Different ways of seeing through art

 In Community

The large canvases laid out on the desks in Mr. Weir’s classroom leave very little room to manoeuvre but students manage to zip back and forth to the paint table. They return to their workstations with fresh globs of bright acrylics to mix and layer.

The Grade 7-8 Nottawasaga and Creemore Public School students are finishing up their paintings inspired by the work of the late Norval Morrisseau, an aboriginal Canadian artist who rose to fame in the 1960s. The work is part of the Artists in the School program, funded by Purple Hills Arts and Heritage Society. For the past eight years, NCPS students in Grades 4-8 take part in a free art program, led by local artists and exploring different mediums. This year, Gail Caswell and Jordan Eveland were in the school encouraging students to explore “different ways of seeing”.

Students began their Morrisseau-inspired works by prepping their canvas with paint and sand, to add texture. Although many of them were not familiar with the artist they liked the work and embraced it by creating symbolic pictures of animals.

Malcolm Lucas Doige said he and his father once went to a powwow where he learned his spirit animal is the fox so he chose to make that the subject matter of his painting. Gracie Kennedy chose to paint a mother and father bird, representing family, Jamie Wright paints an owl representing wisdom and Nick Hill paints a fish, hovering over a village, representing greed.

They use bright colours and black outlines, emulating Morrisseau’s iconic style.

“The goal is to expose students to media and provide artistic opportunities they wouldn’t get otherwise because of limited school budgets,” said Caswell, who worked as a high school art teacher for 30 years.

Since the creation of the Artists in the School program in 2009, students have been given the opportunity to try silkscreen printing and pottery, among other media, under the guidance of several local artists.

“We wanted to try something a little different,” she said.

To encourage the Grade 6s to see things a little differently, they began by looking at their subject matter through a magnifying glass. Students were asked to bring something from home and they were instructed to look at the magnification and forget about the object, just think about colour. Using watercolour paints, they created an image using a focal point and presented to their class.

“When you look at the final project, it doesn’t look anything like what they were inspired by, it was really great. I think they understood more about abstraction this way,” said Caswell. “They really got it.”

Students in Grades 4-5 explored painting without a brush, which they found intimidating at first, but really embraced it. Their creations were inspired by the works of Eric Carle, author and illustrator of children’s books.

Caswell said the plan is to show the Morrisseau paintings at this year’s Grade 8 graduation ceremony.

The program is funded through donations to Purple Hills Arts and Heritage Foundation, which also funds after-school and summer art programs for youth, music programs in the school, as well as art and music programs for adults.

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