Visual Arts alumna Jody DeSchutter creates a fresh perspective

Jody DeSchutter

Jody DeSchutter working on her Centennial Square panels in fall 2015

DeSchutter comparing fabric swatches before painting the patterns onto her mural panel (photo: Leya Anderson)

DeSchutter shows off her in-process panel, with the fabric patterns and stylized tree design visible

DeSchutter’s installed panel in the parkade stairwell, visible on the third floor

DeSchutter (second from right) at the mural blessing ceremony, seen with mentor artists (from left) Beth Threlfall, Joanne Thomson, Jennifer Johnson and Victoria mayor Lisa Helps

A panoramic shot of DeSchutter’s panel, visible with the Garry oak tree that helped inspired the design

A close-up of DeSchutter’s Fernwood mural, painted to address problem graffiti in the neighbourhood

A “before” shot of the Fernwood wall

An “after” shot of the same wall, now with mural

An example of DeSchutter’s work in the 2015 BFA show

All too often, art is perceived as only being seen in galleries, when in fact just the opposite is true: art is all around us, all the time. That’s one of the points of two new Victoria mural projects involving Visual Arts alumna Jody DeSchutter.

The first project—a four-panel project titled “Infusing Spirits” now installed at downtown’s Centennial Square parkade—saw DeSchutter and two other young artists working with three professional artists as mentors. But in the second—a long line of fencing that was a graffiti hot-spot on Fernwood’s Gladstone Avenue—the roles were switched, with DeSchutter becoming mentor to a group of teenage artists. Involvement with this kind of  community engagement is typical of UVic students, faculty and alumni, and shows the impact our creative efforts can have on the city.

The impact of public art “can be huge,” says DeSchutter, who was also involved with a public art installation in her BC hometown of Lake Country last year. “Public art is a way of engaging people with where they are physically—especially when everyone is so involved with the cyberspace world. When you see something beautiful on the wall, it makes you stop and think about your surroundings more. It takes you out of your head.”

DeSchutter, who graduated with a BFA in 2015, seeks to marry a sense of tradition and modernity in her painted works, mixing abstraction with academic realism. “I was really partial to painting and sculpture in university,” she says, noting that the murals aren’t “necessarily representative of a large body of my work, but it’s becoming a part of my overall practice.”

Her panel in the downtown parkade mural—one of four acrylic-on-birch wood panels encompassing four views of Victoria (parks, city, harbour and skyline)—uses a patchwork fabric motif intermingled with stylized branches of a Garry Oak to represent the weaving of history and multiculturalism, as well depict the project’s theme of “infusing spirits.” DeSchutter is pleased that it’s one of three permanent pieces aimed at enhancing the downtown parkades. (One of the other projects at the Yates Street parkade is designed by fellow Fine Arts alumnus Scott Amos, while the other will feature work by acclaimed Susan Point, whose work is on view as part of the Coast Salish collection in UVic’s Cornett Building.)

“It makes for an interesting marker in all of our careers as individual artists, but also as a point in time for us—where we were at that particular moment—and to see how perception changes around it in the years to come,” says DeSchutter. “It was a good opportunity for artistic dialogue too, mixing the First Nations voice with our more contemporary styles. It’s looking forward in the hope that the dialogue continues.”

City of Victoria arts and culture co-ordinator Nicola Reddington spoke to the local Times Colonist newspaper about the $10,000 mural project. “I think when we put value into the parkades, it makes them feel safer. By beautifying, it just makes them more welcoming and inviting for people.”

When asked about switching roles and becoming mentor on the Gladstone Avenue location of Victoria’s Create Community Colour Mural Program, DeSchutter says she was glad of the experience gained while working on the downtown mural. “I took a lot of what I learned on the downtown project and applied it to this one. It was amazing to see how much work you actually have to put in as a mentor.”

DeSchutter, now moving to England, credits her Visual Arts degree with giving her the practical and conceptual ability to create public projects like these. “The sharing of ideas—both good and bad—was one of the most helpful parts of my education,” she says. “It can be scary to put your ideas out there, but it gets you out of the habit of being the typically reclusive artist. Being part of a community of artists in the faculty, learning that collaborative practice, was fantastic.”

