Trees – majestic emblems of strength and beauty in nature – are the lungs of our planet; their significance is pressing in these time of global climate change. Two local artists, friends and colleagues for many years, have given much thought to the life of trees. The theme of this exhibition rings true for both, but the ways they interpret it have very different, beautiful and personal results. 

Mary Pfaff’s paintings and drawings explore life’s journey, the mysterious beauty of nature and the act of free expression. They are quietly powerful things that can dazzle your senses and fill you with emotion. Pfaff says, “to paint is my lifelong aspiration – and favourite verb!”

Attracted to Abstract Expressionist art at an early age, Mary has developed a distinctive visual language which, by its very nature, continues to evolve. Since graduating from the University of Ottawa’s Fine Arts program in 1990, she has initiated creative arts programs for use in healing and wellness, she has been a full-time studio artist and shared her joy of painting with others through teaching.

Mary approaches her work with determined energy, guided by instinct and intuition, digging deep into her creative soul. Rarely a realistic depiction of subject matter, it seeks to be an essence of it. She describes the process as “a full sensual experience, a wordless conversation: the sound of the brushes against the canvas, the smell, the touch, seeing, moving, changing and becoming.”

Whether working on canvas or paper, she builds up surfaces through brushwork and drawing with various media – acrylic paint, Venetian plaster, graphite, charcoal, pastels, cold wax – so that something from each preceding layer remains visible. She expresses through gestural drawing with equal measures of looseness and control. Her intuitive actions result in an orchestration of light and dark, colour, texture, line and form. One could think of them as ‘visual symphonies’.

Mary is inspired by experiences and landscapes – both external and internal. In recent years, long walks in the forests of Ontario, France and New Zealand have provided sanctuary and inspiration.

A specific tree that she came across this past summer left an indelible impression on her. Its immensity suggested a long and storied life, its enveloping shape a symbol of nurturing within the community of surrounding wildlife.

Forests are ever-changing places where all the senses come alive, offering a chance to slow the pace of life. The myriad plant and leaf forms are endlessly fascinating. Filtered light dances along the forest floor, gently coaxed by random gusts of wind. From their subterranean root systems to the tips of their tallest branches reaching towards the sun, trees are the dominant form in a forest – strong and impressive, providing a sheltering canopy for all other life.

Mary’s experience of trees has been transformative, revealing, nourishing, energizing. She has focused this energy directly into her work, aiming to capture the impression of forest life and the inner life of trees.

Jennifer Ryder-Jones first attended art school in the south of England at the age of 14. At this young age, she realized that art would become the centre of her life. Canada has been her home since the 1960s, where she makes art in her own unique way and shares her knowledge through teaching and exhibiting. She lives in the village of Blakeney, near the Mississippi River west of Ottawa.

From functional pottery to figurative sculpture and found-object constructions, there is a strong emphasis on natural materials in Jennifer’s work. She is fascinated with things that are worn and aged – that tell their own stories of usage, life, decay and exposure to the elements.

Nature not only informs Jennifer’s work, it becomes her work. She combines such things as fired clay and hand-made paper with twigs and bark, dried seed heads, rusty metal, bleached wood, feathers, bones, random found objects and machine parts. Every individual element has its own interesting qualities and, when arranged together, the layers of time and tales can be enjoyed like the pages of a favourite book.

Jennifer’s pieces are carefully constructed in-studio, a process of planned elements and intuitive expression. Somehow, they give the magical impression of having grown directly from the forest’s floor. They celebrate the cycles of nature (the seasons, life and death) lending them a pagan or shamanistic quality.

Her 2011 outdoor installation entitled Scrag-ends/Scarecrows  (at Fieldwork Art/Land Exploration near Maberly, Ontario) was one such project. In a field of grasses and wildflowers, she assembled a series of life-sized twig figures following each other in a gentle arching line. Each had their own characteristic adornments such as walking sticks and chest pieces, suggesting a tribal culture with its own history and way of life.  Collectively, they gave the very real impression of being on a ritual trek into eternity.

Recent years have seen many of Jennifer’s constructions take on the shape of dwellings or shelters. The treehouses in this series have ladders and windows into which one may catch a glimpse of little beings going about their daily business.

Indeed, her work is intended to continue its magical journey by taking on a life of its own through new eyes and the creation of new stories… a reminder of why myths and oral traditions have such an enduring resonance throughout human cultures.

Opening / meet the artists: Sunday October 28, 2-4pm

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