This set of three dyed silk pieces by Marilyn Cooney makes up part of the Vancouver Island Silk Painters’ exhibit at TOSH until Jan. 27. — Adam Kveton Photo

Precision and freedom show in silk paintings in Qualicum Beach

Artist discusses the styles of controlling dyes on display at TOSH exhibit

In Nancy Korman’s own style of silk painting, there’s an element of spontaneity and chaos that she lets happen and capitalizes on.

And while silk painting — where colourful dies soak into the strings of silk and spread out into unique patterns and shades — seems to lend itself to that style, it’s by no means the only way to do things.

The Vancouver Island Silk Painters exhibit (on at TOSH until Saturday, Jan. 27) shows a spectrum of possibilities and styles, ranging from Korman’s use of what she calls “unexpected gifts” to the stunning precision of artists such as Maureen Walker.

That the final product can be so different is all the more surprising when you find out that not only do the Vancouver Island Silk Painters use the same six dyes to create all their colours and shades, they are almost all taught by the same person — Walker.

But that’s the mark of a good teacher, said Korman: someone who can share their knowledge and skill without hemming in their students’ creativity.

The Vancouver Island Silk Painters’ current exhibition at TOSH includes more than 20 pieces of dyed silk art, ranging in subject matter from animals to landscapes to portraits, plants and more.

The silk painters group has been around since 2000, said Korman. Over that time, TOSH has seen it grow from a hobbyist group into a highly skilled group of artists, said TOSH’s executive director, Corinne James.

Transitioning silk painting from its thousand-year-old roots as a textile process for dying material for clothes into standalone art is just what the Vancouver Island Silk Painters and others have been aiming for, said Korman.

“We look at silk (and think) ‘well, that’s a material,’ but people forget that canvas is cotton,” Korman said. That sentiment was expressed by Walker at the exhibit’s opening event earlier this month, Korman said.

The variety that can be achieved with the medium is another mark in its favour.

Though dying material may seem like a process that yields mixed and uncontrolled results, highly detailed and precise pieces by Walker and Marilyn Cooney certainly show the level of control that is possible.

Korman explained that, in silk painting, the silk is first lined with a resist which keeps your chosen dye from spreading past the edge of the resist. In that way, you can corale colours into a certain area.

Some pieces, like Cooney’s three-piece series showing peeling birch bark are heavily lined before the dye is painted on, said Korman.

“She probably takes a week just to put the resist on,” Korman said. But then, within those resist lines, the various dyes are carefully blended, giving the peeling bark depth and shadow and vibrant colour.

The pieces in the exhibit give an idea of what can be done with silk painting when artists exercise various levels of control, and allowing the dye various levels of freedoms to mix and create those “unexpected gifts.”

“We can go from total control, which you can see in Maureen’s work… to very open and free,” said Korman.

The silk painters’ exhibit continues at TOSH until Jan. 27.

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