The Okanagan is home to a remarkable concentration of contemporary artists with national reputations and it is the focus of the Penticton Art Gallery’s newest exhibition.
Opening in the main gallery the exhibition is guest curated by Patricia Ainslie whose latest book Okanagan Artists In Their Studios, which accompanies the show.
Ainslie worked at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alta. as the curator of art for more than 25 years. She moved to the Okanagan and found a number of well recognized artists who live in the Valley.
“I started looking at art when I came here at the galleries and dealers and the more I looked the more I realized there was a very interesting group of artists here who were quite extraordinary,” she said. “I selected the artists who I thought made an extraordinary contribution to the arts of Canada that happen to live here.”
Ainslie met with many artists in their studios to talk about their life and work which she then wrote about in her book. This includes Daphne Odjig, a Governor General’s Award winner and driving force behind the Indian Group of Seven. The Ontario born artist, who was raised on the Wikwemikong unceded Indian Reserve, lived in Penticton for about 15 years until she recently re-located to Kelowna.
“It was interesting because it was the first time I had met her and she is utterly charming. She has the most beautiful face and she smiled a lot,” said Ainslie. “Quite often artists are not so interested in talking about themselves with the people who come to see them they are more interested in talking about their work. Daphne asked me a lot about myself and it was very interesting.”
Byron Johnston is Okanagan artist rooted in the area that Ainslie profiled. She said his heritage is integral to his vision and his passion for the outdoors gives place for a particular meaning for his life and work. Ainslie said he uses a wide range of natural cast-off farming and industrial materials as well as manufactured materials in three-dimensional installations, which are less about sculptural objects and more about the public’s participation and interaction with his work.
Some of the artists featured in the book have lived most of their lives in the valley and have taken their inspiration from the Okanagan, but their range of media, style and intention is diverse said Ainslie. She believes the pace of life the Okanagan offers is conducive for the time and space the artists need to develop their ideas.
“Many artists do not think about a particular environment as a basis for their art. Though the region is conducive to making art, it is not a direct reflect of their inspiration. They draw from culture rather than nature,” said Ainslie.
Ainslie’s book, which she worked on for three years, features 13 senior professional Canadian artists with well-established careers who now live and work in the Okanagan Valley. All of which have made a contribution to the development of the visual arts in Canada far beyond the Okanagan through their own work, teaching, mentoring younger artists and exhibiting their work. All have also had solo exhibitions or been included in exhibitions in public galleries across Canada and internationally. Ainslie is a fan of each and everyone, judging from her response if she had a favourite.
“All 13,” she said followed by a laugh. “I like all their work. I don’t have a favourite piece because I am an art historian; I appreciate a whole wide range of things.”
Reception and art gallery members opening for Okanagan Artists In Their Studios is on Friday with an exhibition walk and talk on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Ainslie said she will be giving a lecture about the artists in her book and why she decided to write it.