BEAUTIFUL LOSERS / October 2014
By Teresa Posyniak
Eight years ago, my friend Alanna Mitchell, author of the international bestseller SEASICK: THE HIDDEN ECOLOGICAL CRISIS OF THE GLOBAL OCEAN shared her research and images of plankton with me. I had no idea that these beautiful microscopic creatures with their stunningly ornate shells and delicate lace-like forms created more than half the earth¡¦s oxygen and that they are being threatened by ocean acidification caused by carbon emissions. Inspired, I painted the INHALE series depicting plankton as no longer invisible but instead, lively colourful creatures interacting with fish and plants in the ocean.
While plankton are the tiniest photosynthesizers on this planet, trees, the largest photosynthesizers, are the largest. Although vastly different in scale, the common function of trees and plankton led me to seek ways to combine their forms. This lead to BEAUTIFUL LOSERS, a series of sculptures with such titles as Limbs, Creature Columns, Tree Composites and Bleached Forest using mixed media such as felt, paper, lace, wax, oil, wood, concrete and steel. These are works in progress but will have the capability of being exhibited as individual pieces or combined into site specific installations. The Deeps Tapestry shaped paintings based specifically on the plankton imagery could be exhibited as single works or as a puzzle-like wall installation.
Beautiful Losers is an expression of my awe of the beauty of my subjects, their roles as precious lifelines to our inhalations and exhalations, and the poignancy of theirs and consequentially, our uncertain futures.
Birch Poems 2012
There is a magnificent weeping birch in Teresa Posyniak's backyard. For over twenty-six years, it has filled the bay window of her kitchen - a steadfast companion and witness to her family's life. "It has grown with me and my family. My kids have climbed it. I have climbed it." As this beloved tree approaches the end of its life cycle, Posyniak's engagement with it has become more urgent and personal. Birch Poems represents the artist's emotional and wistful meditation on her tree. Each work is a detailed view of one aspect of the tree, the larger whole represented in one magnified part set against the vibrant blue of the sky. Seen up close, the tree bark reveals the traces of its life journey in black scratches, parallel striations and irregular marks on its smooth white skin. In their intimacy and verticality, these tree paintings seem more like portraits than landscapes. Posyniak does not show the tree in the context of a copse or as an element in a broader view. Nor does she depict the birch in its entirety. Instead, the tree fragment, cropped at the top and bottom, is seen in isolation, yearning in its upward reach. Each cylindrical form is massive and volumetric, creating an emphatic tactile presence, presented in beckoning proximity. There is no foreground to anchor the viewer's position. Instead, the vantage point seems to be from a point suspended between ground and sky. This spatial ambiguity contributes to a sense of dynamic tension that is enhanced by the diagonal trajectory of a single tree trunk, or by the overlapping intersection of two or more branches. Paradoxically, this movement and energy co-exist with an overriding sense of timeless, sun-bathed serenity.
Posyniak studies her subject intently and makes no preliminary drawings before marking the surface. When she is ready, her approach is spontaneous and bold as she first applies black ink in swift, confident and fluid strokes. Then she adds colour in oil and pastel to create solid forms, elusive cast shadows and high tonal contrasts. Her approach to the tree is very similar to the way in which she painted nudes and indeed she considers these works to be essentially figurative. Characteristically, the lyrical and evocative tree paintings, like her earlier nudes, suggest a more profound dimension that transcends surface beauty and materiality.
Monique Westra (M.A. Art History)
Independent Curator, Writer and Speaker
Art Curator, Glenbow Museum (2002-2010)
The INHALE series
Imagery in The INHALE Series arose from my recent exposure to the intricacies of plankton; the delicate tapestry quality of their shells and the interplay between the infinite forms of plankton are mesmerizing. These tiny beautiful creatures range from microscopic marine viruses and bacteria to single-celled plants with stunningly ornate shells to minuscule plant-eating animals.
I have been very lucky to have a great friend, Alanna Mitchell (www.alannamitchell.com), a well-known Canadian science journalist and author of two international bestsellers, Dancing at the Dead Sea: Tracking the World's Environmental Hotspots and more recently, Seasick: The hidden ecological crisis of the global ocean. Alanna has helped nurture my interest in science and environmental issues, and specifically, ocean acidification which is threatening the well-being of plankton, the source of half the oxygen we breathe. "They are the lynchpin on which life depends" as Alanna explains in Seasick.
I am intrigued with the scientific explanations regarding the role of plankton as the top carbon-absorbers and the oxygen-givers on earth. For instance, the ancient plankton called Coccolithophor or Coccoliths, create complex plated armour for themselves out of calcium, carbon and the oxygen they absorb from the ocean. In most of my drawings and paintings, Coccoliths are featured with their unique type of shell, artichoke-like in their layers of circular patterned forms, packed tightly into complex clusters.
My current simultaneous studio focus on trees in the Birch Poem series, and plankton in the Inhale series was more intuitive than carefully planned out. I did not realize how connected the two series are until a visit from Alanna in 2012. Her first remark was that I was creating art based on our planet's two most significant absorbers of carbon emissions ('carbon sinks'), trees and plankton.
When I'm making my plankton-based art, I work quickly, glancing at the many images of these creatures spread randomly within my field of vision. I imagine them interacting with each other. But most of all, I envision the oceans and freshwater lakes and rivers teeming with life, both visible and invisible. I marvel in the beauty of what I can't see but know is there. I'm learning about what lies in 'the deeps' and what a precious life-line it is to our inhalations and exhalations, our very existence.
