Sketchbook Journaling in Challenging Times: Everyday Matters

Last week we looked at the role sketchbook journals can play as the COVID-19 restrictions force us to look at the world around us from a different perspective. The simplest things in our daily routines and our homes can become new sources of thought and reflection about larger ideas.  Maybe it’s drawing the contents of your laundry basket as a step toward exploring the journey of a garment from raw materials to finished product, and the many unnamed hands involved that are connected to you through both the clothing and the pandemic’s global reach.

For sketchbook artist and author Danny Gregory (How to Draw Without Talent), keeping a visual journal is about ‘making everyday matter” (1).  The Art of Breakfast: a Film About Danny Gregory shows how our first meal of the day can become a contemplative still life full of colours, textures and forms, and ultimately a ritual with more meaning.

What are some objects around your home that you take for granted.  Doors?

Maybe a paper grocery bag?

How does the meaning of everyday things change in a time of crisis?  Stop and glance around your home for that overlooked object.  Try capturing the image several times, in pencil, pen, paint, coloured pencil, or whatever you have at hand.  Does your understanding of its importance evolve over time?  Are there thoughts to add to the page?  Share your favourite version on our Facebook page, and inspire others!

1. Danny Gregory. [May 3, 2020]. Making Everyday Matter.

The Meditative Aspects of Art – Part 2

John Cage and David Tudor. 1958. Musée d’art contemporain, Lyon.

John Cage was an American composer born in 1912. His masterful and highly influential piano composition 4’33 was famously performed by David Tudor in Woodstock, NY in 1952. It is a rumination on the core concepts of silence and chance operations. Over the period of his career John Cage was influenced by Zen, as well as texts like the Yi Jing. Silence was described by Cage as: “not the absence of sound but was the unintended operation of my nervous system and the circulation of my blood” (12). As I discussed above, the concept of nothing is full of potential in Eastern philosophical traditions. In the performance of 4’33, just as in Cage’s definition of silence, there is an inherent, bodily presence that surges to its own rhythms, creating chance sound arrangements.

David Tudor enters the stage of the Maverick Hall. He sits down at the piano and prepares to perform. He places a stop watch and sheet music in front of himself. Opening the cover of the piano, he places his hands in his lap. There he sits for a total of four minutes and thirty-three seconds, closing and reopening the cover to signal the beginning and end of three sections of the composition. He does not touch the keys, nor does any sound issue from the piano.

When this piece was first performed there was outrage from the artistic community over the absence of sound in what was supposed to be a musical composition. But, there wasn’t an absence of sound. The breath of the audience, the rustling of their bodies, a cough here or there, perhaps a delicate whirring of a fan; all sounds that occurred produced a completely unique atmospheric piece of art that could never be repeated in its exactitude. It recalls the effect caused when one focuses on the sounds around them as they practice total presence during mediation. This remains one of John Cage’s most influential pieces. It hinges on the concepts of chance and silence. Each performed interpretation is completely unique and subject to multiple elements of chance resulting from the sounds experienced during the performance. The nature of the piece is ephemeral and requires interpretation, physical and mental presence to be brought into existence. One may perform the score by freely interpreting its meaning anyway they see fit, leaving it open to near infinite possibilities. 

CK Dexter Haven, “The most notorious 4 minutes & 33 seconds of — er, well, “music” — ever: Cage stories from the pros. Los Angeles Philharmonic. September 30, 2013.
Caspar David Frederich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, Oil on Canvas, 1818.

The harmony and solace created by artworks that invoke a sense of awe and wonder in nature resound with the human spirit in a similar way as those motivated by the deeply studied features of spiritual pursuit and insight. Whether works of art originate from the Romantic or contemporary periods there is a history of a love of nature that seeks to understand and convey its awesome power and complexity, and relate the human position to its place within the greater scheme of being. The paintings of Caspar David Frederich are meant to inspire awe in the sublimity of nature. You look upon an often lone figure with their back to the viewer, absorbed by a natural landscape that invokes a sense of wonder. Friedrich famously once said “The artist should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him” (13). In the presence of natural wonders humans feel small, but also connected to a greater whole, and the majesty of the natural world. It is easy to imagine yourself in the scene because you cannot see the face of the painted human subject. Therefore they become a stand-in for you, as you are transported into the scene and into the sublime. Similar to the other artworks discussed, we are left to create our own meaning and are drawn into a meditative state by the consideration of natural and mystical systems that expound upon the massiveness and complex nature of the cosmos and the world around us. Caspar David Frederich was a Romantic painter who often used nature as an allegorical subject to invoke deeper moral and spiritual meaning.

Studio Drift, Shylight, Kinetic installation.

Studio Drift is a group of contemporary artists from the Netherlands. They create kinetic sculpture, and have been commissioned to design installations all over the world. Much like the paintings of Caspar David Frederich, their work inspires awe in nature, but does so through technology. Shylight is a kinetic installation of light and movement that evokes the grace and energy of flowers as they close at night to conserve resources and defend themselves. The sculpture is inspired by the natural and highly evolved process flowers undertake when opening and closing during what is called nyctinasty (14).

