Sunday, 20 March 2016

Talented Thunder Bay Ex-pats

     There is a growing list of talented young people from Thunder Bay whose influence has extended beyond our region and across the country. Those who have left unceremoniously and later became successful in their fields we are proud to claim as our own. They are inspired by their family, teachers, community and the landscape. That lists includes sports stars, actors, filmmakers, writers, business people, teachers, politicians, artists, scientists and many others in various fields of endeavor. Local media does a good job of covering local talent and occasionally we hear about talented people from Thunder Bay who have blossomed elsewhere.  
     Added to this growing list are three talented artists whose successes are worth following. Taralee Guild, Jennifer Fukushima, and Pamela Masik are successful full-time artists.
     Living in Vancouver, B.C., Taralee Guild has supported herself exclusively with the sale of her gorgeous oil paintings since 2010. The paintings are both realistic and deceptively abstract, giving the viewer two worlds upon which to reflect. One world is of hyper-realistic painted aluminum camping trailers that celebrate the nostalgic simple life of outdoor pleasures in sunny North America. The viewer can immediately relate. However, within the imagery are reflections that immediately speak to another side of our brains.
     A photo in a magazine of an Airstream trailer first inspired Taralee. In the photo, the forest reflected within the trailer’s polished metal surface. This caught Taralee’s eye. “I found it very stimulating as an illusionary image in the way it distorted the visual information behind the viewer.” After she did a painting of the photo, Taralee discovered that she, “…loved how as a painting the distorted fun house reflection in the trailer was an abstract painting but created through a strict realistic method.”
     Taralee loves the chameleon effect that creates surrealistic imagery where foreground and background mix. The nostalgic world blends into one that is modern, from an artistic point of view, where the distortion conjures up emotional and mental associations that come more easily with abstracted imagery. This simple aesthetic alteration of what we see before us, like a Photoshop masque or holding up a miss-shaped piece of glass with varying surface textures before our eyes is one that can pixilate, soften, harden, bend or chop what we see. It will always fascinate us because it is unusual and immediately suggests metaphor or allegory. Our mind simply goes a-conjuring out of habitual anxiety, along with the thrill of possibly encountering the unknown.
      Growing up in Thunder Bay, Taralee says, “The catalyst for me becoming an artist was inheriting my Grandma Ethel’s fully stocked paint box at the age of thirteen. I taught myself to paint during my teenage years. After graduating high school I decided that I would be a painter.” She practiced every day creating paintings from her own surrealist drawings while working at a call center to save money for art school. She left Thunder Bay in 2004 and studied at Emily Carr in Vancouver where she obtained her BFA.
     While I was a young artist, Definitely Superior Art Gallery always had an open call for artists to show, but without any of the snobbishness most art galleries seem to pride themselves on. They showed me what an artist was and I started to believe I could be one.”
     Taralee adds, “The landscape of Thunder Bay is something I found very beautiful but only after I moved so far away. The lushness of the summer, the thunderstorms and the stark white winters back home are phenomena I'm now deeply nostalgic for.”
You can see more of Taralee’s work at
     Jennifer Fukushima credits her teachers, Mr. Goshgarian and Mr. Ailey of the art program at Westgate CVI for the initial artistic influences that lead to her career as a successful fashion designer in Toronto. Jennifer sells her work worldwide. Jennifer states that while in Thunder Bay, “I started my career as a fashion designer at age seventeen, selling my designs at local boutiques and events.”
     Jennifer moved to Toronto when she was nineteen and studied fashion design at Ryerson. She also worked for the Regional Multi-Cultural Youth Council, as a facilitator for the Revolution Girl Style summer camp where pre-teen girls were empowered to believe in themselves, and she ran a feminist expo called Feminexus with workshops, performances and art exhibits.
     To get an idea of the diversity of clothing and apparel that Jennifer designs, it’s best to visit her website at Here you will find arm warmers, blazers, cardigans, cowls, dresses, hats, mittens, scarves, shrugs, skirts, sweaters, tank tops, tunics, and vests.
     I'm forever inspired by nature; natural fibers like wool, linen and cotton. And a big part of my business is to operate in ways that respect nature and the environment by reducing waste and making more sustainable choices.”
