Conversations & Slowing Down: two local artists discuss new exhibits

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In Studio 22’s latest exhibits, two local artists react to COVID-19. Human beings are mysteriously missing in Erika Olson’s Conversations, a series of vibrantly coloured cakes signifying all the celebrations on hold. In Debra Krakow’s Slowing Down, family members come into focus as the pandemic reminds her what matters most.

In an interview with The Journal, Olson and Krakow discussed their painting careers and creative processes.

Olson, a Kingston-born painter, became fascinated with visual art when she was 17, spending her first year in Fine Arts at Queen’s before transferring to the Nova Scotia College of Art Design, and then Concordia for her last two years.

“We all say it’s very subjective, but there was something in art that to me was very much about truth, so I really gravitated towards it when I was in my late teens,” Olson said.

Her new show, Conversations, is a still-life series of cakes and table arrangements rendered in bright, radiant colours

“I like to do work in oil and pastel but I’ve never actually put them together before in the same room,” she said. “So, to me that’s very exciting to see the conversations that are in the oil are also in the chalk pastel and how they speak to one another, how well they show each other off.”

Olson sourced the cake designs from a Betty Crocker cookbook her mother received as a wedding gift in 1964. According to her, some of the baking instructions contain amusing, old-fashioned advice for new brides. 

“There is sometimes a bit of a domestic vein in my work to be honest,” Olson said. “But the cakes really at this point are more about the celebrations and the conversations that we didn’t have because of COVID. If you think of cakes, they maybe seem frivolous and you think of baking, but cakes really can define a before and after situation. We use them for all kinds of celebrations. A birthday without a cake would be really bizarre.”

Where Olson’s Conversations takes humanity out of the equation, Krakow’s Slowing Down puts human beings in searing focus. Her show is a series of abstract acrylic works sourced from photos of her friends and family mostly located on her lakefront property on Wolfe Island. It’s there where she does all her paintings in the top-floor studio she designed.

“I’m an architect by training and most of my career has been in architecture, so I designed our house, so of course it has a complete art studio up on the top floor. It’s great. When I’m up there, I can see out over the fields, I can see the ships going by on the St. Lawrence Seaway, and I can see the cows which often figure in my paintings,” Krakow said.

“These are all really close to home. It’s funny because at the beginning of the pandemic, I really didn’t think it was going to influence what I was painting at all, and it kind of crept in,” she said.

According to Krakow, she tends to paint a lot of landscapes, and in particular, nature scenes from her home on Wolfe Island. When quarantine measures went into effect, however, humans started to figure into her work more prominently.

“Summer started and summer’s always been a time when our family comes and visits, and we go to the beach, and we hang out in the yard, and have picnics and bonfires, and nobody was coming. I think I was really missing people and so people started appearing in my landscapes,” she said.

“A lot of these were done from family photos so they’re deeply personal and yet […] they’re not intended as portraits. I really want them to be universal because what they’re really about, to me, is that feeling of getting outside, letting your hair down, feeling the warm sun on your back, feeling the wind in your hair, kicking off your sandals and feeling the grass between your toes. It’s really about that whole feeling that you get in the summer when you just slow down, you take a break, you’re contemplative.”

As a result, the works of Slowing Down have an intimate quality where it’s clear the painter has a deep affection for her subjects, and yet the abstract style evokes universal feelings of nature, relaxation, and family. 

If it weren’t for the pandemic, Slowing Down and Conversations would have opened to the public and given art enthusiasts a chance to pop into Studio 22 for a wine and cheese night where they could see the works in person. Instead, the gallery was livestreamed on Facebook on Oct. 29.

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