Local artists work together on multiple projects
Ryan Paulsen / Daily Observer
Local artists Kerry Fortin, left, and Jordan Smith with a work in progress by Smith, painted live during a Ramblin' Valley Band concert at Kerry's Place on Pembroke Street West. The painting, along with another by Smith and two by Fortin, will be auctioned off online with proceeds going to the Kidney Foundation and the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
The artistic world has produced more than its fair share of famous and fruitful collaborations, from the Group of Seven to Lennon and McCartney. With the breadth and depth of talent in the Ottawa Valley, it should come as no surprise that creative collaborations are flourishing here, too.
Local artists Kerry Fortin and Jordan Smith have come together several times over the past year to tackle some truly notable projects, bringing together their various ties to the rest of the community in the process.
In 2015, musician Grant Tompkinson approached Smith with a slightly unusual request. On the property belonging to his ex-wife, situated right next to the land where he and his current wife reside, sits a full transport trailer of motorcycle parts. Tomkinson's current wife wanted something to be done about it so that his ex-wife didn't have such a visual blight on her property.
"I thought it was a fairly beautiful sentiment," says Smith, "so I got behind that, and Kerry has this big studio upstairs, so we could share the studio where we could set it up in one go."
Since then, the pair have spent innumerable hours working on the massive project.
"In terms of hours I wouldn't be able to tell you, but it would be in the hundreds."
One of the challenges of working in collaboration with another artist is blending two long-standing individual styles.
"Kerry's far more realistic in his work," reports Smith, "and I'm a little more abstract, so we tried to get a good balance of the sort of impressionist stuff that I do and a bit of realism, too."
Luckily for Fortin and Smith, that tension between personal styles can also be a source for mutual education.
"I'm 45 years old," says Fortin, "and I've painted with other people in my time, but when Jordan and I get together, we focus on stuff that I've never focused on before, and how to focus. That's really helped me out with how to paint in my style."
"Kerry, I would say, is a classically trained painter," adds Smith. "When you see him working in the field, plein air is a different field altogether, and he's all over that. You've got to get it out fast, because within an hour everything's different. His technique is working fast, and that's part of plein air, and having that capacity is good as well as being a thoughtful studio painter, where you can sit back, look at it and the alter it. To be able to just let it flow only comes with experience."
For Fortin, adapting his normal plein air approach, which requires speed and precision to keep up with the ever-changing light conditions out in the wild, was a valuable part of the process in completing the massive mural project.
"In my mind, I needed it to be complete, but he taught me 'no, you're getting your composition, you're adding your colours where you need to be so you know what the colours are and this is how you're going to focus on it,' and I just thought 'wow, I never thought about it like that.'"
Despite the need to bring plein air style into a more studio format and mindset, neither artist can overemphasize the importance of physically co-inhabiting the space they want to capture of the metaphorical canvas.
"When we first started," recalls Fortin, "when we put the wood together and everything, I hadn't been to the spot yet. So when we started painting I was thrown off, because I had no idea what I was painting and what I was looking at. Then we ended up taking a day and going out, doing the portaging and finding the spot, and it was a beautiful spot. When I got back, it was a whole different thing."
"We went to the spot in the park together," continues Smith, "so we both knew what it felt like. In spite of Kerry doing very realistic stuff, it's all about the feel of that particular location. You want to know what it feels like, and that's all we were trying to do, is make it feel like that at her property. I think we did a pretty good job of that."
Another project that sees the duo reaching out collaboratively with a broader artistic audience was a pair of live painting events, where they set up their canvasses beside the stage at Fortin's Pembroke Street West pub, Kerry's Place, to paint along to the sounds of local bands performing for a rapt audience.
The idea actually came from Ernie Sampson, guitarist and singer with Kerry's Place's unofficial house band, Sammy and the Jaguars.
"I worked with Ernie down at the Beer Store about 25 years ago," says Smith, "and he's in Sammy and the Jaguars. So we were here one day, and he said 'you ever paint with music?' and I said that I'd done it a couple of times. So it was his idea to get it going, and you can't say no once it's already out there."
For the first of two live painting nights, the artists painted alongside Sammy and the Jaguars to produce works that will be auctioned off in support of the Kidney Foundation. Both Smith and Fortin have seen their fathers need dialysis treatment, so it's a cause close to their hearts. On the second, they painted with the Ramblin' Valley Band, with proceeds from their works to be donated to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).
"I wanted the first one to be for the Kidney Foundation," explains Fortin, "and then the biggest thing other than that would be to help children, so we figure CHEO would be the place to go for that."
Although the music added a new level of inspiration for Fortin, the presence of a live "studio" audience was something that was hard to ignore at times, despite the help of Smith's complete immersion in the project and overall vibe.
"Just watching him, because he gets into the music so much, and he's painting with two hands, and dancing, and the crowd loves watching him, then meanwhile I'm forgetting the crowd's there and start dancing a little, but then I'll snap back to the crowd standing behind me."
"The key is to just listen to the music," says Smith. "That was a fun thing to do."
In addition to the obvious benefits of giving the art's proceeds to worthy charities, the broader aim for Fortin with projects like this is to revive what he sees as an ailing live music scene in the Ottawa Valley.
"My big thing growing up and in my late teens and early 20s was being able to see live music all the time, and so I wanted a place where we could see live music all the time, and I could see the kind of live music that I like. I'm a blues guy, and a rock and roll guy. That's my thing."
"That's the beauty of this," adds Smith. "What Kerry and Janna [his wife, who runs Janna's Gallery Cafe across the street from Kerry's Place] are trying to do is get a place for live music in the Valley, and now we have two locations where bands can come, so we're trying to get everybody working together for a common purpose. To work with the bands is a great opportunity for us, but we want to say that we're all in this together. When I was growing up, there were at least 10 places where you could see live bands every Friday night, including on the Quebec side. Now, you've got Lasso and you've got these two places."
"It's a continuum of effort, really. People like Janna and Kerry, and players like Grant [Tompkinson], who are the old school guys, are trying to get things going, and it's an honour to be a part of that. Anything that can add to the vibe in the town is great."