AAREN MADDEN • FOCUS MAGAZINE OCTOBER 2014
Lost and found
In a new series of paintings, Meghan Hildebrand offers visual delight.
A great way to experience a new city is to tuck away the map, forget about the must-see landmarks and museums, and just let the sidewalk take you. Let your eye get caught by an enticing window, some intriguing architecture, even a compelling stranger, and follow. The opportunities for delight and discovery can be multiple. The place becomes your own, in a way, and you share some of its secrets. You develop your own private narrative.
That notion of getting “lost” and the gifts it can bring is at work in a new series by Meghan Hildebrand, 36, a painter (and punk rocker) living in Powell River. The collection of oil and acrylic on canvas is called “Carry Me,” and its meaning is twofold, applying to both the creative process and the viewing experience. For the latter, it’s the temporary suspension of the quotidian; “the ability of the artwork to take you somewhere else, somewhere new,” Hildebrand explains. “In regards to my painting process,” she continues, “it’s the way that—if I let it—the work can carry me to its completion. It’s a good exercise in getting out of all the chaos inside my head, to create a clear space to just receive instructions and actually not even feel in charge of the paintings. Just follow the cues from colour and move ahead. What comes out is always a surprise.”
Followers of Hildebrand’s work have come to expect surprises as well. She is constantly exploring new ideas, subject matter, and media, shifting from the more abstract to the more representational as the pendulum of her own curiosity swings. Working in a series helps Hildebrand to process ideas and bring them to a conclusion or develop them for a future context. Explains Michael Warren, owner and director of Madrona Gallery, “She evolves a set of ideas through 20 or 30 paintings and each year we see quite a difference in the motifs she is working with.”
Hildebrand ventures into abstract expressionism with loose, gestural mark making and saturated, giddy colour values as she did in “Flotsam,Jetsam, Lagan and Derelict,” a series from 2012. But that was after a series called “Sparklehaus,” which celebrated pattern, history, and storytelling. Those canvasses are tightly packed with intricate imagery rendered in muted tones. Patterns and figures play off each other and reference her fascination with quilts and their connections to “the role women have played in activism, art and society.” The idea germinated with the series “Rivers and Logs,” wherein she also highlighted concerns about the privatization of water and waterways in Canada.
Wherever Hildebrand takes her practice, and whether she addresses larger issues or personal experience, there are constants. “You can really identify it’s her voice through the mark making,” Warren observes. These are often simplistic, even archetypal forms for house, face, or animal. It allows for multiple readings: “She just sets the stage for the viewer. She gives you all the elements, like a recipe, and you can go in and weave whatever narrative, whatever influences affect your life, into viewing the painting,” he says, noting that a ubiquitous arc form is a typical “Hildebrand” hill.
Sometimes, though, that arc can be read as a portal. Find the black arc shape just lower-right from centre in one as-yet-untitled painting in “Carry Me” and surely a doorway offers itself up to the curious—and the bold. It urges the viewer to be pulled into the work. The trees are so inviting, the patterns so reassuring, but is that a clear-cut on a receding hill- side? What about the eyes that appear in some trees, invoking the all-seeing Eye of Providence; what about the faces? “No specific reference was meant,” she assures. “They bring a playful and magical atmosphere to the work.” They do stir up the idea of the viewer and the viewed with whimsy, but also a little bit of menace, depending on your frame of mind.
But it’s a good thing. That fleeting panic of disorientation raises consciousness and magnifies the interaction. “I am realizing how little I know,” Hildebrand admits. And she’s comfortable with that. “Instead of trying to share some kind of knowledge I was grasping for, now I’d actually rather present questions than any sort of message. You look at a piece and ask ‘what is this; why is that?’ and relate it to your own experience,” she says. “I’m much more interested in that than any kind of commentary. It’s okay to just get lost in a piece of work that is visually exciting.”
