Over a decade ago, a group of artists got together and founded the Southern Lakes Art Collective (SLAC) during an open house at the Ted Harrison Retreat on Crag Lake. Their membership has fluctuated over the years, but the core spirit of support and learning remains.
“It was a chance to dabble in other media, add it to your toolkit, and also just spend time together,” said Helen O’Connor, a SLAC member, in an interview with the News.
“I know I did a paper-making workshop out at Sandra’s studio in Tagish, so exciting to work with other artists and creative people and see where your media can go in their creativity.”
Supporting each other and sharing knowledge are core values of the collective; it’s a place to help each other learn and grow as artists. They meet roughly once every month, and sometimes hold workshops, so one artist can teach their medium to the others.
Over the years, the collective’s membership has grown organically. Anyone inclined to partake is welcome.
“’The right people show up at the right time for everything,’ so that’s sort of how this group goes,” said Donald Watt, quoting colleague Lawrie Crawford with a laugh.
One of the many advantages of the collective is the friendly feedback, according to long-time members Watt and Leslie Leong.
“Getting a critique from your peers, I found really valuable,” Leong said.
“They’re just a fun group, also, everybody’s so easy-going, respectful, playful and everybody participates, everybody contributes.”
Watt said the camaraderie and commitment of the collective resembles an academic space.
“My first meeting was a real eye-opener,” Watt said. “It was like being thrown right back into the final years of university of fine arts; great discussions about art, stuff that I’d been missing, that sort of heart-to-heart talk about what art was to them, what it is to me.”
O’Connor agreed that in the isolation of the North, finding like-minded peers is even more essential to artistic practice.
“It’s always inspiring to see other people working and then you get feedback on your own projects, it’s another creative mind to develop ideas with,” O’Connor said.
Last month, the collective opened “a god show” at the Yukon Arts Centre. The multi-artist exhibit features loose interpretations of the theme in a wide variety of mediums.
Some works are interactive, such as Leong’s immersive video experience and Watt’s sculptures; he encourages viewers to “put a little bright something” in the box accompanying his raven-headed casts of the mythological Greek Graces, and “maybe you will be blessed from one of the Graces into joyfulness or brightness or bloom.”
Others stand alone, such as oil paintings, watercolours and O’Connor’s paper installation “Barco y Cielo.”
The show’s theme came out of a discussion of the problems we see in the world today, and how society’s responses can sometimes be found lacking. There were no strict guidelines, and each artist was free to interpret the theme as they wished, leading to many different works, in a variety of mediums.
“It’s so diverse, there’s so many different perspectives and there’s so much interpretation that the viewer can take away on their own,” said O’Connor.
“It isn’t a didactic show, (and) I think some of us were concerned it could come across that way.”
The collective wasn’t unanimously comfortable with the “god show” at first.
“I can’t say I was too keen on the name of this show … I’m just not a religious person, but perhaps a spiritual person,” Leong said.
“I don’t care for the name, but the exercise of doing this was really great.”
The theme prompted lengthy discussions within the collective, Watt explained.
“There were strong feelings on both ends, of whether it was a good idea or a bad idea,” Watt said.
The collective benefitted from a COVID delay to the show’s launch, which allowed more time for the artists to establish a common vision – which meant agreeing to see the prompt in different ways.
“Everyone became comfortable with an artistic expression of what god, or spirituality, or life meant to each artist and how they would represent it in this exhibition,” Watt said.
The “god show” is on display at the Yukon Arts Centre’s main gallery until Feb. 18.
Disclaimer: Yukon News reporter Lawrie Crawford is a member of the SLAC.
Storm Blakley is a freelance writer and poet based in Whitehorse.