Entr’Arts

A residence for Francophone-Canadian artists at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity.

In late August I took part in a very special artists’ residency called Entr’Arts, a program assembled every two years by rafa(Regroupement Artistique Francophone de l’Alberta). 

This year’s edition hosted 23 francophone artists from four artistic disciplines: visual art, music, writing and television arts. They came from five Canadian provinces and worked under the caring guardianship of six mentors who came to us from as far away as Belgium. Each artist applied for the program with a project to work on during the residency and a mind open and welcoming to whatever might unfold.

Even though it was the fifth time I participated in the program, it’s still difficult to put this incredible experience into words because, quite literally, those six short days always succeed in rocking my world. After the first edition I participated in years ago, I came home and wrote to friends that it was like having been in the eye of a hurricane. While I was there, it seemed like everything was calmly happening within the little world I occupied. But when I left that creative cocoon, it felt like the whole world got reorganised while I was gone.

This time, I thought, I knew what to expect and felt immune to what was coming. Been-there-done-that, I thought! In fact, after a year packed to the brim with things I didn’t necessarily want to do, this opportunity felt like just one more ‘have-to-do’.

Was I ever wrong! This session might have been the one that got to my soul the most. How can I possibly explain the energy of that place and of the group in which I was immersed?

Let’s start with the land itself. The Banff Centre sits on sacred land where archaeological evidence proves that humans have lived for at least 10,000 years. It was the traditional territory of the KootenayStoneyBloodPeiganSiksika and Tsuu T’ina First Nations. The word going around the Banff Centre is that the land where it sits was a gathering place where Nations came to be together and to seek healing.  After a few days on site, we all started to feel it. The land is indeed more than breathtakingly beautiful. It is sacred.

It’s every artist’s dream: a world-class facility, a brilliant private studio space and a creative and technical team there to teach you what you need to learn and provide you with the guidance you didn’t even know you would be looking for. Your only responsibility is to expand your mind and explore new vistas in your creative work. And when your mind needs to take a break there are yoga classes, a swimming pool and endless hiking trails at your doorstep. And when, finally, you’re both tired and hungry, you’re fed a gourmet meal and provided a beautiful room where the only noise to disturb your sleep is the wind sighing through the forest that surrounds you. That on its own is a gift.

And then there was the group. The artists and mentors who were there for this summer’s program were particularly caring. Some of us got together in Edmonton a week later and had a chance to reminisce about our Banff Centre experience. We tried to decide what word could best describe this group. We chose “bienveillant”. Benevolent. All of us were so happy to be there, to work hard, to exchange our thoughts about life and art and to do it all in French, each of us with our own unique Canadian and European accents. All of us, away from home, felt right at home in one another’s company.

Part of the Banff Centre experience is to put yourself in danger as an artist, to push your comfort boundaries and see what else you can express while staying true to your own voice. At first I was almost frightened by the profound discomfort of feeling like I had no idea what I was doing. But then I discovered the joy of seeing my ideas unlock and come together and, in the end, the work I set out to do went really well.

I was there to test an installation project that can now accompany my paintings in gallery shows. (I’ll let you know more of the details about the installation in a future blog). The group discussions really helped with this process, even when what was being discussed had nothing to do with what I was doing. Hearing the others going through their own struggles and finding solutions is both nourishing and reassuring and generates unexpected answers.

I’m still riding that wave of energy! And I hope to keep all that I learned close to heart in the work I will take on in the next two years. Then I hope to go back to the Banff Centre and fill up my creative tank again.

Ent’Arts: a residency for Canadian francophone artists from New Brunswick and the western provinces is a gift to all of those who have the chance to experience it. You go there thinking you are stepping out of reality to enter a privileged time away from the usual worries of the world. But you come out of it feeling like this was reality and that the world outside of that time has taken on a whole new meaning – not fully real and all of a sudden malleable.

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Painting walls; not the same as painting works of art!

I often tell my students that, if they feel they’re frantically trying to finish a painting, they need to stop! “Wash your brushes and get back to it when that sense of urgency passes.” This month, I’m afraid I’m being challenged to follow my own advice. Life is reminding me that being patient and at peace with how long things take can be frustrating, but sometimes you just have to put your head down and allow things to unfold at their own pace.

details of a new painting titled Flow

This summer we’re redoing the floors in our home. My world is in chaos. Furniture and boxes packed with ‘stuff’ have been stored in my studio for 10 days, but now it’s even worse. I’ve had to completely empty the space and won’t be able to get back into it for another two weeks! Honestly, I didn’t anticipate how unsettling this would be. I knew I’d feel inconvenienced, but it’s way more than that. It’s chaos; I feel like I can’t find myself! I have an endless list of things to move, to do and to plan. It’s like I’ve stepped on an ant’s nest. My husband, who’s usually the one to react to change, has become totally zen-like this month. “You need to surrender to the process,” he gently reminds me. I’m trying, I’m trying, but it feels like I can’t get a handle on it.

I went through a stage of ‘Honestly, I just want this done and over with’ to ‘It will never, ever end!’ I could feel myself losing my grip, so I started painting all the walls while the floors were off. After ten gallons of paint, I was no less frazzled. However, on the plus side, while I was wearing myself – and three paintbrushes – out, I was listening to a very interesting book titled In The Heart of the Sea, about the true story of The Essex, the whaling ship that inspired the novel Moby Dick. Yes, I know. Even I realized I was beginning to exhibit an alarming number of crazy Captain Ahab’s symptoms. His whale: my floors. I desperately need to paint works of art. Not walls.