Hildebrand enjoyed that sensation on a recent trip to Mexico. In Oaxaca, works at the textile museum captivated her. “Some of the wall hangings were just patterns, but so incredibly intense and joyful in their colour and so contemplative in the pattern. Your eyes get lost and your mind clears. You get lost in it,” she says.
As far back as she can remember, she has been happiest when immersed in that way. Born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon, Hildebrand had her artist mother’s studio at her disposal. “She never said no to anything I wanted to do in terms of making a mess in her studio or getting into her supplies,” Hildebrand remembers fondly. Like her mother, she attended Kootenay School of the Arts in Nelson, BC. She then went to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and has lived in Powell River since 2004. Her work is now in commercial galleries across Canada and has toured public galleries as well. Hildebrand is now on the radar screens of an intrigued group of collectors.
They will find her new work inspired by her local landscape, but influences from her early exposure in the north still figure into her work. Inuit art always struck a chord with her and emerges in her simplified marks, animal shapes, narrative and textures. She remembers Ted Harrison and his “shameless” use of colour, among others. She continues to learn from other artists, most recently in a workshop with Landon Mackenzie. This winter she will draw from that exchange by exploring the use of spray paint and a return to oils.
Some of Hildebrand’s other interests have been feeding her work as well. Besides painting and doing graphic design, she sings in a punk rock choir and is a member of the band The Abbie Hoffman Society, who recently toured with punk legends NoMeansNo. “I think being in the band and choir have given me a bigger voice and made me feel braver to take risks and put it out there,” she reflects. It’s true of a collaboration, but “the same thing is true with painting. When you just let the paintings arise—they are the best pieces.” Her approach to form and content allows the same discovery and delight to become the viewer’s as well.
“Carry Me” opens at Madrona Gallery on October 11 with a reception 1-4 pm, and runs until October 25. 606 View Street, 250-380-4660, www.madronagallery.com.
Stories From Mexico: Capturing the Sounds and Scenes of Oaxaca, by Meghan Hildebrand
Mexico has fascinated me for a long time; the culture, the arts, the scenery, and the food all appeal to me big time. So, when I came across the work of Meghan Hildebrand I was very excited. Meghan took a trip to Oaxaca and produced a lovely series of watercolour paintings drawing from her experiences there. These aren’t just landscape paintings, though – they embody the emotions, atmosphere, and vibe of the city, too.
The paintings in your mapas y cuentos series all have a lovely, pure style. How did this develop?
I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach the series. In my first couple weeks in Oaxaca I did some watercolours that were more straight up representations of the landscapes, but I knew I wanted to include more of myself in the work. I was also thinking about how I could somehow paint the sounds of Oaxaca City, the birds, dogs, traffic. In the piece “Esta Mañana” I painted the view from my roof and included the imaginary birds and dogs I love to draw. It gave the piece life, and I knew how to proceed with the series.
Can you tell us a bit about your trip to Oaxaca?
The State of Oaxaca has been on my radar since 2006 when I heard about the teachers’ strikes on community radio. Once you hear about a place it seems to come up more often. My husband really wanted to learn to surf and I really wanted to experience a new art scene, and Oaxaca is legendary for both.
What stories inspired the paintings in the mapas y cuentos series?
More than any particular stories, it was the idea that looking at a scene, or a painting, brings stories to mind. The idea that every shape has a history. I like to create situations that suggest a narrative that isn’t clearly defined, that let the imagination take over. Like illustrations with the story missing. A few days into the series, we visited the Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre-Hispanic Sculpture. The faces I saw that day made their way into to paintings, first playfully as faces on onions, then as monoliths in the landscape that symbolized the rich layers of history buried there.
What do you hope the pieces tell viewers about the city?
These painting represent my experience of a beautiful and complicated city. I hope people can get a sense of the magic of the colours and sights and sounds that I took in to create the work. I hope viewers enter the painting and allow their imaginations to wander. I hope it makes them take another look at the place where they live and see the magic there too.
