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Abstract artists consider themes of ecology in Nanaimo Art Gallery show

Sun Over Swamp will display the work of five artists until June 23
Abstract artists Azadeh Elmizadeh, left, Rebecca Brewer and Gailan Ngan talk about their work in the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s ongoing exhibit titled Sun Over Swamp during a discussion panel event at the gallery on Saturday, April 27. (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin)

According to an exhibiting artist at the Nanaimo Art Gallery, abstract art is a lot like literature.

The name of the group show, Sun Over Swamp, is taken from the title of a 1964 painting by Takao Tanabe – which is displayed at the gallery along with additional works by the artist. The original painting has been described as “a brushed yellow rectangle hovering over splashes of ochre and umber and hatches of turquoise and slate.”

The show features the work of five artists as they consider ecology through different forms of abstract painting.

In an e-mail, participating artist Azadeh Elmizadeh said that she’s been interested in how climate and environment, specifically in arid areas such as the Iranian plateau, have given birth to certain myths and fables that centre around the significance of water.

“Just as paint flows and shifts on a canvas, water embodies a similar fluidity that incorporates both an element of uncertainty and feels like the proper material to convey the transformation of mythological beings into becoming one with their environment,” she said.

As part of the group show, she created three oil paintings on linen using predominantly blues and greens of various tones and hues to create work that is reminiscent of creatures lurking in the depths of water.

Elmizadeh is an Iranian-Canadian visual artist born in Tehran and based in Toronto. Her work has been displayed in galleries and exhibitions in Lethbridge, Alta., Toronto, Los Angeles, New York, Milan and London.

During an artist discussion event on Saturday, April 27, Nanaimo Art Gallery curator Jesse Birch asked how the participating artists found their voice in abstraction and what their journeys were like.

Elmizadeh answered that even in her most abstracted work, there is a reference to either a narrative, a story, or a piece of poetry. Although, her older work had been based on photographs and was quite representational, she said. As she progressed, she felt there was something about photographs that were too fixed – an aspect she couldn’t overcome with her imagination. And so, she began to create collage out of the photographs, since the fragmentation helped her move into abstraction. As she again progressed in her medium, she began to explore the idea of what ignited her imagination.

“I found that in language, in poetry and literature, which I think unlike a photograph as a reference, language is quite unfixed. There’s something about it that’s constantly changing,” she said. “There’s the image that ignites in your imagination is not fixed. It’s manual and the translation into the painting could also have the qualities of the imagination.”

The Sun Over Swamp group show, on display at the Nanaimo Art Gallery until June 23, also includes the work of Rebecca Brewer, Rita Letendre and Gailan Ngan.

The gallery will also hold a workshop called Abstraction in the Landscape on May 7 that considers the themes in the show as it “explores the line between figurative and abstract painting.”

READ MORE: Nanaimo Art Gallery group exhibit considers the importance of storytelling

Artist Azadeh Elmizadeh’s three submissions for the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s ongoing exhibit titled Sun Over Swamp which shows until June 23. (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin)

Mandy Moraes

About the Author: Mandy Moraes

I joined Black Press Media in 2020 as a multimedia reporter for the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, and transferred to the News Bulletin in 2022
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