Here on this sleepy summer island artists and artisans are everywhere. Men with long beards hammer up small roadside signs with arrows that point to garden art-shows and raku kilns belching wood-smoke. Others hang out in beach houses and derelict trailers, their floral Volvos and psychedelic VWs gathering pine needles in the enveloping forest. There’s the distant sound of a grinding wheel. Well-pierced women lounge on their geranium porches sipping coolers while directing passersby to their oils, puppets, stoneware, wall-hangings, sculptures, dresses, sand candles, found-art, quilts, watercolors, chocolate-chip cookies and jewelry of all shapes and sizes. There’s a sweet, happy smell in the air.
Island life — natural granola, free-range chickens, organic tomatoes, nuclear-free zone, low overhead, no heavy traffic and time on your hands for creativity. It’s what’s happening. The appeal is universal and becoming more so: Get in touch with yourself. Be worthwhile. Make something with your hands. Sell it. Don’t worry. Be happy.
Imagination rules this island. Painted roosters metamorphose into priests. A crocodile is fashioned from several iron saw-blades. Acrylics have so much sand in them they sparkle and glow. One fellow makes artistic fences out of stripling swamp-willows — when you take them home and put them in they bring forth leaves in a marvelous metaphor of renewal and recycle. An antique and pleasantly rusting “Easy” washing machine and wringer overflows with marigolds. “Art for your garden,” says a friendly guy who looks like Rip Van Winkle. I look closely at the tag: “Easy, $400.”
PS: “We require our independence in order to grow and follow the direction that only we can direct. On an island we might be left alone. We are sequestered in our ivory tower of insular productivity.” (Moustapha Venne)
The following are selected responses to the above letter. Thank you for writing.
(RG note) Quite a few artists wanted to know where this island was located and what was its name. Others doubted that such a place existed. It’s called Hornby Island and it’s one of British Columbia’s Northern Gulf Islands. I didn’t put the name in the letter because I wanted artists to think of it as a sort of universal experience and a state of mind — rather than a particular place. I’ve been visiting Hornby Island for twenty years and have done many paintings of its sandstone beaches and bays. This time, as well as old friends, there was a new batch of beautiful people.
Hippies grown old
by John Turkeybaster
Many of the flower power — Age of Aquarius folk who came to these places seeking inexpensive locations and free love in the 60’s and 70’s have stayed on to become landowners and establishment artists. The main enemies of the lifestyle are the tendencies toward vegetation and the fact that people get wrapped up in the endlessly ongoing and time-eating nonsense of small-island politics. Islands are not always perfect places, particularly from a sociological point of view. Petty jealousies and rivalries as well as cabin fever take their toll yearly — and many are old before their time.
by Alan B Stein
Har, har, har. The Rip Van Winkle guy may have thought it was an easy $400 to put a few marigolds in a rusty washer, but my guess is that most “found art” collectors would rather find it themselves. With the sort of empowerment that’s going on (see Deborah Putman’s letter in the previous responses) those who want this kind of treasure around their homes or gardens can get it any time they want. Junkyards are everywhere — and growing faster than art galleries. Fact is that art with real craftsmanship as well as imagination is still what attracts people, and those that can do it well are highly paid for their efforts.
by Monique Duguay
A few days ago I pulled out some old scrapbooks, some glue sticks, two large files of magazine cutouts, and scissors from the crawl space where all my art stuff is stashed and collecting dust and mold. I started with the idea of doing some collage, and playing. As a child I loved to cut, and glue. Mum would mix up some flour and water, presto, I was in another world for an hour or more. A great respite for my mother, with five girls to nurture. As I began to work, I heard the negative critic whispering, in its oh so familiar voice, “This is stupid, it looks dumb, why are you doing this?” I kept going. Something in me has died around art. I don’t want the label “artist” anymore. I can’t take it seriously, or even go to that place anymore, one of wanting to sell, paint larger canvasses, or splash, drip and go crazy with color, which is so incredibly luscious to pull out of a jar and smear. It hurts to let it go, and it hurts to think of venturing forth, and persisting. Why is it that I feel so lost, like a lamb away from the flock? I just went through three weeks, of waiting to find out if I had a malignant tumor on my kidney. It is benign, I am grateful, but I’m left with the question, what next? For 25 years, all I have known is art, and my journey seems to have brought me to a dead end. Where do I go from here? I am waiting again, and wondering, which path should I take?
