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Jo C Willems

 

 

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I was born acutely nearsighted to a world of undefined forms of colour. I saw no detail until my

first pair of eyeglasses around the age of 5. The optometrist’s face was the first I ever saw and he

looked much like Groucho Marx. Put me off and as a result, I never did develop the facial

recognition cues that most people take for granted. However, when I first stepped out of that

doctor’s office I was blown away by the details of the tiny stones of the sidewalk at my feet and

all the other things in the world around me. This experience has had a profound impact on my

work as an artist. Things gelled quickly in my young mind and I soon made the link between my

first paintbox and the colours and forms that reappeared whenever those glasses were on my

nose. From the first marks I made on paper I knew what I would do in my life. That awe of those

first few moments of seeing has never left me.

I grew up in a small town and spent all my free time in the forest. I loved school for the gift of

learning it gave me every day. As a result, I went to school for a very long time, first to study the

sciences, but I never was a good scientist, I just wanted to know things. Then in my final year of

a BSc at UBC I took an art class with Toby MacLennan and she reawakened the artist in me.

Toby gave me permission to express my joy in the beauty of science and mathematics without the

constraints of scientific study. A year as an undergraduate art student at U of Victoria quickly

convinced me to go on to graduate studies at UC Irvine, which, styled after Black Mountain

Collage was much more conducive to my intense quest to find and be art. My master’s thesis

was about using myself as an art material. In order to do this, I set up a few parameters that would

sculpt me, namely I rode a bicycle from Southern California to my home in BC. I was a totally

non-athletic, egghead, conceptual artist. I bought a secondhand Sears and Roebuck bike, took it

totally apart then put it back together again so I would know how to fix it, and then spent 40

days on the road. The changes in me were as profound as my first pair of eyeglasses. My thesis

let to the PCT in a quest to further explore how I could sculpt myself both physically and

mentally. In 1983 my little sister and I walked the Great Divide of the USA. And in those days

the divide was just that, The Divide, no trail, just 400 topo maps, and a concept. From winter to

winter was the goal. I learned so much about my body’s ability to adapt to the environment.

Because film was so expensive in those days, no digital photography yet, I supplemented my two

pictures a day budget by doing small watercolor paintings. And when I got home I kept

painting. In spite of being a conceptual artist, I kept painting the colour and forms that left me in

such awe on that day when I first experienced what it was like to see.

In the middle years, I got married, and did many things, including becoming a clinical counselor

and hanging out with psychologists. I learned much about communication and language as well

as about myself and the awesome fragility of humans as well as our amazing strengths. I learned

about hope and healing and the power of relationships. I use all this in my work, sometimes

blatantly, sometimes softly subtle. I love to manipulate, what therapist doesn’t?

 


 

MENTORS

 


Toby MacLennan: Instructor at UBC Fine Arts reawakened the artist in me after years of study

in the sciences. She gave me permission to express creatively my joy in the beauty of science and

mathematics without the constraints of scientific study. https://tobymaclennan.com


 

Tony DeLap: Faculty advisor UC Irvine Fine Arts taught me much about the importance of

professionalism and presentation as a working and exhibiting artist. He also demonstrated his

own dilemma of how to maintain artistic integrity and still satisfy the demands of the galleries

and the whim of the market. https://tonydelap.com


 

Rebecca Fairbarin: Professor emeritus, art historian, discovered me working one day in the forest

She explained to me that an artist has two jobs, one is to do the ‘work’, the other is to share it.

Otherwise, there is no point and the work is lost to history. She pushed me back into exhibiting

my work after many years of isolation from the art world. My encounter with Becca also

stimulated an intense study of art history and visual language.


 

Dr. Garry A Flint: Psychologist, author, and friend, shared with me simple but powerful constructs

of memory and learning. “Experience changes memory” and “If you think it’s true, it will be

true” are key to understanding the power of language. Much of my recent work is based on visual

language stemming from these seemingly simple statements. http://www.neosolterric.com

 

 

ARTIST STATEMENT

 

My work is the center of my being. I have traveled down many paths, done many things, but it is putting paint on paper that has been the binding thread through all. I knew I would be an artist from a young age. In spite of being ‘advised’ to do otherwise, and having done otherwise, I have always returned to the job of expressing in paint my experience of the wonders of this world. I am now at a stage in life where looking back is as significant as looking forward. Time has become clearly finite. These two dynamics are the driving force behind all my current works. Physical changes deny access, memories are not adequate, so I paint what I yearn for. In doing so I have learned to tell the story of life’s angst, of life and death, of hurt and healing. I use nature’s beauty as my genre, it is a comfortable one for most, and with a visual language common to all, I speak of these things in paint.