Let’s talk about process. What steps did you take when creating each piece?
Mostly we did a lot of walking the streets and taking pictures in the mornings before it got hot (or hotter). In the afternoon, I sat in the shade and reviewed my photos, and would usually settle on a couple that I liked and combined aspects of each into a drawing. Then I would include my cast of characters, the giant tropical birds, dogs barking from rooftops, etc. I was careful to create a limited palette for each piece, which I find is my key to capturing the mood and atmosphere of a particular place or time of day. Then the fun part, the paint! Watercolour is such a fun medium, it does magical little things that are hard to control, and on the other hand, I find it easy, because I’m just filling in the lines. As opposed to my abstracts, which is about making decisions all the way. At the end of the series my husband and I lined them all up and named them.
Do you have any tips for artists or art-lovers visiting Oaxaca?
Naturally I would suggest doing some art while there! Nothing that I know of can embed a view in the memory like drawing or painting it can. I would also suggest bringing some art home. There is so much there that it can be overwhelming, but once you have it at home you would be so happy to have it. I would recommend the independent, more underground galleries/workshops where you will find incredible and very political art. (There are a couple along Porfirio Diaz Avenue) There is an incredible amount of magnificent public galleries and museums that are free or very cheap to enter. Go to some of those but don’t overdo it! Take time out for the hammock and don’t burn out. Oh yeah, also take some time to explore back alleys and discover the unbelievably good graffiti!
Another thing I did while there was paint a small mural. That is a great way for an artist to share their work with the public that don’t visit galleries, and that doesn’t take money out of the community. People have a deep respect and appreciation for artists there, during the creation of the mural that was very evident by the number of people that stopped to watch and comment.
STORYTELLING WITH PAINT - MEGHAN HILDEBRAND ARTISTS TO COLLECT, BY KYLIE SEREBRIN, ARABELLA MAGAZINE
spring 2013 edition
MEGHAN HILDEBRAND - MADRONA GALLERY - $500 - $8000 GALLERIES - COLLECTOR PICKS, MAUREEN LATTA
date of interview: December 2012
Meghan Hildebrand’s imaginative worlds often seem about to slip off their canvases as images of the natural and human made collide with gusto. Hildebrand is a spinner of visual tales, whose fantastical sea, land and city views often feature canted angles and flowing ribbons of colour. Acrylics and oils combine with elements of collage. Viewing a Hildebrand painting can be a journey into numerous possible stories or simply an experience of aesthetic wonderment.
Michael Warren, owner of the Madrona Gallery in Victoria, notes an amazing response to this Powell River artist’s work. What stands out about it? “She is one of the few Western Canadian artists who have a very well-established visual language.”
Hildebrand’s current work still features her unique iconography, but shows a painterly shift toward frantic brushwork against open spaces. She says she was moved by a piece of art from a young friend. “It was funny, gestural, narrative and mysterious. I'm hoping to achieve the qualities I admired in that piece.”
Yukon-raised, Hildebrand was first inspired by Inuit and First Nations art and children’s books. She studied at the Kootenay School of the Arts in Nelson, B.C., and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. Her work is in the Yukon government’s permanent collection, among others, and she was featured by Mayberry Fine Art at the 2012 Toronto International Art Fair.
GRAPHIC DESIGNS AND ART BY MEGHAN HILDEBRAND PUBLIC - THE ONLINE RESOURCE FOR LOCAL CANADIAN DESIGN
date of interview: December 2012
Long known for its logging activity, the cozy city of Powell River is tucked snugly along the southwest coast of BC. Recently, a microbrewery aptly named Townsite Brewery has opened up smack in the middle of the historic Townsite region of Powell River. Also taking up residence near there is Artist and Graphic Designer Meghan Hildebrand, and these two have come together to build a brand that offers a creative taste of Powell River living.
