Between the Lines
May 28 to June 26, 2010
Artist Talk on Friday, June 18 at 7:30 pm
Portraits by Fire
Between the Lines: A Cross-Section of the Canadian Canon consists of seventeen salvaged, door skin panels: fifteen black and white (29 ½ “ x 17”) and two coloured panels (48” x 48”). The portraits are done with large and small-scale pyrography, or fire drawing. One could also say they burn with wise passion.
Arin Fay’s cross-section includes literary stars such as Atwood, Gallant, Munro, and Shields as well as the lesser-known Elizabeth Smart, whose life was wracked by love and children. Dionne Brand, a Caribbean immigrant and Ethel Wilson, quintessential British Columbian writer, also have portraits in Between the Lines, bringing diversities of culture and region. Fay includes Pauline Johnson (1861-1913), the Mohawk poet buried in British Columbia, whose poem “The Song My Paddle Sings” launched the Canadian canon but who is rarely acknowledged.
A modern alchemist, Fay builds a large fire to heat heavy gauge metal in flame. Using forge pliers she brands the panels (arranged in small batches around the fire) in random fashion with gears and flat-bar. This intuitive marking begins the portrait. Next she sands to clean and smooth the surfaces and then transfers, by overhead projector, onto the wood blown up versions of drawings, worked out on paper beforehand. Then with an electric pyrography pen, Fay executes the drawings and paints with acrylics from a limited palette. The panels receive brutal “haircuts” with a power sander that takes off top layers, nicks and chips the wood and gives “character.” Three or more coats of furniture-grade lacquer give a slight amber patina and visual depth.
A circle motif throughout evokes the abstracted geometry of painter, Sonia Delauney (1885-1979). The circle as symbol suggests unity, infinity, wholeness and the cosmos as well as Fay’s generous aesthetic. Branding by gears evokes the machinery of literary canons, “giving them the gears” in delightful irony. Mogdigliani’s mask-like faces also come to mind although where Mogdigliani (1884-1920) elongates faces, Fay wrinkles and distorts with assertion. The predominance of black in the portraits gives definition and nobility. Black evokes print, testifies to Fay’s rich reading and makes this visual anthology a thesis on feminine creation.
A gift of this exhibition is the double honour Arin Fay gives the largely ignored Adele Wiseman (1928-1992), who was probably the first published Jewish woman writer from Western Canada. Wiseman was not highly productive because of financial insecurity but nevertheless produced novels, plays, essays, and children’s books. Wiseman was a highly regarded writer-in-residence at many Canadian universities including McGill, Trent, Concordia and was head of the Banff Centre’s Writing Programme (1987 – 1992). Arin Fay’s sensitive reading and rendering of Wiseman’s portraits brings understanding to an artist who, like Arin, worked within constraints of parenting and livelihood but still had time to nurture colleagues.
Joy Kogawa’s portrait includes the house stolen from her family and recently restored as a refuge for writers, recalling the importance of a room of one’s own as well as the travesty of Japanese internment in the West Kootenay during the Second World War.
The exhibition of paintings, exhibited in close groupings, evokes a solidarity that made it possible for Lorna Crozier, for example, to write and publish because of the trail Margaret Laurence blazed with her own life. Both were from the prairies, which had yet to spawn a woman writer when Laurence returned from Africa in 1957 and left again for England to write her Manawaka novels, set in Manitoba. Margaret Laurence returned to Canada permanently in 1974 to write her last novel, The Diviners. Laurence wrote the Crozier book jacket blurb, “A poet to be grateful for,” which meant Crozier was honoured by a senior Canadian woman writer. That sentence launched Crozier’s stellar career.
Arin Fay’s Between the Lines uses intuition, considerable intellect and skill to mark lineage and stem future tides of invisibility regarding writing and art by women in Canada. She’s an artist to be grateful for.
Susan Andrews Grace