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Artist converts the mundane to the spiritual in her studio

Jan Lehde performs on the beach of Cormorant Island in a costume, representing an oil slick, designed by Alert Bay artist Kari Glass for wearable art shows last year in Campbell River and the Comox Valley.  - Photo: J.R. Rardon
Jan Lehde performs on the beach of Cormorant Island in a costume, representing an oil slick, designed by Alert Bay artist Kari Glass for wearable art shows last year in Campbell River and the Comox Valley.
— image credit: Photo: J.R. Rardon

A dark oil slick moved last week through the rocks bordering the shoreline of Cormorant Island last week.

A network of slender black tentacles snaked sinuously through a hazy, charcoal cloud that obscured the blue-gray water offshore.

Then, its dark and oily dance complete, the slick resolved itself into human form and lifted its veil.

“You know, I’ve never beachcombed as an oil slick before,” Jan Lehde said matter-of-factly. A few steps away, artist Kari Glass laughed and prepared to help Lehde shed her “Oil Spill, Oil Slick” costume, actually an award-winning piece of wearable art created by Glass for recent shows in Courtenay and Campbell River.

Glass, a U.S.-born artist, artistic director and theatre worker, now makes her home in Alert Bay. Then again, one person’s home is another’s two-story art studio and workshop, with every wall and horizontal surface, as well as much of the ceiling and many windows, covered in projects either completed, in progress or simply in their concept stages.

With materials ranging from paper and cardboard to beach-scavenged glass, flattened beer-bottle tops, wire, plastic jugs and bottles and possibly every fabric known to man, the home is a shrine to the conversion of the mundane to the inspirational.

“I trained as a painter, but I kind of reverted to what I did in elementary school,” said Glass, who has an art degree from San Jose State University in California. “The teachers were always having us make things we brought from home, like egg cartons, boxes, detergent bottles.”

The advent of wearable art shows in recent years at the Comox Valley Art Gallery and Campbell River Art Gallery have provided Glass a perfect outlet for her two passions — created art from recycled materials, and theatre performance.

So it should be no surprise Glass and her collaborators have won prizes in both shows for best artistic concept and outstanding performance. The events themselves bear little resemblance to a traditional art show, but instead are a bizarre hybrid of fashion show — complete with a runway — and interpretive dance or theatre performance. Those who wear the art pieces on stage are referred to not as models, but as performers.

“I always pick actors and dancers to perform in my pieces,” said Glass, who encourages performers to contribute their own choreography while directing their actions.

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