Having seen an exhibition of their work at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, I can easily say it was one of the most magical and awe inspiring art going experiences of my life. Being in the presence of these wonders of technology that seem to have their own life force caused me to meditate upon the complexity of nature, its poetics and rhythms, and my place, however small, within that wondrously complex system. I would highly encourage you to watch the video of the artwork itself in order to witness the effects that it creates during movement: (15)

The phenomenal possibilities of art in this current age are poignantly expressed by artists like those of Studio Drift. They can create programs, circuitry, and materials that so closely mimic the minute and nearly undetectable processes of nature for the human eye and in controlled circumstances, so we may become voyeurs of some of the most awesome and wondrous effects that the natural world employs. 

The contemplative nature of humans is expressed in powerful ways through visual art. Spanning spiritual and secular experiences through hand derived and highly advanced mechanical processes, meditative artworks have the capacity to transport us into a realm of thoughtful introspection. By engaging in the process of creation or slow looking, the mindful act of focusing on what an artwork can offer through the pursuit of meaning and self-exploration is a worthwhile endeavour that anyone can engage in. I hope you are titillated by the examples presented in this discussion and inspired to seek your own experiences. Though we may feel restricted in our movements at this time, we still have access to the boundless reaches of the human imagination and the infinity of the cosmos that continues to motivate our philosophical search for meaning. 

Jenelle Pasiechnik
Curator of Contemporary Art


12.John Cage, “Autobiographical Statement,”
13. Kira Gurmail-Kaufmann. 21 Facts about Caspar David Frederich. 19th Century European Paintings. Sothebeys. November 21, 2018.
14. Studio Drift. Shylight.
15. Ibid.

The Meditative Aspects of Art – Part 1

Amidst the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic, people continue to serve their needs and find solace in various forms of activity from their homes, often in solitude, as we socially distance. Many have turned to art and cultural experiences to seek peace, inspiration, and ways of working through their emotions and larger philosophical questions. The next theme I will explore in the CRAG blog is the meditative aspects of art. I will investigate historical and contemporary examples of art made or experienced as forms of meditation from both spiritual and secular perspectives. By exploring a range of geographical locations and time periods I hope to draw upon a wider cultural perspective of mindful looking and art experience that may inspire you to go on a journey of your own into the realm of awe, meditation, and introspection.  

Zen Buddhism was the most widely known form of Buddhism in Japan between the 14th and 16th centuries (1). It originated in India, was formalized in China – where it is known as Chan Buddhism – and from there it was transmitted to Japan (2). Immigrant Chinese prelates introduced not only the religion, but also Chinese literature, ink painting, calligraphy, and philosophy to their disciples (3). This resulted in Japanese Buddhists travelling to China for further training, thus entwining spiritual and artistic practices (4).

Monochrome painting is the practice most closely associated with Zen Buddhism and was originally practiced by monks. Paintings were the result of long periods of contemplation and meditation followed by quick action that would result in an expressive work of art evocative of the maker’s spiritual state and beliefs. 

Hakuin Ekaku, enso, 33 x 54.9 cm, Private Collection.

The enso (circle) is a sacred symbol in Zen Buddhism, and one of the most common yet difficult to master subjects of Japanese calligraphy. The enso can mean many things: the beginning and end of all things; the circle of life and the connectedness of existence; emptiness or fullness, presence or absence (5). When one looks upon an enso it becomes apparent that form and void are interdependent upon one another: “Void is form and form is void”(6). The philosophical tradition of western existentialism defines nothingness as an emptiness, where nothingness is placed in opposition to being. In eastern philosophies, such as Buddhism and Sufism,“no thing” represents positive aspects such as infinite possibility and necessary balance (7).

The enso can be closed or open. When it is closed all things may be contained within or excluded from its boundaries; it can symbolize infinity, the no-thing, the perfect meditative state, or enlightenment. When open, the enso represents the acceptance of imperfection as perfect; a connectedness to things that are greater than it; it can be the open circle in which the self flows in and out while remaining centered. There are so many ways to interpret the symbol and it becomes the viewer’s responsibility to make their own meaning and reflect upon their own self throughout the process of mean-making.  

Consider spending a few minutes of focused reflection, breathing and looking upon the enso. Notice your thoughts as they pass by, as if you are a passenger on a train platform watching the cars pass by and disappear into the distance. What surfaces? Take note and let it go. Close your eyes for a minute, reopen them and continue looking at the shape. Focus on the sound of your own breath.

Gibbons Reaching for the Moon, Ito Jakuchu, 1770, Kimbell Art Museum. Lucy Dayman, “What is Zen Art: An Introduction to 10 Japanese Masterpieces.” December 14, 2018.

