touching the sky
How can an artwork capture the dynamic experience of space? What does the smell of rain look like in a painting? Or our dream experiences in relationship to our waking experiences? Even in a moment when the landscape appears still, there is tons of activity happening that cannot be captured in a single frame—from the intricate and complex patterns of weather and climate to the buzzing of cellular exchanges on a micro level. The landscape is alive, and fluctuating—and so is our own journey through it. As we move through the world, we experience a wonderful abundance of senses, thoughts, and feelings, as our bodies respond to, absorb, and contribute to our surroundings. For millennia, artists have imaginatively worked to translate these embodied experiences, including phenomena that extend beyond the visual senses like smell, touch, emotion, spirituality, sound, and time. Balancing between abstract marking and painterly realism, Touching the Sky features three artists based in the Peace Region—Angela Fehr, Esther Hoflick, and Elizabeth Hutchinson—whose work is rooted in exploring these embodied experiences and our ability to represent them through art.
Each of the artworks in Touching the Sky hover between our ability to represent space, and our environment’s profound shaping of our daily experiences. As Elizabeth Hutchinson writes, “More than a collection of images, they are a gathering of memories that remind us of the poetic potential of our collective emotional relationship to the landscape.”
Curated by Robin Lynch
Former Curator/Manager of Travelling Exhibitions Northwest
Feature image: Elizabeth Hutchinson, Nostalgia Series, 2022, Mixed media on paper, Collection of the Artist
Elizabeth Hutchinson is a professional artist and arts integration educator who lives and works in Grande Prairie, Alberta. She is passionate about how we form relationships with the living world. She approaches the role of artist and educator in a similar manner, led by curiosity and a deep enchantment with the marvels of nature. She advocates for the myriad of gifts that come from creating space for creativity, nature, and play in our lives. In line with a love of play, the artist enjoys a variety of mediums, believing they are all tools to communicate your personal visual language. She divides her time between slow and thoughtful oil paintings and visceral mixed media works combining watercolor and soft pastel.
‘I love the organic surprises that happen with watercolor. You co-create with gravity and chance. The medium demands you drop your plan and tune in to opportunities as they present themselves, letting your intuition lead. It is a wonderful middle ground between realism and abstraction, memory and imagination.’
Hutchinson is represented by the Grant Berg Gallery. Her work has been shown in group and solo shows in Alberta, BC, and New Brunswick, with collectors across Canada and the US. She was a featured artist in the December issue of Arabella Magazine. She holds a BFA from Mount Allison University and a BEd from the University of Maine and Presque Isle. Hutchinson is an active juried member of the FCA and an executive member of the PRFCA. She loves to learn and has benefited with gratitude from workshops and courses with the Grand Central Atelier (NY), Jean Pederson, Mark Heine, Charles Miano, Edward Povey, Kathleen Speranza, Susan Woolgar, and more.
“I am fascinated by the overlap between our ecological memories and our inner narratives. Once, I played in the woods, chased streams, and caught water skippers by following their shadows. Small children understand what treasure is. They fill their pockets with stones and feathers. They pull wildflowers for the ones they love. Children connect with nature effortlessly, with no need for anyone to teach them. There is a hidden narrative I was told somewhere along the way, that nature is a pristine ‘other’ that only thrives when I am not near. I want to tell our children a different truth. That nature thrives inside them and the wind longs for them to dance. An entire world ebbs and flows in response to our movement. We are part of a symbiotic web where all of our actions have repercussions for the pulse of life around us. The rocks at our feet hold our memories. No wonder they are treasures collected by little hands. The sublime sits unnoticed in our daily lives and waits for us to hold our breath in wonder.
My images in ‘Touching the Sky’ are expressive works that draw on more than the immediate and visual. They explore our relationship with place and concepts of belonging. They become recollections of sensation; the feeling of wind, the rustle of long grass, the smell of earth. I am amazed at how a specific hue of green or the angle of a horizon line can instantly connect a viewer to their own experiences. More than a collection of images, they are a gathering of memories that remind us of the poetic potential of our collective emotional relationship to the landscape.”
