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FARR AiR Shawn O’Hagan & Karen Ann Pink: A Month of Letters

FARR Artists Shawn O’Hagan & Karen Ann Pink are exchanging letters with one another throughout their residency, and are providing them for EE to share with our community. 

Shawn and Karen are in very different stages in their artistic careers; these letters will allow them to get to know each other better—and allow us to get to know them, too. This dialogue, at once a private and public affair, will mutually explore these artists’ approaches and ways of thinking, and may even help them think through some new questions within their practice.

Shawn O’Hagan was born in Toronto and moved to Newfoundland in 1975. She lives and works on the west coast of the island, dividing her time between her house in Corner Brook and her cabin in the Bay of Islands. She has a BFA from the University of Guelph, a B.Ed in Art from the University of Toronto and a MFA  from the University of Waterloo. 

Karen Ann Pink is a multidisciplinary artist and parent of two. She works primarily with watercolour and textile/fibre art, recently working to combine traditional art, audio recordings, and programming to create digital interactive installations. As of September 2020, Karen will continue her studies in the BFA program in Visual Arts at Memorial University, Grenfell Campus. She currently lives in the scenic Codroy Valley with her partner and their youngest child.

 

September 1st, 2020
Corner Brook, NL

Dear Karen,

I’m writing to you as a friend , although, except for a few Instagram messages and a brief zoom meeting today, we’ve never met.

We are artists at opposite ends of our careers. Old and new. Ending and beginning. What I’m excited about is discovering how much is similar, how much is different. How much we can share and learn.

September is also the end and the beginning. This year of the pandemic I find everything seems sharply outlined. The cold restrictions and incapacitating fear of the first few months. Not knowing how bad it would be getting. The slow relaxing. The awkward physical encounters with friends and family. Can I step closer? Can I hug? And then the heat of summer and the softening.

For me the month of August was all about relaxing. Loosening. Opening up my home to children and grandchildren. Letting them take over. The comforting chaos that made my world seem normal again.
So, September 1st is about regaining my space.

What about you Karen? How has this time been for you? And what are you jumping into now?

Cheers, shawn


September 4th, 2020
South Branch, NL
 –
Dear Shawn,
Hello again! It’s lovely to write with you and form new connections. 
It has been a week of rain here in the Codroy Valley, with a few breaks in the downpour. Today, it seems that the sun will finally come out. Today is a day for planting new seeds in our small vegetable garden, while the rain holds up. The end of the growing season is getting closer, but there is still time to grow more beets, radish, lettuce. Perhaps even peas, if we have a warm September. 
I have been thinking a lot about your letter, and contemplating the questions, over the past few days. I spent a lot of time reading the news and watching the numbers, over the first month of lockdown in Newfoundland and Labrador. I felt frozen, unable to bring myself to do anything productive, especially when it came to creating. It had been a difficult winter, personally, and just when we began to hope that things were returning to “normal” in our household, we were told to adjust to a new reality.
I have been reading, and doing much self-reflection. Learning, and unlearning. Sleeping and waking. Inhale, exhale.
There was little sense of stability, so I and my little family found structure and routine in little things, little moments of pleasure. Cooking together, and eating meals on time. Planting seeds and watching them grow. Walking in the woods and playing at the beach.
Eventually, creativity returned, though it was a suggestion from my partner that sparked a renewed process. Once we were given the green light to travel within the province, we made many visits to my hometown, Burgeo, to spend time with my mom. We also took a short weekend trip to the south coast of Labrador, to visit my partner’s home and family. In between family time, we went out armed only with a microphone and our cellphones for taking photos. I have been collecting sounds and textures, in particular recording bodies of water in the places that we call home, and the places of which we retain deep memories.
Resuming my art practice, however, comes with its own set of challenges. Which brings me to ask you, Shawn: How did you manage your art practice when your child(ren) were young? Did you take a break from making, or did you work on through, and where is the balance between the two?
Happy Friday,
Karen

September 5th, 2020
Corner Brook, NL

Dear Karen,

So much of what you write resonates with me.

2 years ago a dear friend and artist Aileen Woolridge passed. Last night I had dinner with her daughter Alison who has returned to Corner Brook to clear up her mother’s estate and donate all her papers and art to Memorial University of NL. Aileen threw away nothing and has many letters from the most well known Newfoundland artists of the time. Aileen went to school with the Pratts and continued to be good friends with them. Aileen and Mary died within 2 months of each other. I just finished reading “Art and Rivalry” by Carol Bishop Gwyn, and it was fascinating to get a more personal take on what it was like for Mary to be an artist and a mother.

I have always kept a journal. When I reread my journals (beginning when I was a teenager in the 1960’s) I am amazed that what I talk about mostly is art. And the years raising 2 young children in Pasadena, I spoke of art and my frustration at not having time to make it as much as I wrote about my children. Alison has been reading letters I wrote to her mother for decades and it was always the same. I love being a mother. I love my children. But I can’t find time to make art.

Last year I completed a body of textile pieces of 12 women artists who influenced me over the years – beginning with Emily Carr when I was 15 and ending with Agnes Martin who I’m loving now. The work , “tintinnabulation” was exhibited at the Grenfell Gallery last summer and one day I counted how many of these artists had children. 2. That’s 2 out of 12. That says so much. So no Karen, I don’t think there can be a balance. You muck your way through it and you never stop.

