Delve into the artistic process at Sidney show

Bench people stories, archeological paintings among the offerings at April arts show at Sidney’s Tulista Art Centre.

Jean Sonmor constructs her paintings in layers like archeological digs, she says, starting from deep in the earth and working up to the stones and leaves scattered on the surface.

Jean Sonmor constructs her paintings in layers like archeological digs, she says, starting from deep in the earth and working up to the stones and leaves scattered on the surface.

All through downtown Sidney, the collection of sculpted characters that adorn the benches charm tourists and residents alike with their sparkling eyes and animated expressions. They seem poised to blink, give themselves a little shake and strike up a conversation.

Using real people as models, artist Nathan Scott imbues his sculptures with a life of their own and next month, the artist will tell their stories and answer the public’s questions at the upcoming A Tapestry of Island Arts show and sale at the Tulista Art Centre.

That uncanny lifelike quality comes shining through for good reason; the Old Man By the Sea on Bevan Wharf is Scott’s own father. Old Salty gazing up at the sky on Beacon is his father-in-law. Scott’s ‘Bench People’ have become a fixture in the Town of Sidney, something that’s both amazed and thrilled the artist.

“Every day since 1989, there’s been flowers in my dad’s hands. Someone keeps taking up the torch,” he says.

“People interact with them. It’s art that people can associate with. If it’s an old lady on a bench, you can go sit with her.”

Scott, who has worked as an aircraft engineer, welder’s assistant, and gold miner in the Yukon, never even considered art as a career.

“I’m colourblind. And I dropped out of Grade 8 art because I never wanted to be a flaky artist on welfare,” he laughs.

Getting his hands on clay, however, was a different story altogether.

“It’s like black and white,” says Scott.

He took up sculpting 17 years ago, and hasn’t looked back.

A Tapestry of Island Arts is Scott’s first show at the Tulista Art Centre.

“They’re all very gifted people,” he says of his fellow artists. “I believe it’s going to be a very exciting show. We’re going to complement each other.”

Though most of the show’s featured artists are well-established in Victoria, Jean E. Sonmor is a relative newcomer to the Peninsula, having only moved here last October from a small town in Saskatchewan.

Her most recent body of acrylic paintings are portraits of sections of the earth, as though one had suddenly stopped on a walk and looked down.

For Sonmor, there is purpose behind every choice she makes in her art, including her predilection for square canvases.

“When I first started painting this body of work, of the earth, the inspiration came from digging a new vegetable garden,” she says. “We had to remove the sod and clay to replace it with soil, and doing a two-foot square was comfortable.”

“I had time to observe what was going on in the ground. And when I did my first painting, it was done just remembering these layers of earth that I removed for this garden, and the two-foot square was just so natural.”

There’s a heady sense of deliberation to her work that comes through in the final product. Many are rich with weaving and circular themes, melded with the intrinsic chaos of nature, and hints of imposed structure.

Such as her piece In Memory, with its scattering of stones and pebbles amongst strewn feathers and grasses — the eye naturally follows the stones in curving patterns, lending a grounding effect to the upheaval from the bottom of the canvas.

“I have spent a lot of time observing small stones on the ground and photographing their patterns, so I can understand them,” says Sonmor. “I have been a person who’s looked down most of my life … as though I were an archeologist. I always want to know what’s underneath, what’s buried there.”

It’s that curiosity that led her to her particular style of painting.

Echoing the earthen layers she loves so much, Sonmor’s finished paintings are made up of many separate layers, each crafted with care and detail, and then painted over.

Depth In The Shadows is one of the best illustrative examples of her technique.

Below the vibrant seaweeds and blending in with the deep ocean tones are shadowed bones and teeth. In another, larger, piece, Sonmor reveals there is a complete human skeleton, lying in burial position, hidden beneath the top layers.

“Often we don’t think of what’s underneath. In a sense, it’s our human experience,” she says of her process. “We don’t see underneath the layers of so many things, and the earth is just one example of that.

“There are so many things that are looked at just on the surface, and we’re not invited to go very deep in our culture.”

Being influenced by her natural surroundings, Sonmor is excited to see how her perspectives and paintings change living out on the Peninsula.

“I feel like I’m in a big candy store,” she laughs.

She’s equally excited to dip her foot into the artistic community with A Tapestry of Island Arts.

“This is one of the best artist-led groups that I’ve ever come into contact with,” she says. “I’m looking forward to getting to know them better.”

A Tapestry of Island Arts showcases a wide variety of artists in both mediums and experience, and is the first time this group is coming together.

As well as Scott and Sonmor, the show features local artists Tobias Tomlinson (silver, weaving, jewelry), Heather Corbitt (fabric art and wearables), Debbie Hunt (silver and gold jewelry), Kit McDonald (pottery), Gera Scott-Chandler (polymer clay), Tim Soutar (woodworking) and Ruth Steinfatt (watercolour and collage).

The grand opening event is Tuesday, April 7 at the Tulista Art Centre from 5 to 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome to come and talk to the artists, watch demonstrations and ask questions about the creative process.

The art show and sale runs from April 7 to 13, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, at the Tulista Art Centre, 9565 Fifth Street in Sidney.

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