by Edith Cody-Rice
The magical province of Newfoundland is on display at the Sivarulrasa Gallery in Almonte from July 13 to Aug 19, 2018 The exhibition features Newfoundand artists Carol Bajen-Gahm and Michael Pittman, The Millstone interviewed the artists at the gallery at the vernissage of their work last Saturday.
Carol Bahen-Gahm’s art has a dark, twisted and mysterious quality. A native of Massachusetts, she initially visited Newfoundland on a month long artist residency in Pouch Cove offered by James Baird who operates the James Baird Gallery there. His object is to encourage artists to move to Newfoundland and in this case, he was successful. Ms. Bahen-Gahm fell in love with the province and when she inherited some funds from a relative, she looked for a house to buy. She found her dream house in the old fishing village of Torbay, on a cliff looking out to the ocean where she now lives with her husband. She loves the colours in Torbay, particularly the many variations of grey. Although she formerly made a living as a classical and jazz musician, when she arrived in Newfoundland, she was not allowed to work, so turned to painting full time. She first formally exhibited her work in 2000.
In Newfoundland, she concentrates on the elemental nature of the people and the land and is particularly interested in the reality and metaphor of root cellars, which are ubiquitous, many still used to store food over the winter. She is fascinated by the dark spaces and tangled roots which suggest danger and mystery. In reality, root cellars were both life giving (storing food for survival) and dangerous (should they collapse) and she sees them as a metaphor for the necessary journey in life, particularly as expressed in fairy tales. The hero/heroine must pass through a difficult and dangerous challenge to reach his/her goal, akin to the philosophical dark night of the soul.
To create her art, Ms. Bajen-Gahm uses mixed media. She gathers objects such as seaweed and builds her art by covering the objects with ink, making prints and then applying graphite and charcoal; she then moves in with hot wax an possibly an oil stick. She ends up with a lot of different impressions of objects and her art is to bring order to chaos.
Michael Pittman says that when he creates images or things, he gathers his experiences around a particular subject and transcribes them in a way that makes some kind of intuitive sense. A native of Corner Brook, how living in Grand Falls, his work is restrained and spare, drawing the viewer into the experience, in many ways more reductive than additive. He has traveled extensively outside of Newfoundland and returned there to pursue a visual arts degree at the Memorial University Grenfell campus in Corner book. He found a great faculty and facilities there and he did a lot of print making, a background which shows up in his current work. He was involved with poetry and when he enrolled in a masters program in 2004, his project was to discover a personal vision, apart from the general thrust of Newfoundland art which often deals with the external, challenging landscape and life of the province.
Mr. Pittman deals with the psychological experience of living in the province and he intertwines elements of folklore and tradition with his personal experience. His work is somewhat monochromatic; he works in acrylic, charcoal, graphite, and ink. Mr. Pittman states that when he worked in colours he was unable to adequately expressive himself. He values his connections to place and to what family has to offer and has the romantic notion of wanting to be “of the place”
In one or the more arresting works in the exhibition, Mr. Pittman is portraying the aftermath of a moose hunt that he attended with relatives. The double character in the image is himself, wearing mittens knitted by his relatives. Knitting is a great Newfoundland occupation and beautiful, homemade mitts, scarves and hats are everywhere. The character is carving up a moose after the kill, although the viewer cannot identify the object. He could be sawing a log (also a great Newfoundland occupation – felling trees for winter firewood, or dressing an animal).
Being an artist is difficult and isolating, but Mr. Pittman states he couldn’t be anything but. He feels it is important that people realize that being an artist is a job and it takes years to develop a career. He has attained some significant measure of success. Michael Crummey, the great chronicler of Newfoundland life, chose a Pittman Illustration for his novel Sweetland.