Extreme and unconventional times two

Carole Rubin/Contributing Writer / Staff writer
November 30, 2012 01:00 AM

The painting Mattress #1 by Heather Passmore is part of a series about the “sad one-room lives and deaths of the poor.”

Two unconventional Sunshine Coast artists from two completely different backgrounds, generations and artistic approaches are making marks in the art world.

Heather Passmore is a young Vancouver artist raised on the Sun-shine Coast. Her painting, Mattress #3, was just purchased by the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG). Part of a series on poverty and violence, the canvasses are made from mattress covers found in dumpsters on the Downtown Eastside, cut and cleaned by Passmore.

Mattresses were discarded when tenants were displaced for the Olympics, and lately because of bed bugs, Passmore said. In art world jargon, they are socio-historically laden materials.

The rescued covers were stored in her materials stash, which included another unusual discard, a folder of forensic police photographs from crime scenes in the Downtown Eastside.

I found the folder years ago, and for some reason, held onto it. I had no idea what I would use it for, she said.

In 2009/10, fabric and forensic images came together for the series, and a new piece was made for the Vancouver Review magazine's centrefold, which caught the eye of a VAG curator. The fabric was stretched on three by four frames, and the forensic scenes were painted on them with such muted delicacy, many missed the point.

People thought the figures were passed out, or that I was promoting violence against women, Passmore said. Actually, the series is about the sad one-room lives and deaths of the poor.

Donna Balma, a 70-something artist living and making art in Roberts Creek for 30 years is a visionary or outsider artist, self-taught, who creates raw, fantastical pieces.

In May, Balma was the sole Canadian invited to show in an exhibition of 13 American outsider artists called American Visionaries, in Melbourne, Australia. The work selected, Sixteen, (yes, the title refers to the B.C. Ferry docking announcement) is one in a series called Lentis that Balma executed between 1998 and 2000.

The Lentis images visited her, literally, as visions.

It was all I could do to keep up with the images that were coming, Balma said. They were so detailed, full of strange creatures.

When she tried to find a place where this work fit, she discovered Raw Vision magazine and a home for her work and self. The international family of visionary artists includes curator of the Melbourne exhibition, Damian Michaels, who felt compelled to include Balma in what was to be an American-only show.

The art world concurs with Michaels. Balma will receive a life-time achievement award, Homage to a Woman's Creative Life, at the Artrom Gallery's exhibit Beholding Beauty, this spring in Rome. The exhibit runs from April 19 to July 21, 2013.

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