What place do painters hold in a world that’s perpetually driving towards faster, brighter, louder; living on the edge of the next technological breakthrough; waiting for the next smart phone to drop?
According to Gillian Gandossi, a local painter, artists are here to remind us to be reflective; to slow down. Gandossi hopes to convey peace to those who appreciate her acrylic depictions of West Coast landscapes. She refers to her style as, “whimsical, depicting recognizable forms and places.” She calls on some of the Canadian classics for inspiration and it shows in her work. In her twisting trees, I see an homage to Emily Carr. The warped shorelines appear to be reminiscent of A.Y. Jackson or Lawren Harris of the Group of Seven.
When historically art has played such an important part of humanity’s culture, it’s hard to imagine a world without it. Again I wonder what position- in our society so set on speedy satiation- could a painting that requires hours of work keep? Gandossi says social media allows artists to access their niche market directly while finding communities of artists that support and inspire each other. She mentions loving contemporary local painters like Drew Burnham and Diana Dean. So even the hurried offerings of social media can still play a role in a slow art like painting.
Gandossi makes a living selling her art. And while the rest of the Western world is madly maxing their credit to shop for the holidays, Gandossi sees a return of an appreciation towards handmade, ethical and artful objects. Perhaps it’s the fact that she lives and works on Salt Spring- an island known for being an artists’ abode- but Gandossi believes that while some consumers are looking for immediate gratification, others are interested in supporting and collecting works by artists. She calls this sustainable consumerism beautiful. It’s a nice thought. It would be even better if more people adopted it.
As a painter living in a modern shoppers’ utopia where Black Friday extends through the weekend and Cyber Monday lasts a week, it must be glorious to know your livelihood is your art. I’d say it’s downright admirable. Gandossi and her benevolent ideas of community and sustainable consumerism got me thinking about the role of art in shaping our economy.
The notion of a circular economy is growing. Its principles founded in the concept of keeping resources as long as possible- extracting the maximum value, then recovering or regenerating the materials for another use. Products designed to be reused.
Think I’ve wandered a little off-topic? Humour me: a painter works on their piece for hours, days, weeks, even months. In Gandossi’s case she often begins by sketching outdoors. She then brings the sketches to her studio where she begins to paint. Sometimes having to come back to it later to refine it. Adding layers of paint to perfect her vision. Then she waits for a buyer. Someone who loves the piece as much as she does. And here’s where she maximizes her value. Because it takes her so long to paint each piece she has a booth at the popular Salt Spring Market where she sells reproductions, matted paper prints, cards and canvas giclées. This, in a sense, serves both to extend the value of each painting but also to recover multiple uses from one piece of work. On Salt Spring where artists support artists, couldn’t one argue that by repurposing their skills to teach others they’re extending their value all while creating very little waste?
There’s no argument that without creative design the innovation needed to support a sustainable economy wouldn’t exist. In the Danish industrial park, Kalundborg Symbiosis, the companies use each other’s by-products. Visit their homepage to see an impressive interactive mock-up of the various companies and how they support and reuse each others’ waste. With the help of inventive design and art, our youth might adjust their ways of consuming to appreciate products with zero waste or that give back to others, contributing to a regenerative society. Or like Gandossi suggests, they might slow down enough to value our landscapes or sustainably made products. Take the Ocean Legacy Foundation for example, founded in B.C. by a young couple. They’re cleaning up plastic from the ocean, converting it to fuel or repurposing it as packaging for Lush products. Or the British product design student Ameena Begum, who’s aiming to partner with cosmetic companies to use their waste to make her high quality, shimmering watercolours. Profit for waste? Waste recovered into art? Sounds like a win for the circular economy model.
If painting can be entertained as a simplified version of a circular economy, then perhaps Gandossi is right. Maybe there is hope for painters in a modern world. Maybe they’re the exact thing the modern world needs. If the arts can encourage us to pause and welcome another’s interpretation of our culture and surroundings, perhaps we’ll be able to achieve an economy that’s equally focused on sustainability and wealth.
When I asked Gandossi if she could tell teachers one thing that might inspire their students to pry their eyes away from a screen to instead take in a painting she replied, “painting is as old as humanity. There is something about sitting with a great work of art in the flesh that is incomparable. A good painting is alive and it tells stories.”