Faculty comings and goings

Incoming professor Merrie Klazek

Incoming professor Merrie Klazek

A number of longtime faculty members are retiring this year, including Theatre’s Allan Stichbury (design), Visual ArtsVikky Alexander (photography) and Writing’s Lynne Van Luven (creative nonfiction), as well as the School of Music’s Louis Ranger (trumpet) and Michelle Fillion (musicology)—all of whom will continue on as Professor Emeriti. Additionally, Stichbury will act as an adjunct professor for two years, during which time he will continue to help us strengthen our ties with international institutions like Bangkok University; Van Luven will also remain a member of Graduate Studies so she can serve on MFA committees. Also on the move is Art History & Visual Studies instructor Jamie Kemp, who has now completed her PhD and recently accepted a teaching position at Quest University in Squamish. Joining the School of Music is assistant professor Merrie Klazek, who has taught at Ontario’s Lakehead University since 2002 and is principal trumpet with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra.

But sad news out of Theatre, where two foundational figures passed away recently. Roger Bishop was the first head of UVic’s English department and it was through his efforts that theatre studies first began in 1964. Former Director of Theatre Carl Hare recalls Bishop as “the toughest fighter for the University of Victoria in its early years. As the head of the English department he stocked it with bright young instructors deeply involved in their teaching and in their love of the theatre. And he was the force in creating a theatre department, luring me back to develop it and wrestling to let it happen. It was through a donation of $5,000 from the student drama society, which he had supervised, that the university provided the huts that most of the faculty and students at the young university renovated with their own hands.”

Roger Bishop

Roger Bishop

The faction’s first milestone came with Shakespeare 64, when they produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Alchemist and Richard III. After the official creation of the Division of Theatre in the Department of English, it hosted the Renaissance Festival in 1965, staging both Twelfth Night and the recently written (at that time) A Man For All Seasons. Also in 1965, the University Senate recommended the establishment of a School of Fine Arts, offering studies in Fine Arts, Music and Theatre. Bishop’s legacy remains as the namesake for the Roger Bishop Theatre, the department’s proscenium stage.

And Kazimierz Piesowocki—known simply as “Kaz” to all—was a much-loved faculty member who taught movement for 26 years, retiring in 1998. He began his career with the Warsaw Ballet in the late 1950s, joined the Polish National Circus and was a member of the famous Polish Mime Company when he defected to the West in 1965. He joined the department in 1972 and was an expert in acrobatics, mime, stage combat, mask, and period dance. When news of his passing broke, the Phoenix Facebook feed was literally overwhelmed with an outpouring of memories and devotion for him. “I remember vividly the day he told our class about the night he defected to Canada after a performance in Montreal,” posted Theatre alumna Danette Boucher. “A bunch of 20-year-olds from BC, listening to someone talk about actually running for his freedom. What a great teacher, what a legacy.”

Kaz Piesowocki

Kaz Piesowocki

Veteran solo performer and fellow Phoenix alumnus TJ Dawe posted his own memories of Kaz. “I was completely intimidated by him in first year; in second year I was the worst person in the class: inflexible, uncoordinated, with a terrible spacial sense—no ability to watch someone do something with their body and replicate it with my own,” recalls Dawe. “In third year I came to early morning warm-ups, sometimes an hour before class, even during the holidays. Kaz asked where I lived and it turns out it was not too far from him, so he started giving me rides to school every morning—and this continued for the rest of my time as a student. After I graduated Kaz came to see every show I did in Victoria. Always knew I was coming to town, always bought his own ticket and surprised me by being there. Always invited me to his place for lunch, and glowed with happiness that I was working, was so happy with what I was doing. He was gruff as can be on the outside, but so soft and warm on the inside. Worth getting to know. It was a privilege to have learned from him, and to have known him.”

Peter Daglish

Peter Daglish

Another early figure in Fine Arts history who recently passed away is Peter Daglish. The British-born Daglish moved to Canada in 1955 and, following more than a decade studying art and pedagogy in Montreal, New York and London, he accepted an early teaching post at UVic in 1969, where he taught drawing and printmaking alongside Visual Arts department founders Donald Harvey and John Dobereiner until 1971. Even at this early point in his career, he brought an international level of knowledge of contemporary art, experimenting with a wide range of media (textiles, plastics, props, performance, and mail art projects).