Life in Powell River is typical of 'small town' BC; where everyone knows each other or what they’re up to. So when Karen Skadsheim, owner and "instigator” of Townsite Brewing needed to develop a brand for her business, she just happened to have a friend, who's artwork she was a great supporter of; Meghan Hildebrand. The two got together to flush out a design rationale for the Townsite Brewing brand evolving around very specific concepts Karen had in mind for representation of her products —clean, bold and retro— and while the designs very much meet these requirements, they are still very much recognizable and consistent with Meghan Hildebrand’s aesthetic.
As with any artist, Meghan’s vernacular is continually evolving. These days she describes her work as "story-maps of the imagination". Citing her youth, when she absorbed dual influence of her mother, a painter/calligraphist and graphic designer, and her father, a miner and blaster. Almost inevitably, the line where the industrial intersects with the natural world has informed her perspective. The results are a contemporary abstract mapping of sorts, leading the eye across colourful layers of textured morphology, and in some cases literal use of collage.
Born and raised in Whitehorse Meghan attended the Kootenay School of the Arts a skip and a hop south in Nelson, BC; later attending the well known Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, NS. Although surely she owes much of her early influences to her mother who sometimes enlisted Meghan’s help with designs requiring animals in the artwork. She was only 11 or so at the time. With such an early start to her career, it comes as no surprise that she sold her first original at the age of 15. Since those early days, she has evolved to being collected world-wide and represented in major galleries such as Canadian Galleries - Mayberry Fine Art in Winnipeg & Toronto, Madrona Gallery in Victoria, Masters Gallery in Calgary and Bugera Matheson Gallery in Edmonton.
Living the dualistic life as artist and graphic designer, Meghan feels both occupations work to compliment each other very well. Particularly in situations when a graphic commission requires unique and original artwork as part of the deliverables. This allows her the freedom and ability to maintain complete creative control from start to finish of each of her consulting projects. Also, any breakthroughs in her painting studio often inform her design work with new colour combinations, and geometries. Similarly, she feels her graphic work is an excellent exercise helping her to hone her compositional skills. On average, working from her home studio she spends about 50% of her time painting, 20% spent on crafting (sewing clothes and making stuffed animal art), with the remaining 30% spent on graphic design work.
When developing the Townsite Brewing identity, Meghan first tackled what she thought to be the toughest part of the process —development of the brewery logo mark. In this case, the process was aided by a client who knew what she wanted in terms of typographic style and in terms of the desired feeling the graphics would convey. After numerous revisions a logo was born providing the punchy 'pop' the client was looking for.
Now with the logo mark and typography in place the next step was to work on a graphic representation of the brewery’s historic settings for representation in all product labelling. The result was line art in the form of a hand drawn sketch of the historic “Federal Building” which the brewery now occupies. Better known to locals as the post office building as it was Powell River’s first post office and bares significant sentimental and historic value to the community.
Armed with a logo mark, typography, and line art sketch of the brewery —the requisite building blocks for production— Meghan could begin drafting what would become the graphical standards for the brewery. Adding to these, each product label was expanded upon with the addition of a textile pattern to form the contrasting background, offering an understated air of femininity helping to broaden market appeal. Further graphic elements offer to clarify the products expression and offer some experience of the locale from which it is based. Such as with her artwork each of the labels offers elements of time and place; from the summer fun of swinging on a “Zunga” tethered to a tree on Goat Island or experience of drawing near to the flotilla of WWII merchant vessels now serving as the “Hulks” that are breakwater barriers protecting the mill’s bay ('Hulk' painted by Brad Collins, and included by Meghan into her label design.).
Meghan enjoys working in series with her artwork; a practice she found just happens to lend itself well to the conceptual development of labels for a product line. Specifically, she wanted a row of different bottled beers to convey enough difference within each while maintaining congruity and strength in the overall expression when found all together. Such as found when one tours the brewery’s gift shop and presented shirts, labels, posters, rack cards, and trading cards and of course beer.
