By Scott Williams/Quinte Arts Council
Oh, those face masks!
You don t go far in Madoc, Ont., without seeing them: at the LCBO, Foodland, Home Hardware – and on people just walking down the street. Eye-popping colour and painstaking attention to detail: the hallmarks of their creator, artist Diane Woodward.
A cancer diagnosis and successful treatment in late 2019 left Woodward feeling grateful and wanting to give back. When the pandemic hit, she hesitated only briefly before completely upending her life: after painting every day for 44 years, she stopped cold turkey and began sewing masks: “What better thing could I do for my medical friends than help people not get sick?”
She’s now made well over 3,000 and has given most away for free – just shy of 2,000 in Madoc (posted population of 1,350) alone. Perhaps no coincidence that the village has been left largely unscathed as the pandemic swirls around it.
The woman does nothing by half measure. At the age of five she was already an active craftsperson, and by seven was selling marionettes and paper flowers through a boutique in Old Montreal – once staying up till 2:00 am on a school night to complete an unexpected midweek order for 125 flowers.
“Studying art at Dawson College and Concordia University was an accelerator,” getting her through 25 years of garbage in 5 years.”
Building her career over the subsequent two decades in Ottawa, she describes herself as relentless “and completely uncompromising,” building a body of work numbering in the thousands of pieces, while also coowning one gallery and helping manage another.
A resident of Madoc since 1999, she describes herself as calmer now – but still works up to 18 hours a day.
“I’m a shark,” she says. “If I stop, I drown.”
Understandable, then, that #LabourIntensiveArt is one of her favourite hashtags on Instagram, her preferred social media outlet. Her work is immensely varied – from tiny wooden items that look like refugees from an eccentric, erotic chess game, to enormous painted tableaus on wood or canvas.
Each item is unique, but immediately identifiable as Woodwardian. Animals feature prominently, as do many Hindu deities, reflecting her profound respect for that faith tradition. (She has painted in ashrams and temples around the world, and has taught yoga in her own studio for years.) Her art is hypnotic and endlessly fascinating, managing to be both in-your-face and mystical at the same time.
“I’m comfortable with paradox,” she says, laughing. “Colour is everywhere: startling reds, yellows, and purples explode from the canvas. Whether a piece is large or small, it needs to suck all the energy in the room and blast it back at you.”
“Being in a room with her art is both challenging and invigorating, engaging you intellectually and on a more elemental, gut level.”
That engagement is, of course, deliberate, and Woodward has high expectations for her work.
“When normal people go into therapy they want to be happy; when artists go in they want to save the world,” she says, in an admission, perhaps, that she is anything but normal.
“Saving the world is a high bar, but I don’t want to do something frivolous. Every time I make a painting there’s huge pressure to do something that makes a difference. I want to show people things they haven’t seen before.”
Her process to get there is immersive. Virtually every surface in her home is painted, every wall adorned with past work. For all that she paints to inspire others, she also paints for herself.
“I’m looking for magic,” she says.
She cheerfully admits that once she’s begun work on a piece, she can be obsessive. She literally sleeps with her works-in-progress, carrying smaller pieces up to the bedroom, and sleeping in her studio with larger pieces: I live with my stuff. It’s got to be the last thing I see and the first thing I see.”
That process has occasionally posed challenges for personal relationships. Partners, she says, have to be comfortable with someone looking over their shoulder.
Woodward describes herself first and foremost as a painter but is also a skilled woodworker, and brings the two together in one of her latest approaches, which she calls distillationism: “I take everything that I’ ve done, distill it into 1”x6” ingots, and then I put it all together.”
The finished assemblages strikingly combine abstract and realistic imagery in the same piece. Artwork and frame flow one into the other – as they do in much of her work. (The subjects of her paintings often reach off the canvas, while other visual elements can be found just about anywhere – in the main piece, on the frame, or extending beyond both.)
As her artwork overflows from the canvas, so Woodward s artful life overflows from her studio and her home into the surrounding community. Whether it’s the ‘Beer Here!’ sign for the local craft brewery or the ubiquitous face masks, Woodward continues to make her mark on Madoc – inviting and challenging each of us to see the world in a new and different way.
Find her on Instagram at @dianewoodwardart.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of Umbrella magazine, available now
The Sunshine Coast Arts Council’s Reading Series presents author Gil Adamson on Saturday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. Adamson will read from her recent novel, Ridgerunner, a finalist for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and winner of the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Set in the Canadian and U.S. West in 1917, the book is a sequel to Adamson’s well-received first novel, Outlander. Publisher House of Anansi described Ridgerunner as “a vivid historical novel that draws from the epic tradition… a literary Western brimming with a cast of unforgettable characters touched with humour and loss, and steeped in the wild of the natural world.” The reading is a Zoom event and it’s free. Register in advance through eventbrite.ca.