(RG note) There’s another voice in you that says, “This stuff is fun, stimulating, and worthwhile.” Listen up. We are all on this carousel for only a short time, the ponies go up and down, and we’ll be stepping off soon enough. “Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love, and to work and to play, and to look up at the stars.” (Henry Van Dyke)
by Suzanne Northcott
I get something of that island feeling from my village, Fort Langley, British Columbia. It’s not as apparent — the washing machines are mostly inside doing laundry — but there is a great embracing of difference and love of the oddball here. It’s a real community of very different people united in their love of the place. In the travelling I have done I always return feeling that there is a combination here of freedom and safety that is rare and most conducive to making my work.
Would do it now
by Elaine Sioros
I cannot tell you how appropriate this letter is. Today I want to throw my hands up, quit my job, sell my house and move to the islands! I dream of doing this someday. If I was not too afraid of taking the risk I would do it now.
by Linda Timbs, Coquitlam, BC, Canada
It started with lapidary efforts, moved into the solitude of driftwood gathered from tidal waters, and became a collection of recycled materials made into design: Jewelry, stone carving, wind chimes, a mish mash of the sublimely ridiculous! I smelled fear when friends and colleagues started buying, and offered encouragement. (I am a writer, damn it!) A local showing, more requests, the wash of silly glee that it is OKAY to be off-center. Last week, friends bought me an easel, paints, and all the trappings of my imagination’s true artisan. The engineers of my phobia sit in the sunroom, beckoning as I walk by. Give me a month, and I will be smitten.
What artists need
by Hal Symonds
The sweet happy smell in the island air is Mary Jane and that denotes a laid back easy going kind of life-style where artists, no matter how talented, find it hard to get ahead because down deep they probably really don’t want to. Island buying is largely relegated to souvenirs. Artists today need all their faculties and a decent market readily at hand. In order to thrive artists really need big city galleries to attract buyers with more money than taste or brains in order to get decent prices for the fruits of their imaginations. Incidentally, what’s the difference between artists and artisans?
(RG note) No difference, man.
Buying urgency on islands
by Bill Bracken
When somebody makes a journey to a small island they must generally go by a boat of some sort. When they come that far they often feel they should take something home to remind them of the experience. There is a buying urgency on islands that does not exist on the mainland. If there is quality and collectibility in the sand candles or whatever, a reasonable living can be made.
by Elle Fagan, Connecticut, USA
I have to be careful with islands… my late husband and I liked Sanibel and Captiva, off the West coast of Florida, but I sometimes get unhappily lonely islanding since he died. As a girl and often now, though, I love the feeling of individuation I get islanding… a glorying in my “me-ness.” Since I am just me, I open my mind and spirit, in a special way, and feel a part of the Life Force… elemental… and healed of life’s barnacles… time and space are not the same… I am walking with a friend on the other side of the universe, on the other side of the world… I am chatting with my son on the other side of the country… or my daughter, on the other side of the state , as she does her day. Aloneness as a problem in my bereavement has not been the problem I feared… at the easel, especially, I am in my place in the scheme of things and never more a part of creation and humanity…
by A P Figueira, Trinidad
“Island” is a state of mind. But it is brought into effect for many of us by the physical presence of limitations, and this is appealing to many in both the short run and in lifetime commitments. An island is a space that can be grasped in its entirety and does not go on and on with added complexity. Less is more.
Noticed and contributed by Gil Reynolds
“Things are not all so comprehensible and expressible as one would mostly have us believe; most events are inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no word has ever entered, and more inexpressible than all else are works of art, mysterious existences, the life of which, while ours passes away, endures.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)