So why does creating art play such an important role in making the most of life? It is what keeps me sane. It deletes chaos. It connects me to the world. There’s nothing else that can bring me total contentment like the act of painting, sculpting or drawing. Verywellmind, in the blog titled Art Therapy: Relieve Stress By Being Creative, lists a number of reasons why art making is a stress relief tool. My favourite is ‘flow’: “There’s a certain quality of being called ‘flow’ that experts say is very beneficial for us. This refers to a state of being completely engaged in something to the point of being in a near-meditative state. It carries many of the benefits of meditation, leaving you much less stressed when you’re done. You can experience ‘flow’ when you’re doing creative activities like writing and even gardening. You can also get it from drawing.”

It’s been 20 days… I’m missing my flow!

A flowing day on Lower Kananaskis lake, Alberta

I was discussing this with a friend who always has such profound insights about life and he pointed out that, perhaps, this renovation isn’t permitting me to be who I want to be. “It’s an identity crisis.” I think he’s right. When I can’t get to my work I feel agitated, as if I’m wasting my life by not doing what I’m meant to be doing; not being who I want to be.

But the timing of this renovation has caused an additional frustration because it’s happening in the middle of summer. Summers here are so short; it’s an incredibly precious time. There’s a measure of freedom that doesn’t exist the rest of the year. Things slow down, I don’t teach, and I can usually find more freedom to create following a natural, seasonal rhythm. I can take walks in the forest any time of the day. I can let my thoughts go where they choose without deadlines to meet. I just can’t bear to waste my summer catering to contractors and renovations. So, contrary to the advice I give my students, I’ve pushed hard, very hard, to get it all done before I leave for my mountain adventure in a few days. With any luck, I’ll succeed.

En route towards Rae Glacier, Kananaskis, Alberta

When I get back from six days in our beautiful Rockies, my studio will be ready to welcome me again. The mountains will have once again revealed my creative space. I’ll come back to my work with fresh eyes and a calm mind, ready to enjoy the rest of the summer.

 

 

 

 

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Intentional Ignorance: how the artist preserves her studio time

We’re way too busy! Who ever said that technology would make our lives simpler and allow us more leisure time was seriously wrong. Past the laundry machines and the dishwasher, it’s only made our lives more frantic and at this point we’re all racing along at an inhuman pace. But, in the midst of all this madness, the artist is expected to protect her creative time. Yes, it’s true that all our new technology and communication tools have made us only a click away from information and anyone who might need us, and it also means we’re expected to do everything by ourselves and to do it fast. But if I cater to the pressure to do more, how can I keep my energy focused on what matters the most to me – creating artwork?

The orange cat, acrylic, 40″ x 40″

Of course the younger generation has discovered a pretty effective strategy for dealing with the information onslaught. I call it ‘intentional ignorance’. They only reply to texts and emails when and if they feel like it. It’s irritating to the older generation, but I see their point. It’s too much. Too many emails, too many social media posts, too many texts. There’s only so much anyone can do in a day and each of us has to select what deserves our attention. For me, it’s creating my artwork. Everything else, (except for walking my dog, of course), can wait.

Jess and Blair, who run Blogging 4 keeps; an interesting site dedicated to helping would-be-bloggers figure out how to be good bloggers, recently sent a newsletter titled Be More Ignorant Please.   They write about the overwhelming amount of ‘important things’ that we must deal with to be present on the web so we can promote our business. (And yes, it’s subject that concerns artists as much as any other business person.) They say “… allow yourself to be intentionally ignorant on certain things, even if people are telling you that it’s important to be an expert. Pinterest is important. Instagram is important. Email is important. Photography is important. Networking is important. But you can’t do it all, and if you do, you’ll be overwhelmed.”

Last week, a friend of mine generously volunteered to organise the details of an artistic group event. Others in the group had unintentionally neglected that project, perhaps, simply because they put their own priorities ahead of it. This meant that my friend was spending the best and most productive hours of a few days on this project – which also meant she wasn’t in her studio working on her art.

As we talked I realized once again that, for me, my job is to be in my studio creating. Yes, promoting my art on the web is important, yes being available to help organise artistic events is important, yes seeing my friends is important, but none of it is as important as the time I reserve to be in my studio. And I need that time every day for a number of hours.

Cisco on our morning walk in the forest

Some artists give themselves a rigid schedule to make sure this happens. I have a friend who’s in her studio by 8:00 am and doesn’t leave until noon. No matter what. Me, I try to be aware of how much I can stand of each distracting chore. Mornings are best for me, so I get up early. I dedicate the first hour and a half to writing, researching and thinking things through for my various art projects and marketing my work. Then Cisco and I go for our walk where the forest re-centers me and puts me in the right mood for my creative work. By the time we get back, Cisco’s ready for his nap under my work table, and I’m energized and alert, ready to be creative until it’s time to teach my after-school painting classes. Of course some projects will inevitably compromise that schedule, but I’m pretty conscientious about sticking to it.

Art Work Archive recently posted a blog titled How to create more time for your art: a worksheet where they share a handy printable “little exercise in self-reflection that can help you figure out how to gain more time back for your art.” Through a short series of pertinent questions, they encourage us to look at where we spend our time and to question if it is where we really want to spend it.

Our crazy world is frenetic! More than ever we need to discipline ourselves into choosing where we want our focus to be. I want to concentrate on creating inspired works of art. As to the rest? I try to cram what I can into the not-so-productive hours of the day. That often means I don’t get it all done, but I’ve made my peace with that. The funny thing is, though, nobody seems to notice what I don’t get done – or care, for that matter.

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