The stunning and beautiful art show Out of the Blooms occupies the Station House’s Upper Gallery this month with a poignant, personal message.
Out of the Blooms is a collection of paintings of floral arrangements created by Telkwa artist Michelle Gazely. Originally from Hope in the Lower Mainland, Gazely said that moving north inspired her to start painting again, after a 15-year break while working as a graphic artist and commercial photographer. The landscapes that surround her offer consistent inspiration, as do local female artists she has since met and formed an art group called the Fantastic 5.0.
Gazely’s love and interest in art began in her childhood with the popular Canadian T.V. show Mr. Dressup and her mother’s tendency to sketch the people she was talking to while on the phone. As a result, she went straight into fine arts upon graduating high school, which she joked was not a well-paying career course back in the early 90s. At her father’s suggestion, she went into graphic arts which she worked in up until moving from the Lower Mainland.
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Now she is doing her best to wean off the graphics art side of her career in favour of focusing on her rediscovered love of painting. She said that she often sees the world in terms of potential paintings and is always thinking about her next project.
“It just fills a curiosity that I have. I think about art all the time, it’s kind of crazy,” Gazely joked.
While the paintings that make up Out of the Blooms are often vibrant and beautifully made, the story and theme behind them are actually quite heavy Gazely said. Inspired by the #MeToo movement the paintings, through metaphors, tells the story of Gazely dealing with her own sexual assault.
A co-worker and then friend of hers took advantage of her at a party 20 years ago which was something, like many women at the time, Gazely chose to hide and repress. She said that she experienced a lot of shame, anger and self-hate for a while after and until this exhibit had told only a select few people.
Out of the Blooms, as a concept, has been in Gazely’s head for a while and the #MeToo movement, specifically the Harvey Weinstein case, triggered her to do research on how other women have come out to speak out against this type of abuse.
“Doing this series still makes me feel really vulnerable. It’s actually a progression of my own personal experience with it,” Gazely said.
Arranged in a rough chronological order, the various flower arrangements that adorn the walls are meant to represent Gazely and her emotional state of being as she dealt with her assault. The first few paintings are of individual flowers and are titled Ignorance and Bliss and symbolize herself before the assault. At the time, she said she had a certain ignorance to what victims of sexual assault went through and couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t come forward.
The next pieces are of similar size to the first but instead of a pure, colourful arrangement, show a withered, dying plant symbolizing the assault and the aftermath. After this the flower arrangements grow in number, symbolizing how Gazely found herself just one of many survivors.
“(Each piece) is kind of a juxtaposition between myself and my own feelings and society’s influence. There is rape culture, it does exist and I know this is a heavy (topic),” Gazely said. “Basically what the #MeToo movement did is it got people talking about something really important that people were ashamed of talking about before because of all the shame people felt.”
From there, however, following the theme of empowerment that underlies the movement, the flowers in the paintings start to take on new, vibrant life blossoming and growing across the canvases. All of this ultimately culminates in the painting Shine Through in which the floral arrangement, now bright and full of life, is shown triumphant and confident. While Out of the Blooms is about her own personal journey dealing with her assault, she hopes that these pieces promote more open conversation and dialogue about these crimes and the culture that protected abusers for so long.
When asked why she chose flowers as her subjects for this piece, Gazely admitted with a laugh she had simply wanted to paint flowers for a while and they happened to combine nicely with the themes and story she wished to address. One of the most interesting aspects of the show, however, is that all of the paintings in the Upper Gallery were created within the last two months. She brought them to life with a mixture of pencil and oil paints. They are all up for sale.
“Art makes me so happy, art is so empowering and such a good way to convey a message. It’s tough to be an artist, it’s great work, but tough to make a living. I’d actually prefer to be doing this than anything else,” Gazely said.
“It gives me a voice.”