Katrina Slade’s exhibition Absence was on display at Charlotte Street Arts Centre August 1 – October 6.
One of the things I really love about abstract forms of art is that it’s a way to express emotions that can be difficult or impossible to put into words. Intense feelings of loss, hardship and heartbreak become shapes and colours on a canvas and can communicate in one second what might take hours to express adequately through language. Katrina Slade’s new exhibit, Absence, on display now at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre, exemplifies this.
Katrina moved to Fredericton a little over a year ago and had gone through a big career change from being an art teacher to a fulltime professional artist. Starting over from the beginning caused her to experience the growing pains of reforming her sense of self and identity. Through the judicious use of black, white, and gray shapes and a mix of different media she expresses the complex feelings that came with leaving much of her old life behind and starting a new one.
As a lifelong artist whose mother and grandmother were also artists, Katrina always knew she would want to study art and to use that education professionally. After receiving her BFA in painting and drawing, she went on to receive her Master’s in teaching at a liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon called Lewis and Clark College.
“I think I went straight into teaching because my mom was an Art teacher, and I could tell that was my best way to be a ‘successful adult’”, Katrina explains.
Her first job was as an Art teacher for Kindergarten to Grade 5 at an international school in Tokyo, Japan. Even though her training was for high school students, she took the job and decided she would just figure out how to work with kids as she went. She soon started to realize that the career choice she’d made for herself wasn’t the best fit for her- at first believing it was because she was working with an age group she didn’t understand very well.
“But the funny thing is,” she says, “I think they loved me and my class. Little kids are just hardwired to love art.”
In her next few jobs, she moved to various countries and taught middle and high school-aged students, but still felt unfulfilled.
“I honestly think the teaching profession in general is super hard because of all the demands. It’s not just about helping students learn. It’s about managing behaviours in students who have no interest in being in your class, sticking to strict report card deadlines, piles of grading, meetings, committees, homeroom obligations, it’s endless. It’s such a shame because teachers are the best people in society. And probably nurses too. But they are so undervalued.”
The decision to move to Canada with her partner and start over was not one that came easily.
“It was this big life moment where I came home from work and just sat on the couch and cried because I was so unhappy. And I just blurted it out that I didn’t want to do it anymore. And he (my partner) was so supportive.”
The process of making this exhibition was cathartic for her, she says, and a way of processing the major live changes she had made over the past few years. Moving away from her usual bright and colourful style towards working solely in black and white pushed her to explore new methods of creating, experimenting with new techniques. This was her first time using embroidery on one of her paintings.
The works are even more striking in the absence of her usual vibrant colours. Stark black-on-white and white-on-black shapes give the impression of movement, motion, stillness, sadness, excitement, texture, and spirit.
“For this series, I got really into making backgrounds with a watery-inky method called Wet-on-Wet,” explains Katrina. “I would lay the canvas flat on the ground, get it all wet with water, then hold an ink dropper up high and watch single drops of ink splash onto the watery canvas. It would spread out in a really fascinating way. I would do this with some silver calligraphy ink, too, and the silver would thin out and spread. It was beautiful to watch. Then I would sort of tilt the canvas around so the drops would spread more, and oftentimes I would put salt on. The salt creates the implied texture effect. After it dried, I would remove the salt and add another layer of either watercolour or acrylic, and pearl mica (the chunky silver material).”
One of my favourite pieces in the exhibition is titled, The First Year. The contrast between the swirling backdrop of dark grays and blacks and the splotches of white ink on top creates a tension between stillness and motion. It reminds me of watching snow fall on a quiet Winter night.
“I chose that title because it reminded me of the massive amount of snow I experienced in my first year of living in Canada,” Katrina says. “It’s quite a shock for someone from South of the border. I’ve lived in the mountains in Oregon, but the snow there is NOTHING compared to here. The title also reminds me of how many times I’ve had ‘the first year’ in a new place, and how it can be so amazing and challenging all at once. The word “bittersweet” comes to mind when I think about all my experiences being alone in a new place and trying to create a new life for myself all over again. It can feel like you are alone in a blizzard, searching for a building or structure to grasp on to, but not able to see where.”
Another standout piece for me is Tenderness. The artwork uses softer shapes and contrasts to instill a sense of calm and peacefulness. It makes me think of watching the surface ripple in a pond; or lying on my back naming clouds with a loved one.
“I chose that title because it was quieter and more peaceful looking. It reminded me of the early days when you are falling in love with someone, but you might not even realize it. You are in the cocoon of happiness and you just want to be in their arms all the time. The silver mica sparkles in the light, so that kind of reminds me of the happiness, like it’s a jewel you are keeping hidden and only you know how special it is.”
The exhibition was first shown at Sunbury Shores in St. Andrews and is up for display at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre until October 6th.
Some quotes in this article have been edited for clarity.