Paint and Prose Exhibition & Book Launch
Westland Gallery, April 30 – May 4, 2019
My excitement upon entering Erica Dornbusch’s Paint and Prose exhibition and book launching on April 30th at the Westland Gallery was sparked by my curiosity about such bright and colourful paintings. Purity, love and shimmering energy seem to be emitted from Dornbusch’s work, bathing the viewer in their happiness and warmth. Portraying ordinary scenes taken from life – often in a natural environment – these landscapes and figures come across as something more than mere representations of physical forms. The viewer is drawn into the essence of the scenes depicted and has the experience of being immersed in nature itself. Many of the smaller works were displayed with some accompanying prose hand-written under the painting. The words and images work in tandem, conveying a powerful sense of wonder and contemplation to the viewer.
Danielle Hoevenaars, the Associate Director at Westland Gallery, explained that the gallery has been working with Dornbusch on this exhibition for four years. After Dornbusch’s previous Westland show in 2017, the idea arose of producing a book that combined the stunning images with Dornbusch’s heartfelt prose in book form. This allows patrons to take the gallery-going experience home where, in a smaller and more intimate setting, they can be immersed once more in this work.
Speaking with Dornbusch, I gained an understanding of her influences in creating these works. In response to having low vision that will continue to decline, Dornbusch has opened up her visual acuity so that she is particularly sensitive to colour, movement and the presence of forms and light. In this way her visual loss actually compels her to find fresh and irrefutable ways to perceive the world around her. Combining her ingenious visual work as a painter with the stories that underlay these scenes, Dornbusch both magnifies and transforms the experience of the viewer/reader. This is an exhibition that inspires gallery-goers to pay attention to their own stories; to be mindful during their experiences of the ‘moments between moments’ where the sublime resides so that they can experience their connection to the divine itself and the divinity within themselves.
Asked what she desired to express to the viewer, Dornbusch said, “May I remind you, may I invite you in, to remember yourself.” I found her answer deeply moving. When we are socialized to indulge endlessly in distractions that yank us away from any possibility of contemplation, when we are swept up in a society that trains us to look outwards for validation and a sense of worth, it can be diabolically easy to lose touch with those deeper emotional and spiritual experiences that are embedded in our personal stories.
Throughout the exhibition, Dornbusch has infused all of her scenes with an illumination that appears to be emitted from an internal source. This light is expressed through an often opaque application of a bright and fluorescently-lit palette. The fluorescent colours, though not generally found in nature, integrate into the nature-based scenes as if they were a very natural element to the scene. Through this illuminating quality, the viewer senses that the scenes, forms and figures in these paintings are outward manifestations of an underlying, enigmatic force or forces. These same forces can be understood as operating underneath the surface of the words as well.
In both the prose and the paintings, there is a gentle, yet definite and assured fluidity. Her words, flowing into each other poetically, convey not just the linguistic sense that words convey, but also a visual meaning in the way they are assembled and in their relationship to each other. In her paintings, brushstrokes can be incredibly soft and delicate in their handling. The opaque colours give an impression of watery viscosity with their thin, flowing lines as well as more broadly gestural yet still-softened brushstrokes. In Komoka Light Show, a forested landscape, aglow from within, creates an ethereal atmosphere with many sinuous lines stretching from tree to tree. Even the ground somehow manages to convey this same dynamic, flowing aspect. Although stationary forms are depicted, they are exuberant and filled with movement. A joyous internal dance is being revealed.
In Dorbusch’s work, the shadows and darkness integrate organically with the light. In September Morning, a large tree form stretches upwards from a dark and gray abstracted ground towards celestial, brightly lit skies. A ray of light pierces through the darkness and creates a point of light that expands outwards towards the viewer. Dark and light areas flow into each other as the light permeates the dark form around the edges and certain internal points as well. The sensuality of this natural scene – as in so many of her paintings – is expressed through the shimmering light that activates an ecstatic and celebratory state of mind.
Dornbusch draws her inspiration from a sense of “wonder and joy and light and is mostly present when I go outside.” Her work conveys a natural contentment with simple existence. In her work, animate and inanimate forms in nature do not strive to become anything else in order to achieve success or happiness. They contain inherent joy in their ‘being’. Dornbusch wants to remind the viewer to remember their connection to nature and to something much more expansive and encompassing than themselves. She reminds us that separation is ultimately an illusion. In our essence, we too are nature and nature is us and everything else.
“In connecting with nature, we’re folding into what is already there,” Dornbusch remarked. Nature – as in nature-based forms and scenes – is the continuous over-arching theme in Dornbusch’s work because it is in nature that Dornbusch feels most purely herself and most strongly as one. It is evident that through nature and art, Dornbusch is reunited with this divine source.
Predominant forms in Dornbusch’s work are light, forests, earth (ground), sky, bodies of water and/or female figures. The female sex is historically associated with fertility – with giving life and nurturing it – and is closely aligned to the underlying life-force and to nature itself. Throughout history, women were commonly feared and persecuted because of this association. Dornbusch uses the female figure in her works as a symbol of this life-giving force and possibly also as a symbol of the divine which exists underneath the surface of all forms, figures and places. It is this life force that can be understood as the subject and focus of all of these works. It cannot be directly seen in this physical realm and yet through the apprehending power of mindfulness, it can be experienced and felt. With the divine life force taking on an endless series of masquerades, all physical beings and forms become just an expression or manifestation of this energy.
In Winter Kinhin, sinewy, dark plant forms in the foreground stand against a body of water in the background. In the far distance stand darkened forest areas and above everything, the sky is calm and serene. Although the palette of this painting is mostly blacks, blues and grays, which are not usually associated with joy and exuberance, the plant forms in the foreground appear to move as if dancing to unheard music. All of these forms are highly abstracted and seem to be tenuously hanging on to being a recognizable form at all. The intensity of their joy in simply being, often pushes outward, threatening to burst through the restraints of their physical form.
In Joy’s Lifted Voice, a brilliant cacophony of white and pink flowers is depicted as if reaching up towards the heavens; not only vibrating with joy but – as they appear to be moving in an upward direction – it is as if they were an allegory to voices raised in praise. Is this praise an acknowledgement of the beauty of that force which permeates and connects all things? Dornbusch’s interests in Buddhism and meditation support her practice of mindfulness to the world around her and within her. According to Dornbusch, through mindfulness, “You can find the timelessness in the space between notes.” In experiencing these paintings, viewers are encouraged to simply ‘be’ and to remember their own stories; to glimpse what lies beyond the forms, situations and physical contexts of our daily lives. “We connect to divinity through art, words and dance”, Dornbusch states, neatly incorporating all of the art forms that are to be found and experienced within these remarkable works.