Silk is a natural fibre that reflects light in gorgeous ways. The fibre artist team of Brian Provencher and Louise Valentine work mostly with colourful silk that has been hand-painted and hand-pleated into scarves and shawls, wearable art created in their studio in Gibsons.
Their latest work recently earned them an honour in the fibre art category at the prestigious La Quinta Arts Festival in California, voted the number one fine art show in the U.S., exhibiting the work of 230 contemporary artists. The judges circulate at this show and base their award on the artists’ overall work.
It’s not the couple’s first award. Two years ago Valentine was surprised at the Bellevue Arts Museum when a flash mob surrounded their booth and handed them cash and a Tiffany bowl as their Award of Excellence prize. They have similar stories from arts festivals in Florida (first place at Coconut Grove) and many others across the U.S.
These are not your gentle pastel paintings on silk — these colours pop. They show up vividly in each piece, rippling through the spectrum. Valentine displays an almost luminous green and black pleated shawl on heavier silk, a commissioned work from a fan who saw one of her similar pieces in Florida. Other shawls unfold in varying tones of gold, mocha cream, ripe tangerine or silvers that contrast with deep black.
“Putting colour on silk — Louise is the best,” said Provencher simply.
Valentine began this work back in 1981 in Quebec and studied the art of shibori in Japan. It’s a form of resist dyeing that has been practised for centuries. The word means to wring or squeeze and describes the process by which the artist gathers the silk tightly in some fashion to form barriers then submits it to various dye baths. The colour will appear in some areas and hide in others.
“It’s a sophisticated tie dye,” Provencher notes.
Although the couple make “flat” scarves, the more dramatic pieces have been hand-pleated. That’s Provencher’s job — the material is wrapped around a piece of pipe fatter than his arm. He carefully and patiently folds each pleat into the fabric, pushing it into place, knowing that surprises will emerge in the final colour combinations.
Provencher got involved when he moved from Quebec in 1990 to help a friend sell maple syrup at Granville Island Market. When he met Valentine he liked the work she was doing, and the couple have continued to operate a stall at the market since 1989, selling their pieces. In the 1990s they set up at the Arts Council’s Hackett Park craft fair in Sechelt and finally moved to Gibsons in 2000.
Creating a new batch of work ready for the festival circuit is always exciting, yet wearying. It’s very physical, they note, preparing the unique scarves, shawls and caftans, wrangling with customs officials because every item is a commercial entry and must be accounted for, then setting up a booth and staffing it throughout a festival. But the process earns awards, and more importantly, it brings in the customers who want something special.
Fibreworks Gallery in Madeira Park is now carrying a good selection of the couple’s shibori shawls and scarves. Their price reflects the artistry in them, hovering around the $300 mark. For more designs see www.valentinesilks.com.
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