 

 

 

A MORE PERSONAL STORY FROM THE ARTIST

 

 Along time ago after I completed an MFA at UC Irvine I made a decision to not pursue representation in the big LA galleries because of the dilemma of how to maintain artistic integrity while under the pressure of social whim. Tony DeLap my adviser at the time showed me a delicate sculpture of one of his magic tricks then pointed to one of his wall pieces and said: "this is my art, and this is what I make for the galleries."  It was a profound lesson that gave me the courage to turn away from the LA art scene and 'go for a walk', a very long walk, in fact, many of them. For three decades I simply pursued my art without any input or interference from the outside art world. I managed to structure my life so I was not dependent upon gallery sales thus was free to find my own style, a very distinctive style as I suspect you have noticed. It was only when I happened to meet an art historian in the forest one day, that I decided to show my work again after so many years of keeping it to myself. She taught me a second profound lesson when she said, "You are a significant Canadian artist but no one has heard of you. An artist has two jobs: one is to express the experience of her times: the other is to communicate that view to the world." And she was right, I was only doing half my task. As Stieglitz said, "work is not art unless it is sold." And that is the profound dilemma of being an artist in today's world. With cautious steps, I have allowed my work out into the public, in a small local gallery, a few solo shows, my website, and very recently social media. Now, after so many years of learning, I am firm in my sense of who I am and I am also financially independent so not vulnerable to the pressures of producing work that will sell, but rather just do what I do. However when one of my works does sell, I ask enough to guarantee it will not be perceived as a thing to be easily discarded as is so often the case nowadays, and the monetary fee is a way to establish the value of that work, thus moving it into the realm of 'art'. 

 

 


EDUCATION AND GENERAL HISTORY

 

Born in Creston, 1953. By the age of 4 I discovered the link between paint and colour and knew I

would be an artist.

BSc, UBC, 1975. I took a degree in the sciences to discover why ‘up was up’ and why the ‘sky

was blue’. Once these answers were known, I moved on to study the fine arts and completed a

year of undergraduate work at UVic.

MFA, UC Irvine, 1978, primary focus was conceptual sculpture. My master’s thesis was a study

of using my body as a sculptural material by putting it into a completely novel environment and

observing the changes. Thesis title: “How I rode my bicycle from Santa Ana, California to

Victoria, British Columbia, an art piece.”

Pacific Crest Trail 1979-80, continuing the theme of my master’s thesis, I spent many months

walking this wilderness trail while building a deeply personal connection to the forests and

mountains.

Continental Divide Expedition 1983, nine months traversing 5000 km of the Continental Divide

on foot. I painted small watercolour studies on most days. This was followed by a multitude of

performances throughout BC in support of the Kinsman Rehabilitation Foundation.

This phase of my life (‘78-88) was spent mostly ‘on the trail’, however, during this time I had

various exhibitions and held many public talks.

Child Care Worker; Registered Clinical Counsellor, 1985-92, counselling and workshop

presentation.

In 1992 I withdrew from public life to pursue painting, deal with personal issues, and develop a

mature artistic statement, all of which I have done.

 

 

PUBLISHED WORK

 

A Healing Legend, Wisdom From the Four Directions, co authored with Dr Garry A Flint,

Neosolteric Press, 2006. 

 

Recently featured in a local article: https://myrevelstoke.ca/jocwillems/.

 

 

 

RECENT TEACHING / FACILITATION HISTORY

 

The Art of Visual Expression, weekly classes Revelstoke Visual Art Centre 2014, 2015

The Big Picture, weekly classes Revelstoke Visual Art Centre 2015

Art of Visual Expression Weekend Intensive, Revelstoke Visual Art Centre 2015; College of the

Rockies, Golden Campus 2015; Revelstoke 2016

Art of Visual Expression Enhanced Weekend Workshop, Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre 2016

Gouache Challenge, Revelstoke Visual Art Centre 2015, 2016

Fierce Art Project, awarded a Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance grant to facilitate art group

2015-16

Fierce Art Project, a continuation of the project funded by a CKCA grant, with a focus on

developing artistic integrity and exhibition opportunities of the members.

