I am not a visual artist. Your average four-year-old could put my stick-man efforts to shame.
I am also not educated in the fine arts, except for some Canadian art history sprinkled into my undergraduate studies a few decades ago.
Despite those two sad facts, one of my favourite things to do locally and beyond is to see fresh new work by talented artists and craftspeople.
That’s why I was a Salt Spring National Art Prize supporter from day one. And when the steering committee revealed its bright pink SSNAP logo and professional promotional materials, I was already in two-thumbs-up mode.
I will never forget the complete manic excitement and body crush of the gala opening evening on Sept. 25, and being instantly aware that this exhibit was a different beast entirely from group exhibits we are accustomed to.
The jury had not assembled “the best” (however that might be defined!) pieces from 1,367 to choose from submitted by more than 800 artists. Instead they had created an exhibit that showed us the state of the fine arts in Canada today: What are artists in various media creating, expressing, documenting? The answer was boldly there in every corner of Mahon Hall.
Another thing I noticed immediately was that work by so many younger artists had been chosen through the blind juried process. It was thrilling to see them attending the SSNAP events and rightly recognized for the execution of their chosen passions.
I’m sure there was ample behind-the-scenes grumbling about SSNAP as it unfolded. That’s an inevitable part of any large-scale undertaking, especially on the first go-round (and always on Salt Spring Island).
But the public face of SSNAP was all about the art, the artists and the role of the visual arts in contemporary society.
I enjoyed so many conversations about specific pieces, read the catalogue from cover to cover, looked up certain artists’ websites to find out more about them, and felt my appetite for more visual arts acutely piqued. I felt sad when I realized the show was over and I wouldn’t be able to see it again.
I could easily have chosen a dozen pieces as a “favourite.” But rather than agonizing too much about the choice I gave my ballot to Holly de Moissac’s Undiminished book after checking out her website. “I believe that in the act of embracing both transience and decay there is an inherent honesty about what it means to be human” is one of the things she has written. I liked that and other words and images on her site, and as a word person her SSNAP piece called to me.
It’s never easy to determine why something touches one more than something else, and over-intellectualization can mar the bliss of the raw feeling, but I want to mention one other piece in the show.
I was moved to tears by Jeff Wilson’s acrylic painting of a homeless person with his bicycle called Moving Along, and had to keep looking away from it in order to maintain my composure. It seemed as if everything useful to know about compassion could be gleaned from that painting.
As Wilson explains in his artist’s statement, he wanted to create a positive image to illustrate “the resiliency of marginalized people in the face of adversity.” I think he succeeded brilliantly.
I want to give the warmest of thanks to the Salt Spring Arts Council, SSNAP steering committee and jurors Ian Thomas, Vicky Chainey Gagnon and Holger Kalberg for the no-doubt-insane amount of time devoted to this venture. It was a priceless gift to our community and to the rest of the country.
I can’t wait to see SSNAP 2017.
Gail Sjuberg is the editor of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper and Aqua – Gulf Islands Living magazine.