Canadian artist Heather Cline is on a mission – to celebrate the country’s upcoming 150th birthday through a collection of landscapes and recordings that honour small town Canadiana and she’s almost there. 34 acrylics are completed with 16 or more to go. (The final count will be between 50 and 60 pieces of various sizes). Called Quiet Stories from Canadian Places, the exhibition will tour western Canada to coincide with Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017.
Cline knows quiet. She grew up in a small prairie town where the community was tight and nobody’s story, whether an observation or an opinion, was unimportant. For Cline, people stories are the soul of the nation and a “quiet” show such as this honouring the community, is just as important, if not more so, than the big, formal celebrations officialdom has planned. “It’s kind of an alternate parallel history,” she says. “I’m offering it up as a dialogue with official history. I call it community history.”
Title: Edge of the City
Cline’s favorite medium is collage. Earlier in her career, she glued newspaper clippings to her canvasses and then covered the under-painting with landscape, allowing the clippings to bleed through. Collage was her entry point into combining history with a sense of place. With Quiet Stories, she took a different tack.
Title: Backroad Okanagan
“I wanted to broaden my subject matter and my road to doing that was to care about a place and I needed people who care about that place to translate it for me.” So she crisscrossed the country with a digital recorder interviewing folks along the way. Sometimes her subjects talked about a specific place; other times they talked about an event or an activity. “Oftentimes, somebody’s small, simple story would talk about the fabric of our society and who we are,” she says. “Through their passion and love for the landscape I started to see [their surroundings] differently.”
Title: The Big Bump
Her recordings inspired the paintings. Some of them are literal renditions of a specific place, others are more iconic, liker a country road or a waterfall. When presented in tandem with the paintings they inspire, the recordings will fill in the picture’s backstory. “Layering audio on top of that is going to take [the viewer] to different places,” says Cline. “I’m trying to paint them so they feel like a memory instead of a photograph,” she says. “It might happen that the audio is near a painting it’s related to but it’s not essential. It’s how I position one painting beside another and how I position that with the audio that will create the collage effect.”
Title: Walk in the forest
Cline came up with the idea of a mixed-media birthday show in 2014 and has been working at it nonstop ever since, securing space for herself across the West as an artist -in –residence, raising funds, working deals with galleries and organizing the final tour. To say Quiet Stories is a grass roots enterprise is an understatement. Cline has done all the hard slogging herself. Not that it hasn’t been fun or enlightening. The residents of Inglis, Manitoba, for instance, a village of 200 souls west of the provincial capital, organized a pie sale to pay her artist’s fee. “They did pretty well,” she laughs. There’s been a lot of whimsy and serendipity along the way,” adding she’ll repay the gesture by opening her show in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, just across the border from Inglis, January 16th. Shows in the many towns she visited will follow, a labour of love from an artist that loves her country.