Children’s Drawing Workshop, Revelstoke Visual Art Centre, 2016, 2017

 

RECENT EXHIBITION HISTORY

 

Art First Gallery in Revelstoke, 2013 to present

Backyards and Alleys, members exhibition 2014, Revelstoke Visual Art Centre

“Journey” solo exhibit, Revelstoke Visual Art Centre 2014; Art Gallery of Golden 2015

Art in the Park, Mt Revelstoke Celebration, Revelstoke 2014; Surrey 2015

Twisted, members exhibition 2016, Revelstoke Visual Art Centre

Roots Stumped Growth, interactive group exhibit 2016, Revelstoke Visual Art Centre

Passion and Perspective, members exhibition 2016, Revelstoke Visual Art Centre

Art in the Park, Glacier 2016, Glacier National Park, group exhibit Revelstoke Visual Arts

Centre 2016

Art In The Park, Glacier, travelling exhibition sponsored by Parks Canada:

The Akokiniskway Gallery, Rosebud, AB, March– June 2017

The Port Moody Arts Centre, Port Moody, BC, June– July 2017

Peachland Art Gallery, Peachland, BC, August 2017

Kelowna Rotary Centre for the Arts, Kelowna, BC, September 2017

Fare Forward, solo exhibition (sponsored by a grant from Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance):

Smithers Art Gallery, Smithers, BC, August–Sept 2017

Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre, Revelstoke, BC, November 2017

Langham Gallery, Kaslo, BC, Aug-Sept 2018

The Columbia, Our View, group show Fierce Art Project, Invermere, BC Sept 2017

The Columbia, Our View Part 2, group show Fierce Art Project, Revelstoke, BC, May 2018

A Carver’s Legacy, group show, Revelstoke, July-Aug 2018

My Creative Space group show Fierce Art Project, Revelstoke, April 2019

Interiors members show, Revelstoke, May 2019

Other Walls...

Art Walk, Revelstoke, summer 2013, 2014

BC Forestry Museum, summer 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019

Revelstoke Library, fall 2014, summer 2016, spring 2017, winter 2017, summer 2018

Garden and Art Tour, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Art In The Garden, Revelstoke Museum and Archives, summer 2017, 2018

 

And Finally...

 

My entire life has been dedicated to my art. It has taken me a long time to learn what I needed to

learn to gain a clear visual statement. Painting and teaching others ‘how to see’ is fulfilment of

that long journey of personal learning. I am at a stage in life of looking back as well as onward.

My work is focused on the insights gleaned from this place where I am now. I currently work in

gouache, watercolour and graphite.

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Revelstoke

 

Artist Thoughts & Quotes

 

“About my writing, it is very much a part of my work. As I paint I often jot down thoughts on my drawing board and then when the piece is done make note of what that was before it is lost in the muddle of the next project.”
” Ah the joys of being old….lots of art, lots of wisdom.”
“Along time ago after I completed a MFA at UC Irvine I made a decision to not pursue representation in the big LA galleries because of the dilemma of how to maintain artistic integrity while under the pressure of social whim. Tony DeLap https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_DeLap my adviser at the time showed me a delicate sculpture of one of his magic tricks then pointed to one of his wall pieces and said “this is my art, and this is what I make for the galleries.”  It was a profound lesson which gave me the courage to turn away from the LA art scene and ‘go for a walk’, a very long walk, in fact many of them. For three decades I simply pursued my art without any input or interference from the outside art world.”
“Am I nuts?….well I am an artist. “
“Gouache is one of the most ornery and wonderful paints ever invented. Such a challenge. I use layers of paint and each layer bleeds up to the next so I never know what I will get. It has taught me how to paint in the way Matisse wrote, ‘to liberate the paint in the expression of the artist.’ Gouache made me work with the paint, surrender to it, rather than the perfect control I had with catercolour. Magical way to achieve randomness which is so hard for the human mind to do because we are so prone to organization.”
“I am enjoying writing about my work this way, it is like rebuilding a connection with parts of myself that had been set aside.”
“I have been as much a writer as a painter. They seem to go hand in hand really, like mathematics and music. “

 

 

 Jo C Willem's Instagram

 

© 2020 All Artwork Jo C Willems

 

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