Ineke Graham’s colours are bold and her geometry dynamic, but her aim is contemplation.
The title of her first solo exhibit in 11 years is Contemplating Stillness “to emphasize serenity in my work,” says the Halifax artist and former owner of Studio 21.
“We live such a stressful life. I am expressing a need for myself and a desire for others to look inward. I am searching for meaning in stillness and trust in the self.”
This rich new suite of figurative paintings pops in unusual colour choices, interior moods, varied techniques from thin washes to dense impasto and the use of flowers and pictures within pictures to add depth and meaning.
The subjects are not identified but are actors in a narrative left up to the viewer.
Graham painted most of these works in the last two years after selling Studio 21, which she ran for 28 years, to Deborah Carver.
Painting helped distract when her daughter, Laura Graham-Young, was diagnosed with cancer.
“She was good for awhile and I was able to paint. It totally helped. To focus on her illness didn’t do any good for anyone; it didn’t do Laura any good.”
Graham-Young died at 49 in October.
“It’s been awful. I go to bed with her and I wake up with her,” Graham says simply.
The walls of Graham’s lakeside Halifax studio are filled with drawings and paintings of her four children and grandchildren, and of her parents and siblings. Her love of figure painting is born out of a love of people and her training in Holland.
“I’ve always focused on the figure. That’s because I’m from such a big family,” laughs Graham, who comes from a family of 12.
“I was surrounded by people, and my father was a doctor and my grandfather was a minister.”
“I was raised in Holland, where the figure was very prominent; we were told that everything around us was based on the human figure,” says Graham, who studied art in Rotterdam at the Academie van Beeldende Kunsten.
She likes to paint friends and family “because you’re not as uptight” and is not concerned about a perfect likeness.
“If you focus on other elements like form and colour and some kind of dynamic force, the likeness will come.”
She talks to people constantly while she’s painting them.
“Their facial expressions change all the time, and you can’t help but get a little bit of each expression in the painting. It creates energy and you capture the personality.”
Graham’s colour choices are powerful. One girl has long green hair, faces are orange, electric blue streaks through a blond head.
“I like to put some saturated colour throughout the painting. It’s kind of risky, but if you don’t take risks you don’t get ahead. You have to go beyond your habitual way of doing things.”
Graham loves paint as a material and will manipulate it aggressively into forceful shapes and lines, creating a contrast with her tranquil subject matter. Her love of geometry extends to her pale maple art deco frames.
In her studio, there is the self-portrait she painted the day she heard her daughter had been diagnosed with cancer.
There is also the painting she did from a newspaper photograph of the day she and her family arrived at Pier 21 in 1954.
“My mother has her foot all bandaged up because a piece of glass fell on her foot, so she hobbled into Canada. That’s my father. They are each holding a twin,” says Graham, whose father became a physician in New Glasgow.
For this exhibit, Graham decided to team up with Montreal abstract painter Harold Klunder, whom she met while she ran the gallery. His story is similar to hers. He came from the province of Gelderland in the Netherlands.
“All of my ancestors come from Gelderland, and I have a lot of cousins there.”
Klunder emigrated from Holland on the same boat Graham’s family did, but two years earlier.
“He came in February — horrible. They went to Cape Breton, so you can imagine. He said they only lasted a month and went to Ontario.
“When I said to Harold, ‘We should have a show together,’ he said, ‘Sure, we could call it double Dutch!’” she laughs.
“We have so much in common.”
They share a love of colour and texture, an interest in the figure and a vitality in their use of line and shape.
Klunder, who is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy and has exhibited internationally, exhibits dense oils and watercolour abstracts that are unusually saturated in colour, and dance in weaving, tangled sweeps of paint.
This exhibit opens with Graham’s portrait of Klunder next to an abstract self-portrait called Klunder by Klunder.
Graham’s technique of putting a picture within a picture is amplified in Oranges and Ancestors. Graham took a painting she did of her grandparents, based on a photograph, and placed it behind a bowl of oranges. The ancestors are three times mediated through a mind and a hand.
There are flowers, which are meditations on mortality in classical still life, in many of Graham’s paintings — forsythia, roses, pansies.
“I’m a total nature lover. Laura was too.”