Consensus: The Blackfoot Women Elder Series 2006-2010
Teresa Posyniak and Linda Many Guns
ABOUT CONSENSUS by Linda Many Guns
From my perspective, a Blackfoot perspective, consensus means truth. It is a synchronistic point in time when a group of people know the truth. We believe no man or woman can know the truth, not lawyers, not theorists, not judges. Only the Creator can know the real truth. We also believe all people are right and that it is our responsibility to bring all of the pieces of the truth into the circle. When that happens consensus occurs. This assemblage of ideas and thoughts is our truth, as we know it.
ARTIST STATEMENT by Teresa Posyniak
Through the themes of vulnerability and resilience in my figurative work, I explore the rich contours of human identity. Everything I create flows from a real experience or from a person. Over the years, certain individuals have captured my attention through their vision and strength in transcending difficult situations or challenges in their lives. My interest is the underlying motive that urges me to request their generous participation as subjects for my artwork. I use the term "generous" because this consent to be portrayed can involve months and even years of discussion and interaction. During these consensual processes, we often agonize over each detail in the painting to ensure that it truly reflects their experience in life and their perception of themselves, as well as my visual interpretations as the artist in the relationship.
In 2004, I attended a talk given by Linda Many Guns. Linda, a Blackfoot Elder, instructed her audience on the "listening circle", a traditional Blackfoot way to resolve conflicts and to discuss issues from various points of view. I was intrigued with Linda's vivid, passionate and articulate portrayal of her culture, and the lessons it could teach our society. I had a myriad of questions and Linda rewarded me with more stories, accounts of dreams, explanations, and exposure to beautiful aboriginal objects and clothing she has collected and made over time. A deep friendship grew, and at some point about two years ago, I asked Linda if she would let me paint a portrait of her.
This seemingly simple request generated hours and hours of discussions about how she wanted to be perceived, the role of her culture in these images, her relationship to the landscape and to the Blackfoot community and what being a Blackfoot woman meant to her. As a non-aboriginal woman, I was both fascinated and wary of my ability to interpret Linda's ideas into an actual work on paper or canvas.
And so, after a year of discussing possibilities and weighing options and approaches, I jumped in feet first, always with the idea that if Linda did not feel completely engaged with the images, and the manner in which I did them, that I would not go any further. To my amazement and pleasure, Linda responded with utter enthusiasm to the first three paintings, and expressed wholeheartedly how they genuinely resonated with her. The more work I did, the more she talked, told me stories, e-mailed me her dreams, and introduced me to other members from her traditional world, who, in turn asked me to work with them in the same manner.
With almost two dozen pieces to date, we are still developing ideas with the intent of including more individuals from the Blackfoot community. I look forward to the generation of more paintings and works on paper based on our consensual process.
STATEMENT by Linda Many Guns
The old people have said 'that people should know who you are when they see you'. These paintings and drawings hold layers of meaning. Those who know the symbols and what they represent will understand the paintings from that knowledge and for others, it is enough for them to know I am involved with the culture. These artworks have another purpose, that is, that in 2007, the Blackfoot culture is still practiced and central to the Blackfoot people's way of life.
This series is a deliberate interconnection of the talents and experiences of both painter and the subject. Each painting is the result of fusing two cultures, one Blackfoot, the other, western Canadian, through intensive periods of shared experiences, shared understanding and awareness, into these unique images.
Currently, as a doctoral student in Indigenous Studies at Trent University in Peterborough, these artworks will form part of my research as a visual representation of traditional knowledge. I believe our futures lie in being able to take the best from both worlds to mutually share and create new understandings that can benefit all people. The images are representative of what any of the public could witness at cultural events.
On a personal note, it has always been a unique and special event whenever Teri and I talk about Blackfoot culture. I share my feelings of being a Blackfoot woman and the myriad connections to this world, and she, of her thoughts on how to capture and translate these images onto canvas and paper. She has deepened and pressed our thoughts into wax and paint. Together we talk of color, knowing and being. The images she creates come from those many hours of discussion, creating a window into today's Blackfoot world. It is in this spirit that they have been created.
Statement for work 1983 - 2008
"I dream inside the things I make"
I wrote these words in 1982 as I was building a number of site-specific installations, called The Sanctuary Series (1981-1987). While constructing the first Sanctuary, I became aware of the contrasts in materials I was using: steel, handmade felt and paper, silk, concrete, hemp and wood. The format made even more juxtapositions: room-sized three-dimensional steel rebar grid mounted on wooden flooring and hand-cast concrete forms that supported fragile felt and silk walls, paper shelves and tall wrapped forms housed in translucent alcoves.
I found it startling and inspiring to embark on a long series of dreams that actually took place in the spaces I was working on, in the images I was creating. My recurring themes of vulnerability and resilience emerged at this time. I began exploring dualities and contradictions, linking them to those in the world around me.
My paintings and drawings - my main art focus over the past twenty years - continue where the installations left off. The spaces I create in these two-dimensional works are filled with objects in alcoves and other enclosures through which viewers can metaphorically walk, observe and touch.
The nude, usually female, stripped of the usual trappings and defenses, fills these illusionary spaces. She becomes the core of vulnerability around which the wrapped forms or bundles gather. At times, she finds herself seeking shelter in a cramped alcove, or struggling to find a comfortable position on a pedestal. I use live models for these works, projecting my emotions onto the very poses I ask the models to assume. It is self-portraiture.
I also portray others. My involvement in social issues, both local and global, has led me to meet women who have inspired me with their dedication, passion and resilience. For the past decade, I have been using the encaustic medium to paint some of these people - they have usually overcome great obstacles and now exude great joy or simple beauty. In this way, I explore others' symbols and metaphors just as I have investigated mine.