Zen Buddhist paintings can be highly symbolic in nature and poignantly express Zen Koans and parables. Zen Koans are philosophical riddles that can be pondered upon for years; parables are moralizing stories that teach a valuable lesson. The Gibbons Reaching for the Moon by Ito Jakuchu represents one such parable. The monkeys link together and strive to reach the reflection of the moon in a pond below. Their reaching is the futile struggle for unattainable happiness. Both unable to relinquish the imagined safety of the bough and unable to reach the moon, they are suspended indefinitely: “So we too find it hard to stop seeking the pleasure we mistake for happiness” (8). This work of art is both a creation stemming from meditative practice and reflection, and an image to be reflected upon. Imagine how quickly or slowly the painting may have been created by studying the movement of the brushstrokes. Consider the economy of form and abundance of meaning created through the few but very expressive marks that make up this painting.

The many meanings and lessons that can be taken from these painted works rests with the viewer as they meditate upon its relevance to their own life and philosophy. The works are imbibed with the learning and spirit of their masters and carries that aura from the experience of the creator to that of the viewer. The powerful simplicity of enso and Zen parable paintings has endured over long periods of time and continues to offer sources of inspiration and insight. 

Now we move to the Han Dynasty (2nd Century BCE) in China to discuss Chinese incense burners as essential aesthetic and ritual elements in the Chinese scholar’s study. 

Bronze incense burner inlaid with gold, from the tomb of Liu Sheng, King of Zhongshan at Hebei Mancheng. Western Han period, 2nd century BC. Height 26 cm. Rawson Jessica. “The Chinese Hill Censer, boshan lu : A Note on Origins, Influences and Meanings.” In: Arts asiatiques, tome 61, 2006. pp. 75-86.

The King of Zongshan brazier is considered one of the finest specimens of Han period incense burners ever excavated. The look and function of the censor played an essential role in the accoutrements of the scholar’s study as they sat considering the cosmos in a deep state of meditation. This particular type of incense burner is referred to as a boshanlu (po-shan-lu), which means magic mountains (9). They are aptly named for the shape of their lid, a mountainous peak jutting out of waves, alluding to an island mountain in the sea. The torrid mountains and waves represent the dwelling place of the gods, specifically the Three Isles of the Blessed where the legendary Chinese immortals, hermits of perennial youth, lived (10). Both the elusive mountain islands and the immortals dissolved into mist when approached by humans. When the incense was lit, smoke would waft and curl out from the craggy rock shapes, obscuring mystical animals nestled in its perforations, thus creating a transportative experience.   

The Daoist utopia as presented in these objects was not a gentle idyllic landscape, but one with formidably undulating slopes where an incongruous assortment of tigers, hydras, mountain goats, deer, birds, monkeys, and men are engaged in a never-ending chase or hunting scene. It has been suggested that this relentless zoomorphic pursuit was intended to be a visual metaphor for the perpetual force which motivates the cosmos. Sea monsters represented the ocean; tigers, the mountain.  Climbing men who may be Immortals or virile elders appear occasionally (11).

The contemplative aspects of the boshanlu come from the shape that mirrors a mystical realm in Daoist philosophy, as well as the effects created when the brazier is functioning. The curling smoke emulates from the mystic islands in the sea, obscuring and revealing the topography of the objects and the animal and human elements nestled within its fissures. This essential object would have facilitated meditative experiences for scholars as they ruminate upon the vastness of the cosmos. 


1. Zen Buddhism. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The MET. Accessed April 25, 2020.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Enso.
6. Heart Sutra. Buddha Dharma Education Association and BuddhaNet. April 26, 2020.  
7. “Nothingness,” Encyclopaedia Britannica. April 26, 2020.  
8. MZCZ, “About a Poem: The Monkey is Reaching,” Mountain Cloud Zen Centre. June 22, 2015.
9. Susan N. Erickson, “Boshanlu: Mountain Censers of the Western Han Period: A Typological and Iconological Analysis,” Archives of Asian Art. Vol. 45: 1992, pp. 6-28.
10. Robert J. Baran. Boshanlu.
11. Ibid.

Shadow Puppetry: Bringing the Art of Silhouette Theatre Into Your Home (on a rainy day)

Shadow puppetry is a unique art form with a history going back at least 2000 years. The earliest practices emerged in China and India, featuring such themes as legends and myths, and stories from religious traditions. The art also flourished in other regions including Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and eventually to Europe where the cutting out of silhouettes in the 1800s became a popular activity.

The concept of shadow puppetry took a new leap in the early twentieth century thanks to the pioneering work of German film director Lottie Reiniger, who created over 40 animated films using the technique, including one of her most notable, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). While shadow puppets may not enjoy the same popularity today as in centuries past, it is an engaging art form that can be enjoyed by all ages. As people cope with the challenges of staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a shadow puppet show is a great way for children and families to exercise their creativity and explore a wide range of themes, characters and stories together.

