by Joan Athey

Startling and unexpected, the art-loving population of Hornby Island now has a fun roadside attraction to add to the list of views, beaches and wildlife the island is known for.  The oversized Campbell’s soup can tribute to Andy Warhol is the work of internationally-known painter Roberta Pyx Sutherland.  In the summer of 2012 she was one of two artists handed huge, rusty water tanks by the Community Arts Council.  The goal? To turn the Fire Department's water reservoirs into pieces of public art.  About eight large tanks are dotted about the landscape in locations convenient for the trucks to reach in case of fire.

Located on a rural corner, at first Pyx attempted a design to camouflage the tank and have it blend it into the trees in the background. The tank refused. Nothing worked. Stepping back and embracing the challenge she was inspired by the words of the Island's voice for contemporary art, curator Annette Hurtig who had just passed away .  “No more eagles, no more trees.  Expand yourself.”  With the thought of the local food bank kitchen in mind and their constant pressure for supplies plus Andy Warhol’s 50th anniversary of the famous artwork looming, the tank seemed to scream “I am a soup can from New York City.  Let me help".

She could hardly believe it. The dimensions were perfect. If rendered properly, it would be surreal - like the Jolly Green Giant had dropped a can of soup from his lunch bucket. It could be a landmark. People would enjoy it and laugh at the improbability of such acclaimed art landing on Hornby. The Campbell's Soup Company marketed reproductions of Warhol's soup can series and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City created an exhibition around it.)  Something unexpected ...isn't this what art is all about?

Fortunately there was a local artist with set design experience, Tara Ireland, who agreed to help.  It took over 100 hours of concentrated effort to complete. While some of Pyx's typical drawings and collages may look three-dimensional, it was was the first time she had worked on an enormous curved metal surface. Utilizing her experience in design, she even created a landscaping plan to complete the setting.

Pyx, like Warhol, has studied many styles and methods of art ranging from ceramic shrines to copper engraving.  She has traveled through Asia and Africa .  She has studied with Zen Roshis and Tibetan thanka painters. 

Pyx first bought her Grassy Point studio on Hornby in 1998.  She has been involved with the community, opening her studio and showing regularly on the island ever since.

The Francis Robe project explores the process of merging texture, symbol and narrative. It is inspired by the worn and patched habit of St. Francis which remains available to the public in the crypt of the great basilica in Assisi.

The garment construction process was accomplished through collage, using diverse plants as paper making fibres in combination with recycled materials. A selection of area maps are incorporated with calligraphies of Francis's most known quotes including 'Canticle to the Sun'.

More than the physicality of the garment as object with its historical implications, it comes to represent atemporal events. The intention of this work is to introduce the enduring legacy of St.Francis's spiritual accomplishments to secular culture. The project's premise being various items of clothing evoke particular psychological experiences. In many cultural situations garments are layered with symbolism that invokes the transpersonal and celebrate inner transformation.

The physicality of the material world is felt as an experience within our own physicality. The work endeavours to make visible what is normally invisible as it elicits an awareness of what is Francis's robe here, now and who is Francis, the Saint of ecology in the 21st century.

We are not meant to have an intellectual connection, we are meant to have a visceral one.

It would be difficult to imagine an artist more deserving of tribute than Emily Carr. The depth of her commitment to communicate the wild grandeur of west coast nature is for myself and many others, pure inspiration. 

The determination and perseverance of this Victorian woman isolated in her vision on the west coast of Canada is an incredible story, and for many an artist it is as talisman. The power of her unique and distinct personality drove her legacy and she has become a Canadian Frida Kahlo, our Georgia O’Keefe. 

In one of Jack Shadbolt’s painting classes, I recall him saying ‘Any painter working on the West Coast has to deal with Emily Carr. We all have to deal with Emily’.

My connection to Emily Carr began on the East side of Vancouver in the winter of 1949.

As I remember, my name had made it through the waiting list of the Children’s Saturday morning art classes in the basement of the Vancouver Art Gallery and my father, for whatever reason, couldn’t return until noon. A fortuitous set-up ... for alone I could wander through the formidably large rooms filled with the biggest paintings I’d ever seen. My resting place became a long black leather bench in a back room where I would lie undisturbed, before open skies, breathing in blue and the darkest forests imaginable ... I was with Emily.

This poem ‘Awakening’, describes my first ‘big experience’ while painting the following summer. 

The Awakening
It must’ve been before my 10th birthday
the warmth of braids were on my neck
Alone in a park far from home
Standing in front of an easel
(tall compared to my height)
yellow paint trickling down
soft paper before me
stray rivulets - never mind
My full attention was on the line my brush had made
Effortless, fresh, undulating, new,
a magical occurrence
This golden line had volume, form,
a recognizable shape
It mirrored a sunlit branch
the Arbutus arc above me
My eyes blinked back tears, this was my brush
my tree, my sunlight-
and yet it wasn’t mine at all
There was only wet yellow, wooden brush in hand
moss underfoot,
I stood in a soft space
with enormous roots.

Until recently, I had not realized how prophetic Jack Shadbolt's words would become!  

My studio is now in the centre of Emily Carr's neighbourhood: a stone's throw from her family home, her studio the House of All-Sorts, her favourite walks and painting spots, and the hospital where she died, now the James Bay Inn.

Also close by, Emily’s burial place, the Ross Bay Cemetery.

This is a selection of images collected over two decades as a tribute to the small and intrepid ferries that connect the island communities of British Columbia.
Not only are these vessels essential to daily island life, they provide travellers with an unending display of abstract visual gifts. Each ferry offers a unique opportunity to discover beauty, form, colour, and texture. These ongoing post-modern installations are easy to miss.