Sunday, May 19, 2024
May 19, 2024

Forty years of painting illuminated

Margaret Mackenzie shares profound body of work

By MARCIA JANSEN

Driftwood Contributor

It was a couple of months into the COVID-19 pandemic when Ken Mackenzie gave his wife Margaret a final push towards her retrospective art show. 

He had quietly saved up some money over the years to get the independent exhibition of Margaret’s work on the way. The exhibition, taking place at Mahon Hall from Oct. 7 to 16, is the culmination of 40 years of work and study and consists of more than 60 paintings.

Margaret, 79, had always been involved in crafts but took up painting in the late 1970s after she started a drawing course at Algonquin College in Ottawa. Before that, she was a registered nurse in Newfoundland and Halifax.

After she and Ken, now 84, had moved from Ottawa to Montreal and adopted two children, she found it hard to find work in a hospital as a native English speaker. Instead, encouraged by her husband, she applied to Concordia University and got a degree in fine arts. 

Ken and Margaret moved to Salt Spring in 1991 and started a bed and breakfast in their home on Castle Cross Road. Guests bought Margaret’s artwork and encouraged her to create more. 

Her painting got more serious after she contracted an infection and a wrong diagnosis led to an infected lymphatic system. 

“I was in pain for more than a year. No specialist could find the cause, and painting was a way to process my feelings,” she said.  

Margaret started out with watercolour but has since worked with oil, pastels and charcoal. Her work — which she refers to as “painterly drawing” — expresses a theme deep in metaphorical imagery and paradoxical meaning. Three images that stand out in her work: trees, skulls and whales.

 “The tree is a metaphor for birth, the skull for death and the whale for freedom, and they are all connected,” she explained. “It is my spiritual expression of divining the inner life in everything.” 

Dualism became a reoccurring theme in her work after she read a book about the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. 

“During my sickness, Kierkegaard’s words spoke to me. I found in him a friend who understood me. In life, you need the paradox to be whole. You need the darkness to see the light. It helped me to not let the pain drag me down, but to find peace in it.”  

Her whale paintings, inspired by the Herman Melville novel Moby-Dick and the biblical story of Jonah and the whale, form a big part of the exhibition. 

“My last work pictures Jonah on the shore, with a whale in the distance. He came out of the darkness and into the sunshine. Just like me.”

At age 79, Margaret feels it is time for a final exhibition of her work. 

“During the pandemic, my infection flared up again. Pain comes and goes in cycles. My art, once again, helps me through it,” she said. “The light in my paintings comes from within. It symbolizes all that we live for — for our lives to be an expression of hope amid the trials and tribulations of living.”

The retrospective exhibition of Margaret’s work runs from Oct. 7 to Oct. 16 at Mahon Hall, daily from 10:15 a.m. to 4 p.m.

On Friday, Oct. 14 at 12:30 p.m., Ken will give a talk, “Bowing our Heads in Dutiful Submission,”  based on his yet-unpublished book Victoria: The Outpost of Empire, about how two daily newspapers in Victoria reported local feelings about the province’s role in the British Empire, and how three particular Brits, including Rudyard Kipling, viewed Canada’s steady progress towards full nationhood between 1890 and 1914. 

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