A dream vacation in Namibia with co-exhibiting artist and friend Marlene Etherington in October 2018 was the inspiration for this exhibition. A daunting task was to select the favorite moments from thousands of iPhone photos, allowing me to relive the incredible days of the trip. The photographs were so telling that I decided the best way to paint this trip was to work with the photos, altering them digitally to amplify the colours and textures, transferring them to board or canvas. Incomplete transfers were overlaid with additional photo transfers, leading to more abstract representations. Transfers to Sekishu paper before applying to the board or canvas gave images in the right orientation as opposed to direct photo transfers which yielded mirror images. Collages were also produced, incorporating fragments of photograph,s pre-painted Sekishu papers and even Namibia sand.
Our trip first led us from Windhoek, the capital, to the Etosha National Park, a saline desert consisting of grassland, woodland and savannah and rich in wildlife, despite little water in the dry season. A series of images depicting elephants, giraffes, zebras and rhinoceros in their natural habitat can only give an aperçu of these large animals meandering the arid landscape. Waterholes provided the best viewpoints especially in early morning. A well-appointed lodge near the Park allowed us to view mostly elands, kudus, springboks and oryx, at sunset and throughout dinner on the patio. Truly magical moments!
Our voyage continued to Damaraland, a vast, untamed and ruggedly beautiful region with ancient river terraces, highly colourful and unusual rock formations, and a Petrified Forest with 260 million years old logs. Damaraland is home to the Damara people and to the Twyfelfontein archeological site with more than 2,500 Bushman engravings, describing wildlife and abstract motifs on slabs of red sandstone. These exceptional petroglyphs suggest an occupation of the site over a period of 7,000 years and were a great source of inspiration. The surrounding area of the Twyfelfontein Lodge is geologically superb and one can walk amongst incredible granite outcrops set ablaze by the setting sunset. The Organ Pipes, a series of coloured dolerite pillars exposed by erosion, also offered photo opportunities. The ephemeral Aba Huab riverbed in which we drove allowed us to discover the elusive desert adapted elephants that can survive the super arid and almost waterless environment.
Driving by the Brandberg Mountain, the highest peak in Namibia at 2573 meters, and through vast and dry areas, we arrived at the Skeletal Coast and Swakopmund, a small German resort, nestled between desert and ocean and home to the precious stone museum. A marine tour from Walvis Bay Harbour brought us to Pelican Point with its colony of Cape Fur seals. And then a 4x4 drive through the dunes to the Atlantic Ocean took us first around and above magnificently pink saltpans where flamingos were observed in their majestic poses. After many ups and downs in the dunes, we arrived at the sea, and the contrast between the shifting ochre dunes and the trashing blue waves was truly breathtaking.
The next part of the trip took us inland through the Gaub and Kuiseb Passes to the Namib Desert and Sossusvlei, where expansive sand and gravel plains alternate with stretches of grass savannah and majestic mountain ranges with dune belts of deep red colour. Early one morning, we were en route for Big Daddy, the highest dune in the Sossusvlei area, with its 325 meters of shifting red sand. We succeeded a partial ascent, as the heat was truly exhausting but the incredible views well worth the effort.
Namibia is breathtaking and a very diversified country, geographically and ethnically. Its population is only 3.5 million and this allows for the spaciousness of the land and so many peaceful as well as exhilarating moments for the travellers.
Please share these Namibia Moments and be enticed to visit this magnificent land!
Lisa Johnson, AOCA, Painter and Propeller member since 2007
Most young artists launching their careers immediately face an endurance test of survival. The 1996 cohort of Ontario College of Art graduates were no exception. Facing an uncertain future, and with no galleries willing to exhibit their work, an enterprising group of OCA grads took matters into their own hands.
Pooling their resources, they rented a space on Spadina Avenue and organized a one-off group show. A wildly enthusiastic response from the visiting crowds convinced the artists to make their collective official. They called it the Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts founded on a simple vision; to empower artists to ‘propel’ fellow artists forward.
Today, it is known simply as Propeller Art Gallery and is now located in the West Queen West district in Toronto. After almost 25 years, Propeller continues to thrive and remains one of Toronto’s oldest surviving artist-run galleries. Ross Bonfanti, one of the founders shared, “I feel happy that something that I helped spark is still going and is in the hands of great people”.
Over the years, Propeller Art Gallery, has presented an impressive list of exhibitions: guest-curated shows by the likes of Olga Korper, David Kay, Gary Michael Dault and Moses Znaimer, alternating with countless artist-generated programs and exhibits. Propeller continues to offer a venue for hundreds of emerging, mid-career and established artists alike providing an artistic haven for a wide variety of voices.
Since March however, the bitter realities of the COVID 19 pandemic forced Propeller to close its doors temporarily, threatening the very survival of the gallery itself. No stranger to adversity, Propeller decided to embrace the challenge and dive head-first into the uncharted world of Virtual Art Exhibitions.
For their first venture, the gallery went full circle to its own past, and collaborated with the Ontario College of Art and Design University. With the cancellation of OCAD U’s famous, annual GradEx exhibition, Propeller offered to host a 2020 Drawing & Painting Virtual GradEx105. The small Propeller staff and volunteer members faced the daunting task of learning how to take what used to be hung on walls and bring it all to life online. But it was all worth it.
“After 4 years of study, these OCAD U students count on having GradEx as a way to launch their careers, so this opportunity was a big boost to them” said Tom Taylor, Gallery Director. “It was really rewarding to see all these young up and coming artists joining in the Zoom Opening, excited to be sharing their art.”
Helping these young artists launch their careers speaks to the heart of Propeller and why it is worth fighting for. But it also proved a point; that despite the current challenges, Propeller could continue to survive.
And now Propeller is about to launch another online show featuring its own artists, both past and present: PAG25 — Celebrating 25 years of Propeller Artists. The gallery reached out to the numerous artists who were ever a member of the collective and offered them a virtual showing of their current work. PAG25 will feature over 175 pieces and opens July 25th online at propellerartgallery.ca. PAG25 will also bring to life some fascinating stories from the gallery’s archival history that will evolve over the coming year. And, as many galleries must do these days, the show opening will be held online over Zoom, and should prove to be a fun gathering for the many artists who’ve shared in this important artistic venture. Propeller’s motto is “Artists Empowering Artists” and with the current situation facing the gallery, this is certainly needed more now than ever before. Amidst these uncertain times, Propeller continues to advance the ‘art of survival’.
If you'd like to meet some of the artists who have been a part of Propeller Art Gallery and hear them talk about their work, please register with Eventbrite and you will receive a Zoom link to their Opening Reception and Artist Talks, to be held Saturday, Aug. 1st, starting at 4:00 p.m.
Happy to announce our new series of stories about the artists of Propeller! This blog will be a chance for you to get to know our artists; to have a look into their studios; and hear about how and why they make art. Our first blog will be about Frances Patella, who, in addition to being a fabulous artist also works incredibly hard in her volunteer role as co-chair of Propeller.
One of Toronto's original artist-run galleries. Since 1996.