A peek into the mind of the artist

Modern Fuel exhibit Take Note asks artists to put their private notebooks on display for viewers

Kay Wolsternhome’s artist notebook contained a proverb about art: “Art is not rhubarb — you cannot force it.”
Kay Wolsternhome’s artist notebook contained a proverb about art: “Art is not rhubarb — you cannot force it.”
Photo: 
One of the notebooks in the exhibit Take Note included something that looked like a grocery list, but could have been a plan for a still life painting.
One of the notebooks in the exhibit Take Note included something that looked like a grocery list, but could have been a plan for a still life painting.
Photo: 

Don Maynard’s Take Note exhibit was a bit like climbing a mountain. Slow and tedious at first, but well worth the required time and effort.

Housed in Modern Fuel’s State of Flux Gallery, the installation consists of 18 artists’ notebooks chained to the white walls of the gallery space. Their soft dark-brown and black covers, perfectly smooth Moleskine, rest quietly on a thin wooden shelf that runs in a strip around the square room.

The effect is slightly eerie — it almost feels like a memorial centre with the notebooks standing in as urns on the wall.

The notebooks belong to a number of local artists who were asked to document their creative processes over an eight-month period.

In the curator’s artist statement, his instructions to the artists were simple: “do what you would normally do with a small notebook when keeping notes for your artistic practice.”

The result is an unconventional exhibit that breaks down the wall between artist and audience by inviting the viewer to touch the pages and read through the artists’ thoughts and uncertainties.

As I thumbed my way through the notebooks, I felt like I was tip-toeing around inside the minds of the artists. Notes, quotes, sketches, collages, photographs and unfinished watercolours litter the pages.

“We see artists’ finished pieces but we rarely have the opportunity to see the initial creative workings of these ideas,” Maynard said in his artist statement.

Chris Miner’s notebook, mostly a collection of diary entries and photographs, contains the description of a dream.

“60 foot high rusted iron object floating well above the ground, spinning — purpose unknown, possibly energy storage,” it said. “When they stop spinning they fall on the earth — hazardous.” A mini pencil sketch of the iron objects, which are shaped like elongated wasp nests, is illustrated underneath.

Some notebooks bear illegible writing or pages of incomprehensible notes. “Garlic, green tea, beets.” It looked like a grocery list, but it also could have been a plan for a still life painting. Other notebooks contain quirky reminders like on Kay Wolsternhome’s notebook’s front page, “Art is not rhubarb — you cannot force it.”

The longer I spent in the gallery, the more curious I was about who these artists are and what kind of projects they’re working on.

Being able to read their notebooks gave me a keyhole perspective into their lives and I was able to see them grappling with new ideas.

Each notebook is different, but they all share an underlying factor — the importance of imagination. Take Note is not about the finished product; instead it celebrates the process that gets one there.

Take Note is on display at Modern Fuel until Sept. 29.

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