Essentially she wanted people’s hoarding tendencies to kick in with the desire to collect them all. Well Meghan, mission accomplished!
ECLECTIC, OFTEN CHAOTIC WORKS BY NORGATE, HILDEBRAND FEATURED IN EDMONTON SHOW BY JANICE RYAN, EDMONTON JOURNAL
date of interview: 05/12/2011
When it comes to storytelling — be it in books, movies or art — the strongest stimulus for personal thoughts, reactions and feelings is often to what is left unsaid. Within that open bit of space lies the freedom to puzzle together information, ask questions and fill in the blanks with your own interpretations and to ultimately make the story our own.
Gallery owner, Agnes Bugera came up with the exhibition title, “Storytelling,” while viewing the paintings of Sheila Norgate and Meghan Hildebrand side by side.
“All the paintings tell a story,” says Bugera. “Sheila’s stencilled words, the writing and images of birds or dogs tells us about something she is feeling in a subconscious way and lets us figure it out based on our own experiences. Meghan’s work tells me stories that are very mysterious, as if they were from another planet. There are creatures, not quite human, yet very much alive.”
Both artists express themselves with a flamboyant palette, elements of collage and a sense of playful animation. The work is engaging, easy to access and tempts the viewer to linger and ponder.
Norgate, a full-time painter on B.C.’s Gabriola Island, has been exhibiting throughout North America (and has gallery representation both sides of the border) since 1988. Also, a seasoned keynote speaker, her two current performative slide shows — “Charm, Beauty and Poise” (a mock etiquette lecture she delivers in a vintage red taffeta party dress) and “I Never Met a Blank Canvas I Didn’t Like” – are infused with the same wit and proactive humour as her art work. She plays with language and creatively re-jigs expression both on the canvas and within the titles.
Intrigued by the idea of “life as a circus,” Around She Goes represents “us running around trying to be perfect, trying to escape the sense of being flawed which our culture reflects back to us constantly.”
“I am a feminist.” says Norgate, “It is an f-word now, but I have been since my consciousness was raised in 1968 and I’ve never looked back.”
Norgate’s stories reflect her life and experiences. There are things going on on the canvas that may not be explainable, but there are plenty of recognizable elements for the viewer to latch onto.
Images and text — a blend of paper clippings and hand-carved stamps — add what the painter describes as a “level a precision against a back drop of chaos” referring to the splatters and drips that appear when she decides to “throw the paint around.”
Working entirely from an intuitive place with no preliminary sketches, Norgate’s paintings can transform radically from start to finish, adding a delicious edge to the work.
“As you get more invested in the painting,” she says, “you get less likely to take chances with it and there is a critical point where you either have to take the chances or you are going to have a dead painting.”
Meghan Hildebrand, originally from Whitehorse, Yukon, now lives and paints from her studio in Powell River on the Sunshine Coast in B.C. Studying at the Kootenay School of Arts and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, her work has been shown across the country for over a decade. This show marks Hildebrand’s first exhibition at the Agnes Bugera Gallery.
“Storytelling” is a good fit for my work because I definitely see myself in the storytelling tradition,” says Hildebrand. “I love a painting that makes you wonder what the story is, with lots of interesting fragments and entrances into the story so any individual mind can put something of their own together. I really want to encourage imagination.”
Hildebrand draws inspiration from the beauty of her west coast surrounding while addressing social issues of her town, her own life and the world at large. Lately, her focus is water issues like privatization and flooding.
Surreal landscapes with decorative hills painted with herringbone and floral textile patterns (a “hangover” from a recent project where she painted quilts), houses, flags, boats and an often unpredictable sky, abound throughout “natural fantastical worlds” one might find within a dream.
Hildebrand has created “story maps,” the locations of stories that will send the viewer off on a journey. Elements of collage sing through the work, adding texture, detail and leading the eye around the canvas.
Trader Time depicts a city on the brink of being flooded, a warning perhaps that echoes Hildebrand’s concerns with water. Empty word bubbles allow the viewer to figure out their own explanation.
