Sheila Norgate is this year’s guest artist for Sunday’s Arts on the Avenue. (Sean Sherstone Photo).

VIDEO: Gabriola Island painter featured at Arts on the Avenue

A selection of Gabriola Island artist Sheila Norgate’s paintings will be on display as part of Arts on the Avenue this Sunday in Ladysmith.

“It will be lovely. A chance to bring a lot of work in, even some older work to have a bit of a retrospective,” she told the Chronicle.

The special 20×20 foot tent space Norgate will be occupying on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the downtown arts festival is actually even larger than her home studio.

In recent years, Norgate has leaned more towards creating art that portrays women from the 40s and 50s, which was also her mother’s generation, as she draws inspiration from an amassment of old photographs.

“It’s like a sociological dig to find old photos and paint them,” she said, describing her paintings, which sometimes incorporate text or collage, as having a “real nostalgic feel…because I’m very nostalgic.”

“These are women who are lost in time. There’s something about the poignancy of finding often really beautiful photographs lost in the bin at a thrift store.”

As Norgate’s website states up front, ‘I had no intention of becoming an artist.’

She is in fact self-taught and took up the craft in her early 30s after recovering from surgery resulting from being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

“That was a dark gift to me,” she said. “I had to stop the way I was living my life and go into therapy to start dealing with some of the stuff that was basically tearing me up from the inside out.”

The 67-year-old feminist’s latest collection with women as the focal point has also expanded her comfort zone, both in terms of the figurative art she’s now creating and the deeper source of its inspiration.

“I’m kind of exorcising that spirit of my mother and that sadness and her unlived life,” she said. “She’s on the radar for me to paint and I’m avoiding her because I’m frankly afraid to do something so direct.”

Norgate’s mother, who died 2o years ago, was a war bride from England who married a Canadian soldier and emigrated to Canada during the Second World War.

She said both her parents were “haunted” by the war and her mother’s depression in particular has had a lasting impact.

“A lot of women my age live in sort of a shadow of our mother’s lives because they were tragic figures back then,” she said. “These primal relationships, especially with the mother, are pretty slow moving in terms of how they evolve inside us.”

Norgate is also a dog lover and the beloved four legged animals have been the subject of her work over the years.

Other passions include writing, in particular memoirs, which she performs in one person shows.

“Sometimes they’re very personal and funny – I have a great sense of humour and comedic streak in me,” she said.

She also participated in Gabriola Island’s TEDx talk and recently spoke at the Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery, a shining example, she says, of artists who together have got back on their feet again after the 2008 depression.

“The art world took a devastating blow and I don’t think it’s ever come back the way it used to be and it probably shouldn’t,” she said, adding that her own work has become more “risky” without the worry of selling it in commercial galleries.

“There’s so much wonderful stuff happening now. Artists have taken matters into their own hands, there’s more artist-run galleries….I think we’ve just gotten more grassroots.”

Click here to find out more on what’s happening Arts on the Avenue and Light up the Night or check this week’s Chronicle from Aug. 23.


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