     Jennifer’s spring collection has launched, which you can find on her website, and includes comfortable fabrics using bamboo and cotton. Her future goals are to transition into using “upcycled” materials, the creative use of by-products and waste material in order to be more green. And she is working on a blog,, to offer advice on healthy living, how to interact with urban wildlife and finding creative wardrobe solutions. 
     Hailing from Thunder Bay is one of Canada’s most controversial, successful, talented and hardworking artists; Pamela Masik. A revealing portrait of Masik, her work and the controversy surrounding an exhibition of murdered and missing women is a 2011 documentary called The Exhibition, which was featured again on CBC Television a few months ago. The film documents some of the struggles Masik had exhibiting a show of sixty-nine stark portraits of women from the East side of downtown Vancouver, most or all murdered by the serial killer, Robert Picton.
     I visited Masik at her studio in Vancouver in 2012. Pamela was reluctant to go into detail about her Thunder Bay roots. Sadly, not all hometown influences are positive, but nonetheless the abuse that Masik alludes to in the documentary occurred in Thunder Bay.
     Masik is an amazing performance artist and eloquent in her honesty when discussing her work. Her approach to her famous series, The Forgotten, was a bold one and not entirely welcomed by the victim’s families. However, missing in this controversy, and a reason why Masik had to approach the subject with a degree of objectivity was the fact that many of the women murdered were most likely suffering neglect and abuse from people they knew.
     As the documentary clearly points out these women ended up on the streets out of neglect, abuse, and as the result of the failure of their community to help them and protect them. Masik’s works brought a lot of this discussion into clear focus and it wasn’t entirely welcome. Some sought to claim she took on the project to bring attention to herself. It’s possible that she may have had that as part of her motives, but if we were to compare her motives to those of other famous artists, artists who routinely beat their wives, abused their children or even murdered people, Masik’s motives come nowhere near to diminishing her value as great Canadian artist. Despite the criticism, The Forgotten is only a part of her amazing output as an artist.
    Adding fuel to a few critic’s aversion of Pamela Masik is the fact that she is very successful, having manufactured a persona. It’s not something she has quite perfected because her honesty and desire to be understood and taken seriously as an artist breaks through when she talks about her work and influences.
     In 2012, outside her studio in Vancouver I discovered from a neighbour of hers that the silver Porsche sitting there was Masik’s. When the door to the studio opened after a fifteen-minute wait I was greeted by Masik’s agent. She gave me tour of the large gallery space attached to Pamela’s studio. A full description of the methods and value of the works were given by the agent. Most of Pamela Masik’s work sold for tens of thousands of dollars. And Pamela had rented out her studio for parties, once to employees of Microsoft.
     The agent left me in one of two enourmous studios to wait for Masik and when Pamela did show herself she emerged dramatically from behind a curtain and holding a glass of red wine. It was an impressive entrance. I felt like I was on a film set being approached by Angelina Jolie.
     At first Pamela spoke to me thinking I was a reporter and she was clearly a little nervous that I was asking about her roots in Thunder Bay. But when she discovered that I was an artist myself her manner changed. She took me on a tour of her studio. Her paintings and sculptures were in various stages of completion. She was clearly very talented, imaginative, and hard working. Also impressive was her ability to draw and sculpt imaginatively in a contemporary fashion mixing 19th Century influences with contemporary approaches. The figurative dramatics of Goya and Delacroix were mixed with the employment of very thick lacquers and resins; bold figurative work was mixed with equally bold use of colour and compositions. It was clear Pamela’s work could easily sell itself and it was easy to forgive her for attempting to employ movie star pomp. It was fun.  
     I believe the positive influences that Pamela Masik could have upon artists and others here in Thunder Bay could be great if she were to exhibit a show of her work at the Thunder Bay or Definitely Superior Art Gallery. And I’m certain Thunder Bay would be proud to claim her as one of our own. And this applies equally to what would benefit us to invite Taralee Guild and Jennifer Fukushima to visit Thunder Bay as well. And if they can’t come here, please check out their websites.

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