The concept of shadow puppetry took a new leap in the early twentieth century thanks to the pioneering work of German film director Lottie Reiniger, who created over 40 animated films using the technique, including one of her most notable, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). While shadow puppets may not enjoy the same popularity today as in centuries past, it is an engaging art form that can be enjoyed by all ages. As people cope with the challenges of staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a shadow puppet show is a great way for children and families to exercise their creativity and explore a wide range of themes, characters and stories together.

Shadow puppets can be made from a variety of materials found around the home. Traditional figures were often made from leather, but many household items can also be used including paper and cardboard (old cereal boxes are great), plastic (clear and coloured), wood, feathers, different types of fabrics, and more.  

To get you started, here are some links to videos on building your own shadow puppet show, as well as other resources on the art itself. The artistic  possibilities are endless, and we hope you’ll share some of your creations with us on our Facebook page. As you will see, the puppets can range from simple shapes to more sophisticated creations, and can tell stories from favourite fairy tales to ones you make up.

This last one is more complex and can be used by older youth, artists, and more experienced puppet makers looking for a challenge.

Here are some examples of shadow puppet shows from different cultures: 

Finally, here are a couple of resources to provide the historical context for the art of shadow puppetry:

Sketchbook Journaling in Challenging Times

One of the things that art does well – and has done for hundreds of years – is to investigate challenging human experiences. This opens up the potential for reflecting on and understanding our own and others’ mental states and feelings of distress and anxiety.

Jill Bennett
National Institute for Experimental Arts
University of New South Wales

In times of crisis, there is a special role for arts and culture in helping people make sense of uncertainty and their response to it.  This is especially true with the need for physical distancing and self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Whether writing, drawing and painting, or creating music, many individuals are seeking opportunities for self-expression to help them cope with emotional and spiritual challenges.

One great way to exercise your creativity and convey thoughts is to keep a sketchbook journal.  This intimate form can be whatever you like: poetry and verse, drawing, painting, collage, found objects, or whatever inspires your imagination. It can include finished works, sketches, ideas, words and doodles. Best of all, it’s your sketchbook, so it doesn’t matter whether you consider yourself an artist or not. As Paul Klee wrote, “a line is a dot that went for a walk.”  Where will your line take you?

Over the next few weeks, we will explore various aspects of sketchbooks and sketchbook journals, including some online resources. To get you started, here are a few ideas and tips:

  • Sketchbooks can be bought online, or for a more personal touch try making your own
  • A blank page can look intimidating. Draw a few scribbles or words to get started.  Sense how that pencil or pen feels when it moves across the paper
  • Experiment with different media around your home. Ever try painting with an old toothbrush? With black coffee instead of ink?
  • Instead of erasing, try going over a drawing until it’s a shape you like
  • Try drawing the same object over a few days. See how it changes
  • Look for inspiration out your window, or in the everyday things we take for granted.  Like your phone, a chair, or a passing piece of music
  • Most of all, have fun. We may be going through difficult times, but this is when the arts truly play such a critical role in our lives

Using these suggestions, consider the value of arts and culture during times of difficulty as your inspiration to begin this week’s journal entry.  To help you get started, here are a few questions to ponder:

  • How do the arts touch my life now?
  • What specific pieces of art have resonated with me, and why?
  • If I could say something to the world through a painting, what would it be? What would it look like?
  • How have my emotions changed since the pandemic started?

Below are examples from two different sketchbook journals.  Over the coming weeks we’ll explore others to expand the possibilities and concept of what it means to keep a journal of images and writing.

“SKETCHBOOK, emotion bottles final piece pt1” by reece buckley is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0 

“SketchBook Vol.2” by Olga Ush is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0 

The Value of Culture and the Arts in Times of Crisis

Over the last few weeks we at the CRAG have watched how many artists and institutions have responded to the onset of these uncertain days of pandemic. The provision of activities and access to online galleries and artistic endeavours has provided a platform for artists to speak from and virtual places for people isolating at home to engage and connect. Similar to such initiatives at other galleries, the CRAG team will also galvanize to create an online presence to support our communities as they cope with changes to daily life and seek outlets for creativity and self-expression. We believe deeply in the healing and social functions of art. We will be here to serve you, by posting a weekly blog, art and reflective activities to do at home, and links to stimulating articles, podcasts, and virtual exhibitions in hopes of keeping you inspired. This week’s overarching theme examines the value of art and culture in times of crisis. 

Throughout the week I have been searching for examples and definitions; ways of understanding and conceiving of an answer to such a large question. The value of arts and culture in times of crisis can be demonstrated by its ubiquitous presence throughout human history and the many ways it has been used to influence, control, and inspire people across the globe. I will offer a few examples not as an answer, but as the start of what I hope will be a rich conversation. 

The human need to create has spanned nearly the entire course of our existence, and has manifested itself in myriad forms and styles. It can be instructive, therapeutic, and communicative of social, political, religious, and emotional concepts. The Venus of Willendorf is often cited as one of the oldest and most significant pieces of human cultural heritage. Thought to be a figure of fertility, she is a small, votive object with features that accentuate female reproductive attributes. Her face is masked by rope or hair. This lifelike, voluptuous object is likely associated with ritual, and its small size suggests it was carried with the belongings of its nomadic paleolithic owner. 

