and morality Erika’s art focuses on ecology, loss, love and memory.

Clearly, the Maurers live what they preach.

Sustainability in this case is not solely related to the physical realm but also the cultural realm,” Walkden-Brown said. “(The Maurers) grow local, buy local, support local, and play local. This is a path to economic sustainability that has yet to come to the forefront as much as environmental sustainability.  It is just as valid. They go hand in hand.”

Erika’s reputation as a passionate gardener is recognized in local region just as Florian’s architectural practice is respected internationally. Both are successful in their respective careers yet have carved out a prolific path as artists over the past decade, a new territory which this exhibition illuminates.