“I really hope that the paintings open a window of experience for people with which to lay their own feelings.”
MEGHAN HILDEBRAND WITH CANADIAN INTERVIEWS
date of interview: 10/02/2010
location: hollander york gallery, toronto on (now Mayberry Fine Art Toronto)
"HAPPY AS COLOURS" WITH PATRICK IBERI, MAPLE TREE LITERARY REVIEW
"ART EVOKES ENCHANTED CHILDHOOD" WITH ROBERT AMOS, TIMES COLONIST
may 10, 2009
Dab Gallery is in Dragon Alley, just off Fisgaard Street, deep in China Town. The live/work condos there are a recent development of an ancient tenement. The charming gallery is the ground floor of one, and is smaller than most living rooms. There I saw Meghan Hildebrand's mixed media paintings, and spoke with the artist about her childhood.
"It was magic!" she remembered. Meghan Hildebrand grew up in Whitehorse in the Yukon. her mother, Dereen Hildebrand, was a "jack-of-all-trades-" artist who, as a teenager, left Victoria.
She got an enriched education in the 1970s at the Kootenay school of the Arts in Nelson and traveled to the Yukon. The first five years of Meghan life were spent with her mom in a little trailer.
"It was beautiful. I have had an easel as long as I can remember. We painted murals on the doors. How my mom managed a sign-painting business out of the trailer I can't imagine", Hildebrand mused.
Hildebrand recalls the Yuko as "totally gorgeous." She grew up in a circle that included artists Ted Harrison, Jim Robb and many others. As soon as she graduated from high school, Meghan lit out for Vancouver with all the money she had - enough to last about two weeks.
When the money ran out she returned home and made a more enduring plan: to attend Kootenay School of the Arts. During four years there she developed rapidly; in her "mixed media" course there were just six students and three instructors. Graduating in 2001, she launched herself into the world, ready to become a full-time artist.
Her firs stop was Fran Willis Gallery in Victoria. Early one Monday morning she set out with her portfolio, only to discover that art galleries typically aren't open Mondays. Nevertheless, she was taken up by the gallery.
Even then her style was identifiable. She starts wit ha wooden panel and builds up a foundation of acrylic paint and collage, using paper elements like brushstrokes. These she cuts into shapes, distinct )buildings, animals, petals, birds) or freely indistinct. Oil glazes tie together this bouillabaisse of imagery with nicely judged tone and colour.
Hildebrand and her fiancé discovered Powell River five years ago and took to it right away. She like being a "big fish" in a small community, "staying home and doing the stuff we want to do." To make that way of life work, she takes every exhibiting opportunity - grocery store, artists' co-op and her own gallery in the basement of their home. "We are trying to create the scene we want to be in," she noted. "Living in Powell River is kind of like a vacation."
I asked her for some insight into the charming and complex images on the walls around us. She describes them as imaginary places, "Our footprints - the shapes we leave in the world" Each ebullient collage seems to erupt at the intersection of the natural worlds and industrial reality. She builds fantasy cities like castles in the air; she calls them "almost dreamscapes."
For me they evoke St. Petersburg, the leaning tower of Pisa, Manhattan and Vancouver's West End. Hildebrand said she prefers to keep things ambivalent, "to fit into anyone's memory." She starts with nothing and builds up a lot of free-floating imagery, defining what turns up as she goes along.
Using her scissors, she snips out all manner of animals and birds to paste into the environment she creates. "Birds tell such great stories," she laughed. I asked her about the many galloping horses - or were they coyotes or deer rabbits? She said they were "animal shapes", purposely left open for people to define them as they wish.
Hildebrand's paintings are attractive from a distance and become more and more interesting as one approaches. She calls them "doorways to places." What sort of places?
"A couch on a porch," she replied. "That cozy place where my mom and I were," so many years ago. It's a pleasure to go there with her.