FibreWorks Studio & Gallery in Madeira Park is holding an opening reception on Saturday, Sept. 18 for its new exhibition, A Beautiful Mess: the joyful & random discovery of the artistic process. Creating something real out of the imagination can be a dishevelled and uncertain undertaking, usually carried out in private. Here, FibreWorks is turning that inside-out. “This show aims to create a sense of intimacy between the artist and the public.” The reception runs from 2 to 4 p.m. The show will run until Oct.31.
The Roberts Creek Legion has helped keep live music going on the Sunshine Coast through the warmer days over the past 18 months, thanks to its outdoor stage. Those setups have kept patrons in the fresh air and safely separated. Now the club is moving its visiting bands back to its indoor stage – and visitors onto its new dance floor – with a “Grande Re-Opening” on Friday, Sept. 17, featuring the Ween tribute band, Captain Fantasy. Doors at 7 p.m. The legion follows on Saturday, Sept. 18, from 7 to 11 p.m. with a string of acts, including The Locals, Eddy Edrick, Michelle Morand, and an open-stage jam. Proof of vaccination will be required for admission to all shows.
The Locals also play the outdoor venue at Tapworks in Gibsons on Saturday, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. That might depend on the weather, as (at press time) heavy rain was forecast for Saturday.
The Clubhouse Restaurant in Pender Harbour presents Karl Kirkaldy on Friday, Sept. 17, from 5 to 8 p.m. On Sunday, Sept. 19, Half Cut and The Slackers rock the Clubhouse from 2 to 5 p.m.
Joe Stanton is scheduled to entertain on Saturday, Sept. 18 on the patio at the Backeddy Resort and Marina in Egmont. Again, that’s weather-dependent.
Let us know about your event by email at email@example.com.
The exhibit features work from 17 Indigenous artists and is located in Southcentre Mall’s Art Corner on the second floor.
Tapisa Kilabuk is one of the event organizers with the Calgary Alliance for the Common Good that’s collaborating with Colouring it Forward Reconciliation Society for the six week long exhibit.
“Just having this kind of representation in Calgary is just so wonderful and so beautiful and so inclusive,” said Kilabuk. “When I was here the other day helping with the orange shirts and I was overwhelmed with emotion because I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
The federal government recently declared September 30th as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It’s a day for Canadians to spread awareness and reflect on the tragedies experienced by Indigenous people as a result of the country’s former residential school system.
Alexandra Velosa is the marketing manager at Southcentre Mall which is a big supporter of the arts community. The artwork for the exhibit is hung from the ceiling and on the back of each piece are recommendations about how everyone can take steps to help foster reconciliation.
“We all want to make a difference,” said Velosa. “We just sometimes don’t know how and this is what the art exhibit is giving us, it’s giving us the information we need to take little actions to be part of the reconciliation.”
The space has been open to the public since the start of September. Close to 11,000 people visit it daily.
“A big part of our role with Colour it Forward Reconciliation Society is reconciliation through the arts,” said Kilabuk. “That gives people the space to come together, to learn more, to appreciate one another, to admire one another and really create those fundamental relationships in our community that will create a better community in the future.”
Keevin Rider is one of the artists taking part in the exhibit. His piece is titled White Buffalo Moon. A buffalo on the left side of the painting represents the people, seven empty lodges represent death, loneliness, sorrow, mourning, grief, hurt, depression. A white buffalo on the right represents healing and looks towards the buffalo on the left letting him know that he is there to help heal the people.
Rider says he’s a product of his parents attending residential schools.
“My dad was Stoney Nakoda, my mom was Blackfoot, Blood,” said Rider. “They can speak their language fluently but they thought it would be better for us not to because of what residential (schools) taught them: it taught them not to speak their language, don’t use your culture.”
Now Rider is starting to learn his native languages at 57 years old. He says painting puts him in a good space and helps him heal. He’s proud to be included in the exhibit and is hopeful that visitors will learn from the stories of the art and appreciate the work of the Indigenous artists featured.
The mall is still finalizing details of how it will host the first observance of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30th to follow provincial health measures. The exhibit will be open until mid-October.
HARRISTON – The Minto Arts Council is hosting its first show of the year at the Minto Art Gallery. Showcasing the Saugeen Artist Guild, the show is entitled Reflections from the Saugeen Artists Guild.
This show features multiple works from over 20 artists and includes a variety of styles and mediums, including oil paintings, watercolours, stained glass, mixed media, encaustic, jewelry, photography and works with polymer clay.
“This is truly a very diverse show and we are so proud to be able to bring this to our community,” gallery officials state.
The show officially opened Sept. 9 and runs until Oct. 2.
The gallery, located at 88 Mill Street on the third floor of the Harriston branch of the Wellington County Library, is open:
– Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 8pm;
– Wednesdays and Fridays from 2 to 4pm; and
– Saturdays, 11am to 1pm.
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