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Beachcombing Treasures — A review by Leslie McGuffin of “Traces, Inspirations for the Costal Shorelines” — Works by Celia Pickles and Jinny Whitehead on display in the Craft Council of BC Gallery, April 5 – May 17, 2012. [Words: 526]

Beachcombing may be one of the earliest activities separating anatomically modern human homo sapiens from the ancestral subspecies of homo erectus. The homo sapiens search was likely practical—a sweep for nourishment and the useful. The modern beachcomber is more apt to be after an abstraction—peace of mind, perhaps, or a re-awakening to the essential loveliness of shorelines: Smell the sea; forget the city. If you can’t get to the sea right now, and would relish some urban forgetting, “Traces – Inspirations from the Coastal Shorelines” now showing at the Craft Council of BC Gallery might be just the thing.

This joint show featuring Celia Pickles’ 2D monotypes and Jinny Whitehead’s 3D clay forms prompts the viewer to try recalling shell nomenclature: limpets, abalone, periwinkle, tops and turbans, cowries and moon shells. And there is evocation of sand ripples, sea kelp, and barnacles. In viewing “Traces” your delight in these works—undoubtedly you will find them delightful— will inevitably evoke the real things. You may find yourself thinking about rocks, driftwood, kelp, shell fragments and beach debris in a whole new way. You may find yourself awakened to colours, textures, and shapes in tide line bits and pieces that you might never have noticed before.

Alas, the rectangular gallery space is tiny. But big enough for parallel ‘shorelines’. Celia’s coloured and overstitched monotypes line both of the ‘long’ walls; Jinny’s clay forms are on plinths beneath. Monotypes are printed paintings. Celia’s method involves painting tissue paper with textile inks, watercolours or watercolour pencil, placing the painted tissue on a non-porous printing plate, and then covering it with the dampened paper sheet onto which the printing process will then transfer the painted image. The print, once pulled is wholly unique. And this uniqueness resulting from a surrendering of control to the materials is what this artist finds so appealing. She pulls an abstract image composed of rippled, swirled, splotched and colourful ‘shapes’ with watery, fuzzy, soft ‘edges’ and then searches with 3D ‘lines’ of different coloured thread to reveal the delicate intertidal forms and patterns we might not otherwise see. The ‘modern’ but now century old approaches and ideas of Kandinsky, Klee, and Delaunay come to mind: the synthesis of surrender and control, of interiority and externality.

Jinny has used a variety of techniques to create the various types of clay forms that Celia claims inspired her monotypes: throwing, hand-building, stretching, scraping, paddling and burnishing. Most of these pieces were fired in a sawdust-fuelled kiln; some were produced from a firing method known as slip resist or naked raku. These labour intensive techniques, like Celia’s monotype process, also involve a surrendering stage. After firing, the form unearthed —shell, kelp, pebble, rock or fragments of each—can be a surprise for the artist too. The wonder is in a fire-created, handcrafted form evoking so strongly the essential nature of such water-formed treasures. At first blush, there would seem to be a divergent approach to colour: Celia multi-hued; Jinny restrained. But there is less and more in both, and we are thereby reminded of the richness of both the limited and unlimited palette in the studio and in nature.