Moving from her childhood home, a rural community north of Peterborough, Ontario, Esther Hoflick completed her B.A. Honours in Studio Arts from the University of Guelph in 2007 – with a minor in English Literature. In 2012, the artist moved to Montreal where she lived and worked until her MFA at the University of Ottawa, 2017-19. The artist also occasionally spends summers living in a tent in Dawson City, Yukon and currently, is Chair of the Department of Fine Arts at Grande Prairie Regional College in Northern Alberta (but not living in a tent).
Hoflick was the co-founder of Night Owl Contemporary, a gallery for emerging artists in Montreal, and ran The Living Art Room, a small community-based art school. She worked as curator for Artbomb Montreal, a daily auction of Canadian art, and received a grant from the Québec Jeunes Volontaires program. She has worked as a studio assistant for painters Peter Barron and Richard Hayman in Peterborough, Don Russell, in Guelph, and John Brown, in Toronto. Her work has been exhibited at Artspace, in Peterborough; the Art Gallery of Guelph; Espace Projet, in Montreal; Galerie UQO, in Gatineau, QC, and Gallery Karsh Mason in Ottawa, among others.
I am fascinated both by materials and by philosophies of matter. Specifically, I’m curious how we perceive ourselves in relation to the physical world and how these intrinsic perceptions are paralleled, metaphorically, by the act of creating visual objects.
In consequence, I’ve been thinking in terms of new materialist philosophies which are an environmentalist and feminist way to interpret the interactions between internal perceptions and the external world. Fluctuating between representation and abstraction, my artworks use the malleability of visual language to address these ambiguities of perception.
I am currently painting with an oil emulsion on plaster where the pigment and surface become inseparable, much as we are inseparable from our physical environment. I think of the paintings as objects in the world and so place the works in conversations amongst themselves and with the space around them. By filtering my own experiences of place and body through neo-materialist thought processes and the act of painting itself, images surface, hover indeterminately. The paintings reference an almost schizophrenic understanding of the rhizomatic nature of all and everything, while brooding on specific moments of intra-activity. The paint soaks into the surface, and yet is removable by sanding and scraping, thus the images are permitted to emerge, and then rebutted; subtle and surrounded by a blankness. The interpretation of image, or the hunt for it thus evokes an awareness of perception; the paintings, as objects, take over some of the control. My paintings address the inextricability of meaning, nonsense, myself, or the world, from myself, itself: from matter.
Perhaps resilience is the only option for a northern artist. Born in the Peace River region, Angela Fehr returned there to settle after spending her childhood in Ontario, the USA and Papua New Guinea. A childhood love of art led her to take her ﬁrst watercolour classes at the Dawson Creek Art Gallery, and isolation as a stay at home mum led her to reach out to communicate to other artists via YouTube and teaching watercolour lessons online.
That same resilience is what helped Angela realize that the key to creating her most authentic work came, not from ﬂawless technique, but in giving herself permission to fall in love with the painting process, regardless of outcome. Watercolour has become Angela’s way of interpreting her world, expressing her connection to the beauty of the Peace Region, and the lessons she has learned through watercolour have ﬁlled her life with meaning and signiﬁcance.
Angela lives with her husband and three teenagers on an acreage overlooking Dawson Creek, British Columbia.
As an artist, I have a calling to notice. I stand, feet rooted to the earth, eyes scanning horizon. Am I only a witness? Do I ﬁt in this place? Is there a gap between land and sky where the onlooker lives, or can an artist touch the sky and earth and knit the two together?
Nature informs both my subject and my process. As a watercolorist I marry water with color to create my work, understanding that I am working alongside a medium that must be allowed to ﬂow, to evolve and my responses are as immediate as the ﬂick of a brush. Any original intention must be released if the painting turns in a new direction, and this brings me into a relationship and intimacy with my chosen medium that is dangerously vulnerable and continually new.
Artist Talk & Workshop