When you see Brenda Gardiner’s art, you inevitably see yourself.
Many of the pieces on display now at the Quesnel Art Gallery are stylized mirrors. But you also might be surprised at the reflections you can discover in the other forms of art she puts to use.
This exhibition also showcases her watercolour work.
“Brenda began watercolour painting five years ago, inspired and mentored by her good friend Leah Seabrook,” said Marguerite Hall, a gallery spokesperson. “She admits that she gets lost in the medium and often finds that when she ‘comes back,’ hours have passed and there are 30 paintings drying on the floor around her. Painting in watercolours calms and focuses her, allowing her to produce ethereal, sometimes whimsical treed landscapes.”
In a detailed interview filmed for the Quesnel Arts Council, Gardiner explained that in an introductory class she took with Seabrook, she found herself understanding the genre, and Seabrook was instantly receptive.
“As soon as I touched the brush to the paper and saw what the water could do, it was ‘holy crow, this is amazing.’ I still carry on my honour of her in my work,” Gardiner said. Seabrook passed away in 2020.
The focus of Gardiner’s watercolour work, for this display, is trees and specifically the ones left behind in the wake of wildfire.
“I was inspired by the fires that happened, and the devastation, so I try to capture the beauty in the trees,” Gardiner said. “Very seldom do I paint a black or a brown tree.” One of her favourite sub-themes is what she calls “spirit tree” imagery. “There will be things that people see that I don’t see. It’s a medium that allows that discussion to happen,” she said.
Gardiner is originally from Smithers, and traces her roots to the Small Frog clan of the Witset First Nation. Her artistic routes are all over the creative map, sometimes specifically embracing Indigenous art from her ancestry (drums, feathers, etc.), and sometimes European classical imagery, or abstract or found-art.
It is this latter line of thinking that infuses the other side of the gallery works in this show.
“In contrast to her watercolours are her mirrors,” said Hall. “These are bold, bright and vivid masterpieces. Constructed from an eclectic collection of objects Brenda has found in a variety of interesting places all across Western Canada, these works of art capture your attention and draw you in. Just when you think you have seen the whole creation, you find another hidden treasure.”
“I’m the queen of thrift store shopping,” Gardiner said. “The garbage dump boutique, as I call it, up by the garbage dump, oh my gosh, that’s the treasure. I could probably pump out five more mirrors with leaving the house. That’s how much stuff I’ve got collected.”
It is a drastic change to have those mirrors and watercolour works out of the house and in public view. Gardiner said the pandemic effectively slammed the door on art sales and certainly on exhibitions. She can finally show the world what she has been doing with her creative time, during the lockdown period and beyond.
The exhibition opened on Jan. 18 with a reception at the gallery, and will now be open for viewing until Feb. 10. Entitled Another Brenda Lee Production, it can be toured during regular gallery hours, Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.