Creative collaboration

This story of Icarus didn't begin in Crete, but on Helen O'Connor's living room floor. It all started in January amidst a heaping pile of the kind of trash you'd only find in the scrap bins of accomplished artists.

This story of Icarus didn’t begin in Crete, but on Helen O’Connor’s living room floor.

It all started in January amidst a heaping pile of the kind of trash you’d only find in the scrap bins of accomplished artists.

“There was everything, feather, leather, paper, scraps of painting…” O’Connor said.

“…and her cat,” chimed in artist Leslie Leong.

The feline wasn’t up for grabs. But everything else was fair game.

Members of the Southern Lakes Artist Collective – sculptors and painters, glassworkers and paper experts, all skilled in their own craft – had each brought leftovers from their work for each other to paw through and use.

“You could feel the energy of the group,” O’Connor said. “Just the curiosity being sparked through the materials.”

Mixed into the mounds was torn canvas, formerly a painting by Ken Thomas. Those brightly coloured strips would eventually become part of Icarus’s face, part of a life-sized sculpture built by Suzanne Paleczny.

The completed piece, dubbed Icarus Descending, hangs front and centre of the collective’s first show together: Rock Paper Scissors, which runs until Sept. 26. The show’s 54 pieces fill two rooms at Arts Underground.

Each one is an example of collaboration.

It was about more than sharing materials, it was also about sharing skills. In some cases artists worked together on a single piece. Others came after intensive monthly workshops where one person would teach a new skill to their peers.

There were workshops on welding and paper making among others, things that many of the artists had never tried before.

“We really didn’t try to limit ourselves. Sometimes you can just be stuck, too, in one mode of creating, and people expect that from you, you have a style,” said O’Connor.

“So I think people went outside of their comfort zone and tried to explore creating like a child again. That’s how it felt.”

Leong got her first chance to try paper-making after a workshop put on by O’Connor.

“I would never have picked it up otherwise,” she said.

After weaving and tangling branches together, Leong draped the pulp she learned to create from the fibres of banana leaves overtop, moulding it until she was happy with the result. The technique seems to have had an impact beyond the piece that was created, Weave and Tangle. Leong is already thinking about how to use it again.

“I love paper! I don’t know what I’ll do with it.”

O’Connor said teaching the class was a new experience for her.

“What I found so neat being the teacher of that workshop, or the instructor, was working with artists that were already so good at their form of art and they could just run with it and really go places with it that I hadn’t even thought of.”

It was during a different group session, this time at Paul Baker’s studio on Crag Lake, that O’Connor came across old wheels lying in a junk pile.

They became moulds for her 3D paper sculpture piece, Wheels of Time.

When it comes to Icarus, his paper feathers were made by Paleczny at a workshop led by O’Connor using a mould she had created with artist Don Watt. With the help of sculptor Sandra Storey she made Icarus’s clay hands. Leong helped with the wings and his belly contains a glass piece made by Jeanine Baker.

The show is a long way from the collective’s beginnings in 2012, as a handful of artists from the Southern Lakes region looking for good fun, constructive art critique and a tasty potluck.

It’s grown since then to about a dozen people, including artists from Whitehorse and further north.

“We’re driving a lot more,” joked founding member Lawrie Crawford.

Leong wonders if living in a large isolated place like the Yukon leads to artists seeking each other’s camaraderie. It’s a feeling O’Connor can relate to.

“You create a family here, from strangers, that’s what happens.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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