From the time my daughter was born to the day my son started kindergarten, I didn’t paint. And painting was supposed to be my art. I drew. I sewed and knit and embroidered. I illustrated children’s books. But I didn’t think I was making art. Now I know that everything I do is art.  Even raising little ones. Even planting peas in September. Because I am an artist.

So it is September and you are going back to school. How is that looking?

 

Cheers, shawn


September 10th, 2020
South Branch, NL

Dear Shawn,

“You muck your way through it and you never stop.” I like that; it resonates especially well this week. I remember seeing “tintinnabulation” and making an effort to pause at each piece, trying to get a sense or feeling of the artists that inspired you to create it. I was, honestly, in awe of your process and the sheer dedication involved in creating a body of work like that. I wonder if you might share your thoughts on creating a body of work, or a collection, for new and emerging artists who perhaps haven’t quite found their ‘groove’, as it were?

My youngest started daycare earlier this week, and I must tell you, as I process and adjust to being completely alone all day, there have been many tears and what I had planned to be a productive week, suddenly (mostly) wasn’t. As for my own classes, the first two days were cancelled due to the Scholar’s Strike (more information here: https://scholarstrikecanada.ca/about/), so those days were spent listening and reading. My first class now starts on Monday, and I am looking forward to throwing myself into schoolwork, as well as putting together some images to share on the Eastern Edge website.

How has your week been going? I am enjoying your Instagram takeover! Are you looking forward to your upcoming presentation?

I will leave you with a few photos taken over the summer in Burgeo, Pinware, and L’Anse au Diable. They are no substitute for being there in person, but on stormy, cold days, I find it a comfort and I hope you may, as well.

Karen


September 12th, 2020
Corner Brook, NL

Dear Karen,

I love that secondary schools across North America are paying attention. We all have to. I go daily, almost hourly, from extreme pessimism to extreme optimism. I love hearing young voices. I pray that they are loud enough.

In these strange times, I am cherishing the simple and the calm. My stitching. My garden and the fall harvest. Cooking and eating what I have grown. Good books to read. Walking. My family.

Simple and calm is also the key to creating a larger body of work. Of course you have to have “the big idea”, something you are passionate about, that is going to excite you for months and maybe years. But then you have to forget about “the big idea” and just begin on one piece. That’s all you have to think about. And the next piece will naturally grow from the previous. On and on. And I also find not having a deadline is hugely important. I don’t do my best work with deadlines. Don’t commit to having the work finished by a certain time. Don’t start looking for exhibitions until the work is complete or nearly complete. Just make. You will be working on other things, but always, in the background, quietly, is the big project…

I know that you have already experienced in-class art education. I wonder how online art education is going to work for you. The back and forth. After your first few classes, let me know how it compares.

It sounds like you are going through huge changes right now. No matter how right this path is, the changes are bound to be unsettling. But then, this new reality becomes the norm. All good.

Cheers, shawn


September 15th, 2020
South Branch, NL

Dear Shawn,
How was your weekend?
This past weekend, 3/4 of my little family visited Cow Head and Deer Lake to spend time with cousins. How wonderful it is to be outside, however windy! We followed the children and Rosie the dog next door to feed three of the cutest rabbits I have ever seen, watched as my little one ran about (and chased him as he ran away!) with his cousins. We played in the sand at Shallow Bay beach. Frederick is usually wary of dogs, but he insisted that “Wosie come play in sand.” I truly believe that the most beautiful faces are those that we meet again after missing them for so long. 
This morning, I am surrounded by plastic storage bins as I sit drinking a too-quickly cooling cup of tea, waiting to log on to the first of what will be many Art History classes. My “studio” is slowly coming together. I need to move some furniture and relocate about 25 houseplants. The sun has finally come out, but it looks like clouds are swiftly closing in. Will the sun stay out long enough today to try some sun-etching with a magnifying glass? Will the rain hold off at least long enough to pick beets for supper? 
What did you grow in your garden this year? 
It’s nearly time for class; I will write again later!

September 16th, 2020
Corner Brook, NL

Dear Karen,
These are the details that make up a life. The sunlight and wind. The sand.
The furry four-legged creatures. A toddler squealing with joy. 25 houseplants that need to be moved to make room for making.
After months of being super cautious (I help care for my elderly in-laws), late July, my grand daughter stepped off the airplane from St. John’s to Deer Lake and we hugged each other and something deep inside me felt whole again. We have been so lucky here in Newfoundland. We are an island and it has been possible to mostly keep (the) COVID out. So life seems almost like always. But it’s not.

I know from your letters how much PLACE feeds you. The south coast and Labrador Gros Morne. And where you live. What feeds me is travel. And any spare money I ever have goes towards that. I feast on the new… the energy of a city like London. The colours of Mexico or Cuba. I had a trip to Vietnam planned for this past April, knowing that it would probably be the first and last time I would get to Asia. Of course it didn’t happen. I have a residency planned on Fair Isle, a tiny Scottish island, in the spring which probably will not happen. I don’t know when I will travel again.

But I also have here. My home. Down the bay, between the mountains and the ocean, I feel most myself. Two years ago we lost our cabin in a landslide. We still have a little land that is flat and safe and this fall my son-in-law is building us a new cabin. Between the mountains and the ocean. And I’m hoping a month from now, I will be sitting by the fire, looking out at the hills. The larch trees golden against the blue sky. And I think I will be content not to travel.
What is feeding you now Karen?

Take care, shawn