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Big art in a tiny village

It's a sunny but cool day at the farmette. The rain has stopped and I'm looking forward to a wee hike this afternoon. The spring flowers are all peeking up out of their beds, and the snow has almost all melted away.

We went to another exhibition opening yesterday at the Durham Art Gallery. It was magnificent. We had two fantastic artists who were on hand to chat with visitors about the fruits of their labour, their processes and backgrounds. Made me feel like Sister Wendy (remember her?) So here are my not-quite-as-good-as-the-nun's interpretations:

Corinne Duchesne's theme is "Undercurrents of Loss". She's been an artist for more than 20 years, teaches at Sheridan College and decided about 10 years ago to start painting on mylar. She said she was inspired by seeing paintings on glass, and when it turned out to be too heavy, expensive and difficult to work with, she turned to the much lighter and malleable material.

On a practical level, it's a good thing she chose to use the lighter background - these paintings are enormous - about eight feet tall and four to five feet across.

As a result of the previous exhibit by Tony Luciani being so popular and gallery director Ilse Gassinger having a soft heart, a local Girl Guide troop was able to see his work after the closing last weekend. But that, of course backed things up. So the new art in the main space had to be hung over the course of just one day(!?)

But getting back to Duchesne - her art is complicated and profound, mixing dark themes with big white spaces and splashes of colour. There's a lot of grief inherent in the paintings and while I loved the raven motif - she says she's always been fascinated by their cleverness - I was really caught by the sad, stuffed bunny that shows up in two of the pieces.

In this one, he seems like he's being pulled along from some earthly memory while the carrier is flying skyward.

I'm no expert by any stretch, but I did find myself moved by the vastness of the artist's imagination.

Natalie Hussey's theme is "Imagining Innocence" and she works with acrylic on canvas or hand-carved plaster to create intricate, colourful works in which you can see something new every time you look at them.

There's a very strong and caring maternal instinct in the serene faces and rounded images of her pieces. Her art is whimsical and meticulous all at the same time.

When I asked how she is inspired, she said she has always loved the vibrant colours and textures of fabrics she remembers from her youth. When she was little, she'd leaf through issues of the National Geographic and be delighted by the fashions from around the world that women were wearing.

What I was really impressed with was the amazingly detailed etchings in her plaster works. She says the tools she started with were just 'sharp' things that she had on hand one day.

She's refined the tools and her skills to the point where the pieces almost seem magical with their swirls and wagonwheels and stoney formations.

Don't you just love the elongated hands in this one that seem to be reaching out and cradling all at the same time?

You can also see the exuberance in this one. The character seems to be swirling in a kaleidescope of dreamy gauze. It just makes me smile looking at all the fun colours.

Both artists are from outside Toronto - showcasing regional artists has been Ilse's ambition from when she started at the gallery decades ago.

Duchesne is from Burlington, but has shown all over North America and as far away as South Korea.

Hussey works out of Goderich and says she keeps very busy with commissions from people who love her art - unsurprisingly.

The more I get involved in this gallery - I'm on the board - the better I appreciate the tremendous amount of work that Ilse and her staff put into bringing truly great art to our wee rural village. I think even Sister Wendy would be impressed.

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