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COVID and Creativity- New Exhibition at the Cultural Centre.

In times of societal stress, we look to artists for solace, hope and insight. Ideally, art holds up a mirror to the truth, beauty, suffering and absurdity of the human condition. And Halton Hills' artists did not disappoint when Helson Gallery curator Judy Daley called for submissions of work created in the last six months during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Currently on display, “Creative Outlets: Art in the time of Isolation”, is an outgrowth of the Helson Gallery's annual, “Locally Grown” art exhibition. This incarnation features over 80 pieces by some 60 local painters, writers, crafters and photographers. True to its credo, the show presents recent works by local artists at all career levels.

The artists were tasked to look within and comment on the pandemic phenomenon. According to curator Daly, “The selection ranges from works that celebrate the enduring landscape to those that remind one of life's transience and fragility.”

A piece by a new artist struck me like a tsunami. “Untitled” by Abigail Daigle, is an acrylic on canvas depicting her favourite view: what she sees underwater when she is looking up at the sky. This is an astonishing well-crafted work by the fourteen-year-old grade nine student at Christ the King High School. The painting offers twin perspectives that meld into one evocative and consuming image. Wow, with several exclamation marks; Daigle shows great ability at a young age.

“This summer has been so different from any other summer in my life,” Daigle comments in her notes. “The only thing that hasn't changed is swimming. I've been swimming with my friends and family and it's the only thing that can offer a sense of normality. When I'm in the water it's quiet and feels like an escape.”

Similar to previously staged “Locally Grown” events, this show brims with diversity and a multiplicity of art forms cramming the walls and shelves. Among the acclaimed artists, Robert Attrell's abstract expressionist offering in oils and cold wax on a wood panel strikes a common chord. “Upon Life's Billows I am Tempest Tossed,” he writes, “is a creative response on joy and gratitude; not for what has been lost, but for the enduring blessings of home, relationships and new beginning.

Local artist Barbara Ariss Stroh Wasser, submitted “Change: Before and After”, a mixed media piece that with an abstract sunburst that appears to be refracted through a broken mirror or lens. [594] While another local favourite, Monica Burnside, dabbles on the margins of magic-realism in “Emily's Vision 2020, COVID-19.” Burnside, somewhat playfully, shows legendary Canadian painter Emily Carr wearing a face mask sitting beside her representations of west coast totem poles and Native mythological figures.

The toilet roll appears as a motif in several pieces in this exhibition. Photographer Greg Corman switched from portrait photography to creating original designs during the pandemic and part of the result was his Toilet Tees collection. Corman's “Disorderly” resonates with the early days of the lock down when toilet paper became a valuable commodity and people were selling the rolls on eBay. His photo appears to show stacked rolls wearing diaphanous gowns. His iconic portrayal, he explains, harkens to Marcel Duchamp's discovery of “found objects” as ready-made art work, as was the case in 1917 when the Dadaist mounted a urinal upside down on a wall and called it “Fountain”.

Jody van der Kwaak channels Andy Warhol's “Soup Cans” and the Pop Art movement in her work “Poop Art.” Van der Kwaak presents a digital print of six repeated images of toilet rolls in different colours with differing wallpaper backgrounds. She sees the toilet roll as a cultural object. “In Pop Art,” she explains, “material is sometimes visually removed from its known context, isolated, or combined with unrelated material.” [608]

The exhibition is vast and worth lingering over. Painters are in the majority but the collection includes, poetry, pottery, metal art and much more. “Heart on Sleeve” by Katie Tonetti, features an altered denim jacket that includes found objects like a skeleton key stitched into the fabric. And no local exhibition would be complete without at least one piece by Acton Plein Air artist Elizabeth Bard. Her acrylic on canvas, ironically titled, “No Mask Required” is a stellar depiction if a Great Blue Heron. The bull frog in the foreground could very well be the big bird's next meal.


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