For the first time, Cortes Island artists Hannes Grosse and Iris Steigemann are showing in a father/daughter exhibit at The Old School House Arts Centre (TOSH) in Qualicum Beach.
Their shared exhibit, Moments of Silence, can be viewed until June 26, and aims to offer viewers an “appreciation for stillness in time.”
Grosse has lived on Cortes Island since 1980, now with his daughter Steigemann, choosing the seclusion as a means to escape somewhere quiet and pursue their own artistic development.
Grosse studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich before coming to Canada 41 years ago. In the 1960s and ’70s, he travelled back and forth from Germany through New York City, Los Angeles and Mexico, before finally moving to Canada and starting the body of work shown in Moments of Silence.
He’s painted for the better part of 70 years, the majority of his life.
Grosse said the Moments of Silence exhibit first came about as a recommendation from a TOSH volunteer, which he agreed to, with one condition: if Steigemann could exhibit with him.
From there, the exhibit began to take shape.
While originally slated to show last year in 2020, it was pushed back due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Grosse’s pieces are acrylic and cotton canvas, and Steigemann’s are watercolour and ink on paper.
The executive director of TOSH, Illana Hester, believes the exhibit offers the viewer a chance to slow down, and describes it as a study in peacefulness and meditation. For her, the name signifies “that breath of stillness you take.”
Grosse’s work in the show was done over the course of several long years, and for Hester, are an exploration in that state of time.
“The more you look at them, the more the light changes, the more you see concentric geometric patterns. And when you get up close, it’s almost like textile with its small mark making. And then you pull back – so many different perspectives within one piece.”
Hester referenced a quote by the French author, Jean Giono, during the exhibit’s opening that she feels encapsulates the show; “The greatest luxury of our time of noise, speed and violence is silence.” The idea that being calm and peaceful is the antidote to whatever challenges we encounter, resonates with her.
Grosse said the inspiration for his current style of “abstract realism” came from American painter, John Iriving, which started him doing these paintings inspired by nature.
His term of “abstract realism,” though may sound contradictory, he said that though they are inarguably still abstract, they show the texture and tactile aspect of nature.
His unique technique requires untold amounts of patience: in one of his larger canvases, he said he counted an estimate of 400,000 tiny strokes in a single painting.
Steigemann’s work and contemplation in moments of silence originate from her many travels to west Greenland, where she would camp and walk through the landscape, appreciating the giant icebergs gleaming in the sun.
Her pieces in the exhibit depict her experience on those journeys, showing the icebergs, whales and villages she came across and photographed. While work is not an exact replication of what she saw, she said she would start out that way, but as the watercolour paint met the paper, they would create their own life outside of exact reality. So many pieces of her work depict whales because she said, as the icebergs would melt, nutrients would seep into the water and attract the whales to their close proximity.
“It’s really interesting that they both take such a similar approach to silence, yet their work is so different,” said Hester.
Hester confirmed that the pair can be found at TOSH on Friday, June 25, and Saturday, June 26, between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., if viewers would like to converse with the artists themselves.
“We’re really looking forward to being down there, and actually engaging with people. I think it’s a really nice thing for artists to be there and to talk about their work right there,” said Steigemann.