Venus of Willendorf, Oolitic limestone tinted with red ochre pigment. c. 28,000–25,000 BCE., 11.1 cm, high.

The petroglyphs found in multiple locations around Vancouver Island, as well as throughout Canada, have also been related to dream quests, shamanism, and the search for helpful spirits. Perhaps they are also instructive in nature? They are mostly found in tidal zones and provide a visual representation of sea animals – real and imagined. The petroglyphs pictured below are found in Nanaimo. They are a maximum of 3,000 years old. The human urge to create exists throughout our early history, and encompasses the representation of dream and emotional states, beliefs and rituals.  

Rock Carving at Petroglyph Provincial Park, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Estimates of the probable age of existing BC rock art range up to 3,000 years.

Art can also transcend divisions and act as a great uniting force. According to el Seed, contemporary artist, “Just a piece of art can change the mind of somebody…You bring people [together] that come from different parts of the world: different social class, different religious or political beliefs. And you put them in the same place and you blur all the differences and what comes out is humanity.” 

In every work that he creates, eL Seed writes messages with Arabic calligraphy using quotes or poetry. For the Jara Mosque minaret (above), the message, from the Quran, says: “Oh humankind, we have created you from a male and a female, and made you people and tribe, so you may know each other.” el Seed, Jara Mosque project, Gabes, Tunisia, 2012.

Art has been used in the service of empire and as a machine for propaganda, to bring light to the experiences of underrepresented and disenfranchised communities, as well as atrocities enacted upon the innocent. One of the most historically effective and recognizable propaganda campaigns occurred in Communist Russia during the revolutionary and Stalinist periods. Artists were widely employed to produce artwork for the regime that celebrated empire and the role of the worker, promoted sport, called people to war, and warned against laziness and capitalist values. Combined with a violent system of oppression, the near total control of information and political parties, and forced labour camps, this system of propaganda helped Russia emerge in the post-war period as a formidable, industrialized nation. 

“The Motherland Is Calling,” World War II Soviet military recruitment poster by Irakly Toidze featuring Mother Russia holding out the Red Army Oath of Allegiance in 1941. Photo by Laski Diffusion/Getty Images.

Art can also express great compassion and bring awareness to atrocities enacted upon the innocent. Francisco Goya’s The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid is a poignant example of this power. The central figure takes on a Christ-like aura as he raíses his hands, seeking mercy from his executioners. He is bathed in the light of the innocent, and his anguish and that of the others surrounding him is palpable, as they look upon the already dead that lay before them. This image conveys a universal desperation and fear that is emblematic of the focus on psychological states that becomes a great marker of modernity in art.  

Francisco Goya, The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid, 1808, 1814-15, oil on canvas, 268 x 347 cm (Museo del Prado, Madrid). The French invasion of Spain in 1807 resulted in a rebellion in 1808. The gruesome atrocities that occurred were captured by Goya in two large-scale paintings.

People have striven to protect culture and heritage in the midst of conflict, while others have engaged in iconoclastic practices that destroy cultural heritage in the ultimate acts of political and religious domination. The destruction of sacred objects completely alters their aura and symbolic status. The violence of that destruction is one of the most poignant arguments for the value of culture and artistic production. Namely, that it is used repeatedly throughout history as an extremely effective strategy in the erasure and elimination of cultural identity. However, it has also galvanized people and changed the way that culture is preserved for the sake of understanding human history. According to Fabio Rambelli and Eric Reinders: “Destruction is not the end of culture but one of the conditions of its possibility.” Destructive acts have given rise to enduring conversations around the value of cultural heritage and the necessity of its preservation. 

The Buddhas of Bamiyan were once the largest-standing statues of Buddha in the world. The first was built in 507 CE, with the second being built in 554 CE, standing both at 35 metres tall and 53 metres tall respectively. The Buddhas were carved into the cliffs of the Bamiyan Valley, an isolated region in central Afghanistan about 150 miles northwest of Kabul. The Buddhas stood for over one thousand years on the historic Silk Road, until they were destroyed in March, 2001 under the orders of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas incited a worldwide reaction to the events, and further elevated the status of the destroyed objects. In many ways, they have come to symbolize the absolute necessity to protect culture in the face of intolerance and absolutism, the finality of such destruction, and the great loss to human history that these acts represent. 

The Buddhas of Bamiyan, two monumental 6th-century statues that were destroyed in 2001, were brought back to life via light projections in June 2015.

The conditions for possibility arise through joint international efforts to rebuild the monumental sculptures, and the contemporary response to their absence. To commemorate the sculptures, life-size projections were created to illuminate the niches until the monoliths could once again occupy their positions in reality. The beauty of the sculptures reborn and the use of technology in service of that resurrection parallels the way people today are adapting to the current climate by continuing to make and share art through social isolation and the closure of our cultural institutions.  

