Imposing artworks by two artists now exhibited at Sechelt’s Sunshine Coast Arts Centre examine the meaning of inheritance, in both genealogical and ecological terms.
An opening reception on March 17 attracted dozens of visitors to meet Gibsons-based multidisciplinary artist Nadina Tandy and painter Jean Bradbury, from Bowen Island.
Tandy’s collage-style prints compose Generational Imprints, a fully-realized exhibition of the series she previewed at the Gumboot Café in Roberts Creek in September. Meanwhile, Bradbury’s Stewards and Defenders presents monumental paintings on cut plywood that address the relationship between humans and wooded landscapes.
“When it comes to matching concurrent exhibitions, these two were a natural,” said Sadira Rodrigues, curator and director of the Sunshine Coast Arts Council, “considering their focus on portraiture, relationships, and history.”
The bulk of Tandy’s works are large-scale unframed prints, each featuring a composite face that confronts viewers with its arresting gaze. The images are a combination of five photographs of Tandy’s mother, grandmother and herself at different ages.
“I think what I want is connection,” said Tandy. “The material I use is personal, but there’s also more archetypal imagery in here. So when you look at it, I don’t want you to question, oh, who’s that? Instead, I want you to have your own experience, and truly feel what you’re feeling.”
The notion of transformation across successive generations is reinforced by Tandy’s use of repeated floral motifs, as in her Reclamation with repeat pattern in violet. In works like Study with Scissors and Octopus Dreaming, foreground faces are accompanied by enigmatic artifacts. Recurrent apple blossoms and flailing cephalopods form a distinctive iconography that reinforce Tandy’s emphasis on transformation and heterogeneity.
“I loved experimenting with faces,” said Tandy. She works and reworks her composite images until they reach aesthetic apotheosis and achieve a comfortable equilibrium of mixed metaphors. These are especially prominent in her ceramics, textiles and smaller prints also on display, which culminate in the comic juxtapositions of Bucket Full of Nuns.
In the adjoining gallery, Bradbury’s Stewards and Defenders explores the artist’s deepening understanding of the link between people and woodlands. Bradbury is a Scottish-born painter who has created nature-infused installations and murals throughout the Pacific Northwest, in Asia and the Middle East.
For her Stewards and Defenders series, Bradbury visited the Fairy Creek logging blockade on southwestern Vancouver Island where she interviewed and photographed members of the encampment. The resulting life-size portraits are painted in oils on irregularly-shaped plywood surfaces.
The size and stature of the subjects prompts automatic reverence, even in casual poses that would suit Instagram. In Raven and Whaletail, which shows an embrace between land defenders of Cree and Pacheedaht First Nation heritage, hagiography is intermingled with the solidity of in-the-trenches companionship.
“There wasn’t an agenda to depict them as heroic,” said Bradbury, “because I went in not really understanding who they were or why they were there. I was looking for people who were aesthetically expressive of where they were.”
Bradbury’s images of West Coast landscapes are inspired in part by her admiration for paintings by Canada’s Group of Seven. Her Beloved Trees of our Coast includes the contortions of arbutus trunks in a composition evocative of Tom Thompson’s The West Wind — with an important distinction: a woman and a youngster paddle in shallow seawater at one extremity of the canvas.
“As much as I love [the Group of Seven], I’ve been feeling like: where are the people?” Bradbury said. “What is their relationship to the land? As a landscape painter, I ask myself: am I guilty? Is it enough just to paint things that are extraordinarily beautiful so that we treasure them, or do I want to tell more of a story about people and our relationship to the land?”
Bradbury grapples with her questions by painting herself into the story. In Sold, a self-portrait, she stands on the wooded lot she purchased in 2020 on Bowen Island. Mum and Dad portrays her parents, who are volunteer stewards of West Vancouver parks.
“I love story in my work,” Bradbury said. “I’m not one of these modernist painters who don’t use the word narrative. I think narrative is very important to me personally, and in art.”
Generational Imprints and Stewards and Defenders remain on display at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt until April 15.