Vicky Tansey, a fascinating woman probably in her sixties and in much better shape than I am, is considered to be one of Canada’s leading pioneers in the art of improvisation as a dancer, singer and visual artist, and is also an accredited Tai Chi teacher and Buddhist practitioner, according to her bio on the Visual Arts Centre site. I discovered her great enthusiasm and intensely physical approach to painting and drawing today during the first in a series of eight classes titled Painting as Expression, which is geared toward “beginners, and those who want to begin again.”
To start, she had us twelve students—all women, save one brave man—sit in a circle to introduce ourselves and describe what had led us to choose this particular course out of the VAC’s vast curriculum. Next thing we knew, we were making marks on paper with our eyes closed while engaged in a series of contortions; moving our bodies around our limply held “broken” wrists; drawing, arm extended, from as far from our easels as possible while standing on tippy-toes; with charcoal sticks held on our chest—like knives in a stabbing motion—following movements she performed for us with complete abandon, then switching hands and doing it all over again. Vicky was clearly right in her element. The rest of us were predictably inhibited and feeling foolish at first, but these exercises got her point across: if you want to be expressive in your art, it’s got to come from your whole being and not just from an ideal in your head and a carefully held paintbrush positioned at a perfect angle. As it happens, just the type of exercise I had signed up for.
First painting exercise: cut out four pieces of “found” cardboard, cover with gesso, then make marks with charcoal on each “canvas”—again with eyes closed and using the techniques we’d just explored—all based on vocal noises she made—much to our great amusement. Then, using only gesso and a paintbrush, she left us to our own devices to paint over the drawing in order to create new images from the initial markings. Making pretty and colourful images was discouraged—the point was to explore gesture and learn to follow our instincts. Each student managed to end up with very personal interpretations and image styles, almost surprising given the limited resources we were allowed. Just in case you’re curious, here’s what I came up with:
The names just describe the images that came to mind as I was working on them.