Culture is one of the fundamental roots of human identity, and one of the most effective ways of tracing our emotional and intellectual histories. We look to art to understand ourselves and the complexities of a planet, a universe, an existence that evades our complete understanding. There are a multitude of beautiful examples of people and communities galvanizing to protect their cultural heritage, and how situations like that can inflame the world. Whether in times of crisis or bliss, or somewhere in between, art and culture have come to colour the walls of our passage through life. 

I have provided a few examples, and begun a conversation that I hope you will continue. Please honour us by posting examples and situations you feel help our community better understand the value of art and culture in society, as we collectively navigate our way through the adversity of a pandemic .  We welcome your contributions on our Facebook page and on Instagram using the hashtag #CRAGcultureintimesofcrisis. 

Jenelle Pasiechnik
Curator of Contemporary Art

Collage at the CRAG: Past, Present and Future

Collage is a medium all its own within visual art, referring to art made from combining a variety of forms, materials, and sources to create a new whole. By layering different information and materials, new meaning develops from the meaning of the original sources.

Caroline Monnet, Bear (anomalia series). Collage and silkscreen on paper, 2010.

The beginning of collage is often attributed to George Braque and Pablo Picasso during the Synthetic Cubist period (1912-1914). The term “collage” comes from the French word coller, or “to glue.” Collage’s definition as a visual art has expanded through technology. Analogue, or handmade collage, may include newspaper clippings, images from books and magazines, coloured or handmade papers, portions of other artwork, cloth or found objects. The techniques used to create this type of collage can be as simple as tearing up images, pasting images over one another and applying coloured surfaces with straight or organically-ripped edges. Digital collage is a technique that utilizes computer design and image manipulation to achieve seamless effects. 

Collage doesn’t just have to be two-dimensional magazine cutouts, although that’s loads of fun and can produce amazing results. The definition of collage can be expanded to include video à la Janie Geiser’s 1994 short film The Red Book which was screened as part of Landscapes of the Interior this summer in the CRAG’s Satellite exhibition. Montage film is rooted in early film editing that involved physically cutting and rearranging filmstrip reminiscent of collage techniques. This changes the speed and variety of images viewers see, and can create chaotic effects and manipulate time.

Robert Rauschenberg, Rhyme, 1956. Combine: oil, fabric, necktie, paper, enamel, pencil, and synthetic polymer paint on canvas. RRF 56.005

Sculpture is also prevalent in the history of collage practice. It is also known as assemblage. American artist Robert Rauschenberg created “combines” that incorporated painting and found objects. Using personal objects was a surprising and subversive way to express himself that was different from the popular Abstract Expressionist style, challenging notions of originality.

Collage can be a powerful tool for change. The medium offers the opportunity for artists to add commentary through familiar imagery and objects. Relatable materials increase audience recognition and artist credibility, making the message more convincing. The possibilities of using collage to address a variety of issues are endless. Artists can leave clues within the elements of a piece to allude to anything from social and political to personal and global concerns.

Bushra Junaid, Poetics of Relation. Digital drawing, 2017.

VOICES AFAR // Diversity-based practices in collage is the third and final phase of the CRAG’s year-long Satellite Gallery exhibition, Collage, sans colle, co-curated by Jenelle Pasiechnik and Vicky Chainey Gagnon. The works of three Canadian artists, Caroline Monnet, Jerry Evans and Bushra Junaid, will be featured in our lobby until November 20th. 

Bushra Junaid will be joining us on October 4th from 6 to 8 pm for a combined lecture and collage workshop in the CRAG lobby. The cost is just $5 and all materials for making your own collage will be provided. Check out our updated fall Programming Guide for lots more collage activities happening, like regular Artist Trading Card events.

Don’t forget to keep up with our travelling community art project, the Collage Caravan! Follow #CollageCaravan and our social media feeds for updates on its island adventures this month. The restored 1975 Winnebago has been converted in to a mobile art gallery and it’s now ready to hit the road!

Photo courtesy of Rachel Henry.

Collage Caravan: Art on the Move this Fall

Front view of the Collage Caravan. Photo courtesy of Rachel Henry.

In conjunction with this extended exploration of the medium of collage, the CRAG team is embarking on a travelling community collage project known as the Collage Caravan. Local artist Rachel Henry has converted a 1975 Winnebago van into a mobile art gallery complete with a blonde wood interior and overhead track lighting, not unlike the Crummy Gallery by the Bomfords which is currently residing in Spirit Square as part of the CRAG’s main gallery exhibition this fall. It is built to house collage artwork from the community of Campbell River and will travel to the North Island communities of Gold River, Tahsis, Sayward, Port Hardy and Port McNeill over the course of October to display the art inside. All of the schools that we visit in will also contribute collage art pieces to the gallery. 