Daglish has been described as a methodical and disciplined artist. Former student and Governor General’s Award winner Eric Metcalfe described his work as “sensuous, humourous and technically virtuosic.” The late Donald Harvey referred to him as “arguably one of the greatest colourists since Matisse.” Following his time at UVic, Daglish taught printmaking at the Chelsea School of Art in London, the Slade School of Fine Art and also gave many courses in India. In addition to UVic’s permanent collection, Peter Daglish’s work can be found in public collections worldwide, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Gallery, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Portland Museum of Fine Art.

Bill Gaston receives the 2016 Craigdarroch Award

For 38 years, Bill Gaston’s award-winning prose has exemplified the relentless curiosity, deep human empathy, acute moral vision and commitment to exploring new creative frontiers that are at the heart of artistic excellence. Now, the veteran Department of Writing professor has been named the recipient of UVic’s 2016 Craigdarroch Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression.

Bill Gaston

Bill Gaston

A pioneer in Canada, and beyond, in the genres of the short story and the literary novel, Gaston has also published poetry, essays, memoirs, plays and screenplays. His widely acclaimed works—including six novels—span a range of topics from historical events, religion, colonialism, philosophy, intense wit, and contemporary foibles. His most recent short story collection, Juliet Was a Surprise, was nominated for the 2014 Governor General’s Award for literature. He is, quite simply, one of the most original voices in contemporary Canadian literature.

“By honouring Bill with the Craigdarroch Research Award, UVic recognizes the immense impact he has had on both Canadian literature and on our university’s reputation as the centre for excellence in the literary arts,” says current Writing chair David Leach. “As a creative writer, Bill is prolific, versatile and incredibly accomplished—a model of creative focus and originality for students and fellow faculty members. He publishes nearly a book a year, most of which earn award nominations and major accolades from across Canada.”

gaston_JulietwasaSurprise_pbffFor his part, Gaston typically plays down the honour. “It’s a gratifying surprise, at this stage of my writing career, to be recognized by my peers and nominated for such an award,” he says. “I don’t have a PhD, but I have a Craigdarroch.”

The six winners of the Craigdarroch Research Awards recognize outstanding research and creative achievement at UVic. “These individuals exemplify why UVic is consistently ranked nationally and internationally as a top research-intensive university,” says Vice-President Research David Castle. “They’re all leaders in their field who are pushing the boundaries of discovery, creativity and innovation to make an impact on our lives and the world around us.”

Gaston joins previous Fine Arts Craigdarroch Award recipients Marcus Milwright, Harald Krebs, Benjamin Butterfield, Lorna Crozier and the members of the Lafayette String Quartet.

A busy spring for Writing

It’s been a busy spring for the Writing department, with a wide variety of faculty and alumni in the spotlight for award nominations and new book releases.

WR_lilburnPoetry professor and Governor General’s Award-winning poet Tim Lilburn has released The Names (Penguin/Random House), a new collection of poetry of great scope and ambition. Both personal and familial archaeology, The Names is an extemporal dig giving spectres back to their bodies. With its lines sped up and dazzlingly associative, Lilburn’s cocktail of obsessions—confession, ontology, mystical theology, humour and extreme, fleet, apt weirdness—marches through on full display. We are immersed in a realism of remarkable proportions, as though incandescent memory comprised both texture and text, and combined formed the elemental fibres of a perilous present.

In March, Lilburn also re-released his 1999 essay collection Living in the World As If It Were Home (Cormorant). Written over a nine-year span, Living In The World is a careful, exquisite look at the human desire to share a home with long grass, rivers, and stones. Lilburn’s collection of essays plots the work required to roughly re-establish the conditions of Paradise; it explores the world of prairies rivers, aspen-covered sandhills, deer country, big lakes taking on their first ice in late October, the moon rising over chokecherry thickets, and asks: How to be here? This is a remarkable collection—a “classic” as Dennis Lee says in the new foreword—by a writer with passion and insight, in hopeless love with the unsayable world, the place which “ignites awe” yet is completely vulnerable to human ingenuity.

YasukoMysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains, the debut novel by Journey Prize-winning alumna Yasuko Thanh, was released in April by Random House and has been garnering good reviews. “A very readable and equally savage look at colonial Vietnam,” notes this Globe & Mail review. “Thanh’s writing whips up a miasma of jasmine oil and incense and opium smoke, while remaining gauzy as tulle. Which is not to say the story is frivolous . . . . From the national to the personal, this is a story about catastrophic loss. But Thanh’s ability to navigate such brutal territory with a steady hand makes this book a must-read.” This is the follow-up book to Thanh’s acclaimed debut story collection Floating Like the Dead (M&S), which won the Journey Prize for best short story in Canada in 2009 for the title story. Another story in the collection won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Short Story, and the book itself was shortlisted for BC’s Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize,  the Danuta Gleed Award, was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and became a Quill and Quire Best Books of the Year selection.

friesenLongtime Writing instructor and poet Patrick Friesen has been shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize for his translation (with Per Brask) of Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments (Brick) by Ulrikka Gernes. There are only three Canadian nominations on the short list, putting Friesen in an enviable spot for this lauded international prize. Interestingly, Ulrikka Gernes was an Open Word visitor in the Writing department this year, sharing her experiences with our students, and this is the second translation of her work by the same team, with both Friesen and Brask having collaborated on her 2001 poetry collection, A Sudden Sky.

The Griffin Poetry Prize judges’ citation notes, “This collaboration . . . is astonishingly successful, every line at home in its new language. The poems have not stopped being poems. In fact, now that they are speaking through three mouths (one female, two male) they seem to have gathered an extra layer of strangeness which suits their dream-like, mutable, almost anonymous voice: ‘Since then I have been standing in the subway singing to passersby and nobody knows my name …’ The world of the poems is twilit, borderless, melancholy, associative, seeping; and these qualities are carried over from the imagery into the fluid, blended structures of the verse. Full of arresting detail and quiet everyday language, this is the second Gernes book to be translated by these writers and it is masterful.”

In other award-nomination news, the BC Book Prizes saw alumni Jude Isabella and Ali Blythe nominated for their recent books, Isabella for the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize for her book, The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle (Kids Can Press), and Blythe for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize for the poetry collection Twoism (Goose Lane). Also nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize was Maria Tippett for her latest study, Made in British Columbia: Eight Ways of Making Culture, which was launched back in September 2015 by the Faculty of Fine Arts. And the annual CBC Short Story Prize saw alumna Katherin Edwards nominated for her story “The Sound of His Fall”. Her work has previously been published in The Malahat Review.

Ellery Lamm (back right, in blue stripes) learning the radio trade at Transom

Ellery Lamm (back right, in blue stripes) learning the radio trade at Transom

On the student front, current Writing undergraduate Ellery Lamm was accepted into the prestigious Transom Story Workshop in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This spring, the Canadian/American Lamm—already an award-winning writer, filmmaker and radio storyteller—will spend nine weeks in full-time training for beginning radio/podcast producers, working with the likes of Ira Glass of NPR’s This American Life fame, and undergoing pitching/editorial sessions, voice coaching, technical gear orientation, and participating in the day-to-day operations of award-winning Cape and Islands public radio station WCAI.

During her time at Transom, Lamm will also producea vox-pop audio piece, a radio promo, a four-minute profile of a creative person (based on WCAI’s Creative Life Series), and a six-minute documentary feature. Lamm’s The Bear Story picked up the award for best student animation film at the 2015 Monteal Film Festival, won Best Overall Film at the inaugural Shoreline Film Festival student film festival at UVic and her RMS Titanic storytelling film The Dive is currently being screened at the Titanic museum in Belfast, Ireland. See some of her recent short films here.

Exciting news for award-winning alumna Ashley Little, who has been chosen as Wilfrid Laurier University’s 2017 Edna Staebler Writer in Residence. An award-winning author of five novels, including the ReLit award finalist PRICK: Confessions of a Tattoo Artist, the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize winning The New Normal, and Anatomy of a Girl Gang, which won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, was a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award, was long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and has been optioned for television. Her fourth novel, Niagara Motel, will be released in October 2016 and her fifth novel, Confessions of a Teenage Leper, is forthcoming. Little has previously served as writer-in-residence for the Vancouver Public Library and Calgary’s Alexandra Writers Centre Society, and she is just the fifth writer to hold Laurier’s WIR position, fulfilling her term from January to April 2017.

