Touched By Fire Seventh Annual Show and Sale

Exhibitor Gwen Hayes with her work, "Threshold Series, untitled (6163-13)", watercolour, 39"x57.5".

Exhibitor Gwen Hayes with her work, “Threshold Series, untitled (6163-13)”, watercolour, 39″x57.5″.

On November 26, Touched By Fire, held its seventh annual art show and sale at the Artscape Wychwood Barns.  The pieces displayed were chosen by jury and included drawings, paintings, photography, multimedia and digital works by 58 practising professionals, art students, and emerging artists.  Admission was $20, and the works were on sale with prices ranging from $50 to $6,000.

As explained previously, Touched By Fire promotes itself as, “the art show that you have to be crazy to enter.”  That is, exhibiting is open only to those who declare themselves to be recovering from a mood disorder.  For those unsure what a mood disorder is, the site links to factsheets offered by the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, including explanations of various diagnoses.  So the artists exhibiting at the show all have lived experience with emotional pain of the kind that the psychiatric DSM diagnostic manual names as mood disorders.  I am very interested in what these people have to say.  What inspires their art?  Do they create in relation to emotional pain or separate from emotional pain?  Are they ok with DSM categories or do they name or respond to emotional pain in other ways?  What images would they choose to speak of recovering?  Healing?

So, I look at the present show with these questions in mind.  The show is intended to help artists to promote and sell their work.  It is not intended to answer questions like mine, but I’m still hoping.  Some pieces conveyed something of what I was interested in learning, e.g., images that suggested emotional pain as dereliction, darkness, or wounds or that suggested healing through serenity, colour, or nature.  I was also interested in the artist statements.  Unfortunately, artist statements were not on display with the works.  Fortunately, someone had gone to a lot of effort to attach a QR code (little square of sqiggly lines) to each title card, so those with smart phones and the right app could scan the code and call up the artist statement.  Unfortunately, most people at the exhibit did not seem to have the requisite technology, and even for those of us who did, the process was time consuming and distracting.  Fortunately, when scanning the code produced long and interesting statements, I could email these to myself to read later.  Unfortunately, despite the app’s promises, no statements ever arrived by email.

I located a few of the exhibited works and artist statements among the large number of works on the Touched By Fire online gallery.  Several artists mention their work as a record of inner experience.  Amanda Scott, who exhibited multimedia works, “Desire” and “Intent,” explains,”I paint what I feel and what moves me,” with an interest in exploring “the lines between reality and imagination, actual vs. possible, inner vs. outer worlds.”  Peter Mulcair, who exhibited “Bubbling to the Surface,” introduces himself as, “Photographer Peter Mulcair uses the earth for inspiration for his art capturing all of life’s beauty.”  Gwen Hayes, who exhibited a piece from her Threshold series, speaks of art as heightening her awareness of herself and others and as a lifeline in relation to mental health: “It’s a way to gather together thoughts, emotions and experiences and make sense of things when they seem to be flying apart. It relieves anxiety, and is a release for creativity that gets bottled up, or stifled in certain environments.”  Hayes seems to be pointing out that for her, the act of creating of the art not only records, but also shapes and forms her inner experience.

I’d say more if I could have seen more of the artist statements.  What I wanted was a statement available on paper to read while viewing each piece at the show and, ideally, available to be re-read at a later time.  A catalogue would have been a delight.  But what I’d like most is something even more ambitious.  I have long wished that works shown through Touched By Fire could be curated so as to help viewers learn from the insights of people with lived experience of emotional pain.  I envision special shows or galleries of works, either online or live exhibits, displaying works curated, chosen, or invited to address the kinds questions I’m asking.

In the meantime, the art works at the seventh annual Touched By Fire show and sale were gorgeous, the Wychwood Barns setting was lovely, and the hors d’oeuvres and drinks were delicious.  Consider going to next year’s show.

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