Jan Brueghel the Elder and  
Hieronymous Francken II, The Archdukes Albert and Isabella Visiting a Collector’s Cabinet. Circa 1621-1623, oil on panel. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.

A mobile art gallery might sound like an outlandish idea, but art galleries have not always looked like the ubiquitous “white cube.” In fact, this model was only popularized in the 20th century with the rise of modernism which assumed that white walls devoid of any context would allow art to speak for itself. Aristocratic early modern households displayed their art collections of all eras and mediums clustered together to demonstrate their wealth and good taste. A postmodernist approach to art and display takes social context in to consideration. Our mobile gallery will be able to change its physical location and engage directly with the diversity of community contexts that we inhabit on Vancouver Island. We hope that this ongoing collaborative project enriches arts education and appreciation and makes these accessible to everyone.

We want to celebrate the endless possibilities of collage and share the joy of art making with this accessible medium. Anyone is able to get immediate results (just cut, place and glue) with no formal art training needed, just lots of creativity and imagination. All you need to get started are scissors, glue and images! The ability to rearrange and change your mind without committing to a final image by physically moving pieces around gives collage a sense of flexibility that avoids the frustration of mixing a paint colour you don’t like or taking a photo with your thumb over the lens. 

The caravan with a fresh coat of paint. Photo courtesy of Rachel Henry.

The first Caravan stops are happening this week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday right here in Campbell River. We will be visiting schools around town so keep your eyes peeled on the streets and our social media platforms for sightings and updates as it tours the island. Be sure to use #CollageCaravan to get involved on social media!

If you want to get involved with collage and public art at the CRAG this fall, be sure to check out our updated Programming Guide for all the info. Our current collage exhibition, VOICES AFAR // Diversity-based practices in collage, is on in the Satellite Gallery until November 20th and our new Main Gallery exhibition, Rest Stop and Crummy Gallery by Cedric, Jim and Nathan Bomford, is on view until November 18th.

Upcoming at the CRAG: Art Runs in the Family

Rest Stop, in progress. Photo courtesy of Cedric Bomford.

The CRAG is excited to present two new interactive sculptures, Rest Stop and Crummy Gallery this fall by Victoria-based artists Cedric, Nathan and Jim Bomford. The Bomfords, a father-and-son trio, have worked collaboratively on several artistic projects like this one in the past. 

A family business or profession being passed down through generations is not uncommon, whether by means of nature or nurture. Learning a trade by observing someone you live in close proximity to makes sense, as well as the idea of the “creative gene” being inherited by birth. Parents who are well-connected in the art world can open doors for their offspring to succeed in the same circles. What is perhaps less common is parents and children working as equal partners on a shared artistic project. 

Rembrandt Workshop, Portrait of Rembrandt, 1650, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection, 1942.9.70

While there is a persistent Western fascination with the singular artist as a reclusive genius, artists throughout history and today in fact rely on a vast network of support to produce their work. In the Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern periods in Europe, the guild system flourished. Many artists inherited the family business of a certain genre of painting or other type of art. Hans Holbein the Elder worked as a renowned portraitist in the Late Gothic style, establishing a large workshop in the city of Augsburg, while his son was a pioneer of the Northern Renaissance elsewhere in Europe. Apprentices in a master’s workshop would even complete the less-detailed sections of paintings attributed to the master or create similar drawings that are often still mis-attributed such as works from the Rembrandt school.  

Generations of talented artists appear not just in the Western canon of art history. Inuit artists from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Nunavut, Pitseolak Ashoona, Napachie Pootoogook and Annie Pootoogook are grandmother, mother and daughter respectively. They were all talented artists respectively, working in printmaking and drawing, influenced by each other. Artist collectives sprung up the 20th century and like-minded artists routinely expand their capacity with collaborative efforts—check out this 2016 article from Canadian Art that captures a diverse cross-section of contemporary collaborations happening in Canada on small and community scales. Performance art lends itself to a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach used by mother and daughter California-based Lita and Jasmine Albuquerque and the UK family art collective of filmmakers Grace Surman and Gary Winters and their two school-aged children. 

Aside from the intangible bond of parents and siblings forged over decades of shared memories, the Bomfords’ artistic connection could stem from their overlapping interest which figures extensively in their practice—the land. Dad Jim was born in Duncan and Nathan and Cedric have both lived and worked in Victoria. 

Not all of their projects involve each other. Jim is retired from a career in civil engineering and both Cedric and Nathan have studied and exhibited their own art including photography and installations abroad. Perhaps what binds them creatively is the latitude to express their own ideas outside of the shared space. 

Each bring a unique set of skills and perspective to their practice. They have expressed their process for building large-scale works such as Rest Stop and Crummy Gallery as “thinking through building,” as they avoid extensive planning and designing before starting the construction. The structures become improvisational, allowing for more interaction and collaboration. This also avoids the uniform urban aesthetic, recalling instead structures built based on need and available materials such as a backyard shed or long-abandoned dwellings in small settler communities along the BC coast. 

