Making a World from Memory

We don’t go to Vancouver’s Eastside Culture Crawl every year, but when my husband and I do, there’s one artist we always visit. Actually, she was the only artist we visited this year. Because let’s face it: the Culture Crawl can be overwhelming. One year we did as many artists as we could in the labryinthine Parker Street Studios and agreed to not put ourselves through the crowds and chaos again.

So it’s a good thing our favourite local artist has a live/work studio in Railtown that’s relatively calm in comparison.

Galen Felde’s studio

Galen Felde is from Vancouver and uses acrylic paints to convey landscapes of memory. She’s also branched out into installations. The first thing I notice about her work is the light. How it filters through a tree; how it bathes a bridge; how it ignites a blade of grass or a telephone wire.

(right image) Galen Felde, Mastodon No.1 , acrylic on panel,  46″ x 46″.

Her work reminds me of Impressionism. Although based off real scenes and photographs, Galen’s paintings read like dreamscapes. She talked to us about how she combines multiple photographs together in her mind, or relies on memory to fill in the gaps. I get the sense she is more concerned with the emotional truth of a scene, rather than its physical attributes. 

This is what she writes on her website:

Galen Felde‘s work focuses on human and environmental interdependence and issues of empathy. Tangled branches, leaves, light particles, architectural elements, wings and wire… are some of the key elements, magnified, distorted, layered and sculpted to form the substructure of Galen’s paintings in her exploration of impermanence and our awkward relationship with origins, adaptation and alteration of the landscape. Characteristic use of trace images and skewed focus suggest the construction of memory, the resonance of absence and the process of release.

Galen Felde, Song for Sleep, acrylic on panel, 24″ x 60″.

Take the above painting, for example. It’s called Song for Sleep: Water Paths. (By the way, her artwork titles are exquisite, poetic. Some examples: Dream Cache, Sonnet for Lost Pine, Long Awaited: Heart Song, The Long Reach Back, to name a few).

Galen told us this painting was inspired by the wetlands around Killarney Lake on Bowen Island. “Have you been there?” she asked us. “No, but we’re actually visiting friends there tomorrow!”

She told us to look for the stream running under the boardwalk and to notice how there’s not a tree in the “real world” version like there is in the centre of her canvas. In her mind’s eye, though, there is. 

I put “real world” in quotation marks because doesn’t the world of memory feel real, sometimes more real, than objective facts? This comes up frequently in discussions with my siblings around a childhood event. “That’s not the way I remember it!” one of us will interject as if there was one objective version that should all be implanted in our minds. This real world of memory reminds me of something the late Madeleine L’Engle wrote in A Circle of Quiet:

When someone comes into me when I’m deep in writing, I have a moment of frightening transition when I don’t know where I am, and then I have to leave the “real” world of my story for what often seems the less real world, the daily, dearly loved world of husband and children and household chores.

I love how she turns the “real world” on its head. L’Engle goes on to say, “It is through the world of imagination which takes us beyond the restrictions of provable fact, that we touch the hem of truth.”

What Madeleine L’Engle does with stories, Galen Felde does with paintings. Both artists construct a world undeniably real to them through memory and imagination, in hopes this world will speak truth to the person reading and viewing on the other side.

It’s worked for me.

Trail around Killarney Lake

Crawling with Culture

Today was an art-filled day roaming around East Vancouver, visiting artists’ studios as part of the 17th Annual Eastside Culture Crawl—a three-day visual arts, crafts, and design festival. It was my first time going and there was so much to see, you couldn’t possibly visit the 300+ artists all in one day, let alone three.

So much culture and so little time.

But what I did see was wonderful. Here are snapshots from the day’s crawl in the Strathcona neighbourhood, East Hastings, and Railtown.

This colourful studio in Strathcona showed the work of assemblage artist Valerie Arntzen:

art studio of Valerie Arntzen

K eye D by Valerie Arntzen

Walking into her studio was like walking into a collector’s shop jammed from floor to ceiling with drawers and cupboards containing trinkets and treasures—discarded and found items that are given new life in playful and surprising ways. Birth of Jazz below, for example, features four clarinet horns, a globe, and sheet music.

Birth of Jazz by Valerie Arntzen

Parker Street Studios (from which the following picture was taken) was the hub of the Crawl with dozens of visual art, crafts, and furniture studios spread throughout the floor floors of this labyrinth-like space.

Here are some sculptures from David Robinson, whose miniature and larger-than-life size figures always seem to on the edge of something—hanging from a precipice, fighting the balance between life and death.

Chair by David Robinson

Many of his miniature pieces are actually maquettes (preliminary models) for large-scale versions.

Arc (Maquette) by David Robinson

Chair (Maquette) by David Robinson

Thompson Brennan‘s wonderfully-titled exhibit, Dirty Pretty speaks for itself. Reminds me of the “garbage to gold” idea I’ve written about before.

Last of all, but perhaps best of all, was walking into the studio of Galen Felde in Railtown. Her light-infused, dissolving landscapes felt like poetry—like holding onto a dream in that liminal space between sleeping and waking.

These two are called Sonnet for Lost Pine (No. 2 and No. 3):

Resource by Galen Felde

Gauze Between Us by Galen Gelde

If you live in Vancouver, you still have one day to soak in all this art and culture at the Crawl, so catch it while you can!