A Legacy of Outdoor Art in and Around Ottawa

August 24, 2015 Updated: August 26, 2015

At the end of summer, the intense greens of carefully tended gardens, deciduous trees, and cultivated grounds are evident everywhere in Ottawa. Artists have long taken notice of such colours and dappled lights in the landscape.

Those very same greens, the ones that emerge at the end of summer, can be seen in an exhibition titled Hidden Gems at Cube Gallery on Wellington St.

Hidden Gems is an exhibition of work by an informal group of Ottawa area artists who, for 25 years, have been meeting to paint out-of-doors en plein air. Their medium is oil or acrylic on canvas. Most of their canvases are small—just the size to carry in a backpack on a bicycle.

The six artists in this year’s exhibition are Jay Anderson, John Jarrett, Strachan Johnston, Pina Manoni-Rennick, Paul Schibli, and Karl Schutt. The work selected is of quiet vignettes located in city parks, streets, neighbourhoods, and along the banks of Ottawa’s rivers and canal. Addresses and locations are given for all.

The exhibition continues until Aug. 30. Admission is free.

Several other outdoor art exhibitions are taking place outside the city.

Skelly Gallery

Skelly Gallery, an hour east of Ottawa in the village of St. Eugene, is located beside a river with old growth trees surrounding and as such is perfectly sited to display outdoor sculpture. For the last three years, a group of artists have built work to nestle among trees, in branches, and beside the roots and rocks of the earth.

This year, the work of 18 artists is on display outdoors on the gallery’s grounds, which are a indeed fairytale land. The wooded glade invites children to find tracings of elves or fairies among the trees. Nearby is a wonderful bench sculpted by Elisabeth Skelly. Susan Jephcott’s carousel and Nik Schnell’s “Red Riding Hood” are both examples of work that prompt storytelling.

These forest walks will be a splendid way to mark the end of one season, the start of another.

Other stories are told here, too. Pythagoras’s theory of unity in the universe, the harmony of proportions, is made visible in Noah Lima’s work. The artist has laid a simple rectangle of pebbles and ceramic blue upon the grass. Its proportions are those of Pythagoras’s “golden section.”

Skelly Gallery’s hours are Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and by appointment. The grounds are open every day of the week, however. There is no charge for visiting, but donations to benefit the Canadian Mental Health Association are encouraged. The exhibition continues until Oct. 31.

Fieldwork

About an hour’s drive west of Ottawa in the direction of Perth is Fieldwork, a collection of artwork in the fields, in the woods, by the gurgling brook—all of it sited for that location on Old Brook Road.

Fieldwork is an environmental art project begun by Susie Osler, Chris Osler, and Sheila Macdonald seven years ago. Since then, artists have travelled from the United States and across Canada to create installations there.

This year’s program includes a writers’ weekend organized by the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, Perth Chapter. For “Framework: Words on the Land,” which took place Aug. 21-23, 10 professional writers sat down on the land to ponder the scene before them. Each of their sitting places has a “view,” one framed by a simple wooden frame, perhaps two metres tall. What did they see? What poem or short story may result?

Participating writers include Michael Blouin, Wayne Grady, Phil Hall, Matthew Holmes, Amanda Jernigan, Amanda West Lewis, Troy McClure, Christine Pountney, Merilyn Simonds, and Jeff Warren.

Fieldwork is open to the public year round. Admission is free.

The Merkabah

North of Ottawa in the Val-des-Monts area is a sizable stand of old-growth Laurentian forest. Here, Dominique Laroque, with her own hands (and those of a few helpers) is carefully marking a gentle nature trail—the Merkabah. “It is a 100 percent sustainable trail,” Laroque says.

Thus far, the Merkabah extends up hill and down, along the stream and over the mountain for 2.5 kilometres. Beside the trail, in the woods, are several subtly sited sculptural installations made of fallen branches and brushwork by artists Karl Ciesluk, John Eaton, and Marc Walter.

Beginning in October, visitors may schedule guided hikes on Sundays with Laroque. She knows the trees, birds, and animals of her forest, and they know her. There will be two hikes a day, each two hours long, at a charge of $10 per person. By October, colours will be changing. Greens give way to reds, yellows, oranges. These forest walks will be a splendid way to mark the end of one season, the start of another.

Earth to Vega

Want to see the stars? Head 30 minutes west to Sivarulrasa Studio & Gallery in Almonte. There you can see the stars in “Earth to Vega,” a two-person exhibition of the work of sculptor Deborah Arnold and photographer Sanjeev Sivarulrasa.

All of Sivarulrasa’s images are of the night sky, created from timed exposures and printed on aluminum. The “Andromeda Galaxy,” for example, was made with an exposure of four hours and ten minutes in a field near Almonte. The “Vega Triptych” is a spectacular 16-panel panorama printed on aluminum. In all, the triptych’s exposures were more than two hours.

“Earth to Vega” continues until Sept. 13. Admission is free.

Maureen Korp, PhD, is an independent scholar, curator, and writer who lives in Ottawa. Author of many publications, she has lectured in Asia, Europe, and North America on the histories of art and religions. Email: miki.korp@gmail.com