Crummy Gallery, in progress. Photo courtesy of Cedric Bomford.

In the spirit of their familial approach, all three artists and their own families will be in attendance to give an artist talk for our Exhibition Opening at the Art & Earth Festival taking place at the gallery and in Spirit Square on Saturday, September 21st from 3 to 5 pm. Join us for a free and fun-filled afternoon of activities for the whole family including live music and community toy-building. Their sculptures will be on view at the CRAG until November 18th.

For further reading on this fruitful topic, see the links gathered below:

The Atlantic: A closer look at other types of creative collaboration…John Lennon and Paul McCartney, anyone? Another great list of duo collaborations, including friends, spouses and siblings.

Royal Academy of Art: A profile of several artists featured at the 2016 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London consisting of over 15 duos.

Upcoming Exhibition at the CRAG: The Bomfords & Public Space in BC

Inspiration for the upcoming artwork Rest Stop came from visiting and photographing rest stops like this one on Vancouver Island. Photo courtesy of Cedric Bomford.

The Bomfords’ upcoming exhibition, Rest Stop & Crummy Gallery, is being custom-built to be shown at the Campbell River Art Gallery. Cedric, Nathan and their father Jim, who have all lived and worked in the Island for many years, are no strangers to working together on projects of this large scale. 

In the summer of 2014, they presented another site-specific, interactive public sculpture in and around Vancouver’s waterways, called Deadhead. made from found and recycled materials. The trio explored Vancouver Island on research trips for several years before the realization of the sculpture, finding inspiration in the vernacular structures. Many were abandoned projects or dwellings decaying in the wet West Coast environment. Much of the materials that made up this mostly-wooden sculpture were salvaged from such projects, and a photograph of a False Creek storage shed served as exterior decoration (or camouflage) on the exterior of the central tower. Some of the materials from this project were later repurposed once again repurposed for a later project called Deadhead: Redux. The structure was mounted on the back of a truck (like the upcoming Crummy Gallery) which was featured at events in Victoria produced by Open Space Gallery and Ministry of Casual Living in 2016. Their ingenuity and collaboration allowed them to construct as they went without relying on previous plans or renderings of the final product.

Photo of Deadhead from Cedric Bomford’s website, 8 September 2014.

The entire structure was built on top of a floating steel barge which was pulled by a tug boat and could be moored nearly anywhere, though it primarily resided in Heritage Harbour adjacent to the Vancouver Maritime Museum. The movement around the busy port of Vancouver introduced the idea of art as an economic product, democratized through free access to the vessel. Once visitors came aboard, they were free to explore the space which was purposefully designed not to be straightforward, echoing the improvisational style of its production. Certain points allowed for a view framed by the structure, with the ultimate centre of the maze being the elevated lookout. 

An excerpt regarding the title of this work from the Deadhead website clarifies these themes.

“The title Deadhead suggests multiple meanings: a waterlogged tree partially submerged beneath the water’s surface represents imminent danger, and to ‘deadhead’ a plant entails plucking remnants of past bounty to encourage further blooming. It also refers to the cargo, or lack thereof, on a return trip without paying passengers or freight. The Bomfords’ interpretation of ‘deadhead’ combines the particular conditions of the west coast – its unique climate, histories, and economies – with the artists’ creative process: a hybrid model of function, fantasy, logic and mystery, and the precariousness of the unknown.”

Rear View of the Crummy Gallery, in progress. The Crummy will be parked outside in Spirit Square for the duration of the exhibition with a few scheduled stops around town. Photo courtesy of Cedric Bomford.

This playful use of local terminology carries in to the CRAG’s exhibition. A “crummy” is a vehicle used to transport logging workers to the camp. The back bed of the truck is arranged with two parallel benches to maximize space. An adage goes that it is called a crummy because that is how one feels when they ride in one. The Bomfords are interested in engaging with the local history and culture of our resource-based economy and how that impacts the way that we interact with our environment.

Rest Stop, in progress. Photo courtesy of Cedric Bomford.

The CRAG is excited to present these two newly-commissioned works this fall, starting September 21st, to open a dialogue surrounding public space in Campbell River and on Vancouver Island. We will be joined by the artists and their families at our exhibition opening and launch party which coincides with the Art and Earth Festival happening around Campbell River over the weekend of the 21st. Our event on the Saturday will be located outside the gallery in Spirit Square where the Crummy Gallery will be open to the public and the main gallery will be open for tours of Rest Stop. The artists will be giving a talk along with live music, food and drink, and an upcycled kids activity for all to enjoy. Stop by to join the festivities from 3 to 5 pm. The exhibition will be on display at the CRAG until November 18th. Keep an eye out on our website and FaceBook page for more events and programming this fall.

Sources & Further Reading:

An article in the Vancouver Sun from 2014 with a great description of the experience of being onboard Deadhead.

Cedric Bomford’s website with description of Deadhead: Redux. Check out his other past projects while you’re there.