Let Out The Night

New works by Meghan Hildebrand

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On display in Winnipeg Tuxedo July 16th – August 6th, 2021

After the world stopped, I felt myself on the edge of free fall. I questioned if making art was relevant. If my art was relevant. If I would still have an art career. I wondered how to speak to the moment, or if there was still value in following my imagination wherever it led, creating a daily escape from the anxiety of a world that was suddenly unfamiliar. One thing I can say is that painting helped me work through my fear, and continued to bring me joy.

As I dealt with these questions I got in touch with one of my first painting teachers, John Cooper. He called the year without deadlines a ‘freedom factory’. A time to try out new ideas.

In the past I have worked from an internal source, drawing from my environment to create invented worlds. As an alternative starting point, I decided to try using a photo reference. With the subject already determined, the creativity can be applied to the process itself. Instead of asking “what is it?” I could focus on interesting ways to reach the destination, such as novel ways of applying paint, and testing how far I could move away from the source while keeping true to its spirit.

Much of last summer I spent on the water, learning how to drive a boat and documenting the coast. Looking back, I can see that learning to be on the water was also an exercise in working through fear. Being on the water has never been a comfortable place for me. As I grow to enjoy it, my happiest moments are approaching sheltered harbours and tying up safely for the night. We returned often to one place in particular, a spot on Texada Island, our closest neighbouring harbour. In the harbour there is a small clubhouse that perfectly reflects itself and its supports in the water below. The image felt simple yet miraculous. It looked safe and snug and very much like a place where I would like to find myself. Photos of the clubhouse became the starting point for this series. The further I went into the series, the further I leaned back into abstraction and started to imagine the world below the reflection, exploring how to show both simultaneously.

Heightened contrast brings light to the night scenes and emphasizes the mirror effect at the water line. In some of the pieces (such as “Inbound” and “The View”) I kept the level of detail equal in the not-identical mirrored parts, making the painting itself reversible. Where there is a coastline suggested, arbitrary shapes easily become the elements of a landscape. I find it fascinating how little information my eyes need for my brain to fill in the blanks. I felt free to paint the loosest marks, knowing that the addition of some simple devices – trees, a building, a reflection – would cast their spell, turning the nonsense into identifiable coastline.

As it often goes in the painting process, an accidental outcome led the series in an unexpected direction. One painting was reworked so much that only a sliver remained of the original – a black band spattered with white spray paint.

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