Everyone gets in a rut. Having the opportunity to take a vacation, or a physical break from your regular work cycle enables you to have a new perspective on things. Yes, there is a sense of comfort to having ‘everything in it’s place’ in your own home studio, but there is something to be said for shaking it up, expanding your horizons and getting into a new space to create and imagine the possibilities previously unthought of.
For me, I literally “get outside” and paint when I can, taking the opportunity to explore the Rocky Mountains and Kananaskis Country – literally in my front and back yard. That’s an “elegant solution” to a one-day residency. A great way to observe and appreciate nature and create something new.
For a more in-depth examination of the process or project, there is nothing like leaving my comfy home studio and driving a half an hour down the road to the Leighton Artist’s Colony at The Banff Centre. This January/February marks the fourth residency period I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy in this cadillac of artist’s residencies. I feel very lucky.
Nestled in the woods, is my favourite visual arts studio – the “Gerin-Lajoie”. Complete with a kettle, toaster, small fridge and microwave, it’s my favourite place to imagine the “new” in my practice. It’s a quiet place, no distractions – but with all the amenities that you need for your own creature comfort a short walk away. Many artists choose to actually reside at The Banff Centre during their residency period, and for that, The Banff Centre offers wonderful accommodation, a pool and exercise facility, several places to dine and a library that you could get lost in for the rest of your life. To me – it’s heaven on earth, all located on the side of Buffalo Mountain, a sacred place to many First Nations – a place for vision quests for over 14,000 years. Fitting for artists to congregate and exchange on this natural place for creation in contemporary times. I travel back and forth from my home, as it’s important to me to be with my family every day.
I’ve been planning for this residency since May of last year, after receiving the news that I’d be one of three artists in residence for Gwaii Haanas National Park. Knowing full well that I’d need some incubation time over the summer, and follow it with some intensive creation time, my plans were to work on some very large scale paintings at the “Leightons”. News just days before Christmas that I was diagnosed with breast cancer changed that, and for several weeks, I felt as though my entire life was askew. Everyone was sad…and so was I. Hmmm…no residency, what did the future look like? Chemotherapy? Radiation? Surgery? Painting might be a thing of the past for me for quite some time, and that was the second blackest thought I could imagine. I won’t entertain the first.
It took a couple of weeks to work through these issues emotionally, until finally I was able to meet with my surgeon and get some good ideas about what I might or might not be able to expect of life in the coming months (and years). The morning following the surgeon’s meeting, after deciding that a modified radical mastectomy to remove my right breast and lymph nodes was the way to go, I also realized that I needn’t put my life on hold because of this. Everything didn’t have to stop – but things had to change. It was a complete “AHA” moment. Although I had found out that I had a life-threatening disease and that the road to health may be long and difficult, I came to the total realization that cancer didn’t affect ME…my soul, my art or my outlook on life and that I was the only one who could adversely affect that, if I continued to dwell on the “what if’s” instead of dealing with the “Wow…what I’ve already gots”, so to speak.
Cancer can’t kill your spirit, your soul, your love of life and family. You’re in control of that one, entirely.
So, with some incredible encouragement from my dear friend Jen Houck, Program Coordinator at the Leighton Art Colony, I realized that I should continue with my work and give myself the goal of returning to my residency two weeks after surgery. The two weeks were up on Monday, and I didn’t quite make it. Drains are still in – there’s some weird nerve pain that’s holding me back, but that’s okay – I need to rest and take care of my spirit and my body. I’ll get there soon!
Family and Friends To The Rescue!
In the meantime, before the surgery, my family and friends pulled out all the stops to get my studio set up and help me to get as much large-scale work on the go as I possibly could. My youngest brother David who lives in Calgary drove in and gessoed over forty feet of canvas in a day! Three coats PLUS sanding! (We won’t talk about poor Dave getting locked out of the studio, though.) Kevin and the kids moved a mountain of prepped linens and paint into the studio, and unselfishly granted me the time and space to draw and get as much work done as I could before my surgery.
Friends and colleagues came to visit and lend support. I’ll never EVER forget your kindness, and you know who you are…Tab, Jen, Wanda, Sarah, Lisa, Donna et al.
With the type of surgery I have, there is a danger of not having full mobility in one’s arm, shoulder or muscles for some time. This was the biggest fear I had going into my surgery – that I would not be able to paint the way that I wanted. Nerves are delicate things, and taking care of how everything interconnects requires the genius and care of a great surgeon. Lucky for me, I have one, and he was totally on board with me…figuring out an “elegant solution” to try his best not only to save my life, but to ensure I could paint. I’m doing pretty well right now, almost three weeks post-surgery. Life isn’t without it’s ups and downs, and I’m not back in the studio painting quite yet….but I know I will be. Thank you, Dr. Austen, Edith, Dr. Quinlan, Pam, Canmore Home Care, Cathie, Julie, Sarah, and all the staff at the Breast Cancer Clinic and Rockyview Hospital. You have rocked my world.
Knowing that I have a sacred space to go to has given me a goal and a direction and helped me remember not only who I am, but what I can accomplish with my family and friends when we put our minds and hearts into it.