“Ashley’s writing is sharp, witty and boundary pushing,” said Jenny Kerber, assistant professor of English and chair of the Edna Staebler Writer in Residence committee. “She is one of Canada’s most exciting younger writers and will make a wonderful addition to our campuses, as well as to the region. We are thrilled that she’ll be joining us.” During her residency at Laurier, Little will be working on a new novel: BIG ME, a story of a teenage giant.

Writing alumna Jenny Manzer has been getting a good deal of attention for her young adult novel, Save Me, Kurt Cobain (Delacourte Press/Random House), which has been described by New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Niven (All the Bright Places) as “utterly gorgeous, mesmerizing, hypnotic . . . I love this book.” Manzer was interviewed about her book on Global Television, CBC Radio’s All Points West, on CFAX Radio (skip to the 00:34 mark), and in this Times Colonist article.

leachAnd it’ll be the battle of the book-writing spouses soon, as current Writing department chair David Leach—also Manzer’s husband—releases his latest book in September 2016. Chasing Utopia:The Future of the Kibbutz in a Divided Israel (ECW) is described as “a fascinating, non-partisan exploration of an incendiary region.” Say the word “Israel” today and it sparks images of walls and rockets and a bloody conflict without end. Yet for decades, the symbol of the Jewish State was the noble pioneer draining the swamps and making the deserts bloom: the legendary kibbutznik.

So whatever happened to the pioneers’ dream of founding a socialist utopia in the land called Palestine? Chasing Utopia draws readers into the quest for answers to the defining political conflict of our era. Acclaimed author David Leach revisits his raucous memories of life as a kibbutz volunteer and returns to meet a new generation of Jewish and Arab citizens struggling to forge a better future together. Crisscrossing the nation, Leach chronicles the controversial decline of Israel’s kibbutz movement and witnesses a renaissance of the original vision for a peaceable utopia in unexpected corners of the Promised Land, while offering an entertaining and enlightening portrait of a divided nation where hope persists against the odds.

Joan MacLeod backstage at the Belfry

Joan MacLeod backstage at the Belfry

Word recently dropped that Victoria’s own Belfry Theatre will be presenting the world premiere of the latest play by Writing professor and alumna Joan MacLeod—hot on the heels of this spring’s production of her play, The Valley. Gracie is set in Bountiful, the largest polygamous community in Canada, tucked away in a corner of BC. With her characteristic deep empathy and compassion, MacLeod will explore young Gracie’s world, where events transpire that lead her to question her beliefs. Commissioned by the Belfry, Gracie will debut in January 2017 as a co-production directed by Alberta Theatre Project’s Vanessa Porteous. The show will move to Calgary following the run in Victoria.

“How blessed we are to have playwright Joan MacLeod living in our midst,” says Belfry Artistic Director Michael Shamata. “We commissioned Joan to write a play specifically for this theatre and this audience. Gracie is that play—and it is a beautiful study of a young girl as she gradually develops a sense of self and self-direction. Approaching Gracie’s situation with the same unique absence of judgement that made The Valley so compelling, Joan has given us a moving portrait of a moral quandary.”

viff2015devoutFinally, Writing MFA alumnus Connor Gaston‘s debut feature film The Devout has been nominated for a remarkable 14 Leo Awards, with Gaston himself earning nominations for Best Direction and Best Screenwriting. Sharing his nomination for Best Motion Picture are fellow producers and Fine Arts alumni Amanda Verhagen (Theatre) and Daniel Hogg (Writing). Other nominations include cinematography, editing, visual effects, score, production design, casting, supporting performances (male & female) and lead performances (male & female). The Devout has been wowing audiences at film festivals across Canada and in the US since its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival in October 2015.

Neither Gaston nor producer and Fine Arts staff member Hogg are strangers to the Leo Awards, with nominations and wins going back over the past few years thanks to various independent film projects like Two 4 One, Gord’s Brother, Floodplain, Godhead, Woodrow Without Evelyn, and the student projects ’Til Death and Freshman’s Wharf. The Leo Awards, which annually honour BC filmmakers, will be handed out on May 28, and June 4-5 in Vancouver.