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Follow FLAG Into the Forest

Into the Old Growth Forest, an acrylic painting by Donna Leavens is among the pieces the artist has submitted for Into the Forest, the first FLAG show of the year. It opens on May 13 and runs until June 26 in the CN Station Gallery. -
Into the Old Growth Forest, an acrylic painting by Donna Leavens is among the pieces the artist has submitted for Into the Forest, the first FLAG show of the year. It opens on May 13 and runs until June 26 in the CN Station Gallery.
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Fort Langley Artists Group ventures Into the Forest for its first exhibit of the 2011 season. Opening on May 13 and running until June 26, the FLAG show celebrates the United Nations’ International Year of Forests. It’s a theme that fits in perfectly with artist Margo Harrison’s twin passions for travel and photography. The single remaining charter member of FLAG — which formed in 1994 — has spent much of her time seeing the world and capturing images as she goes. And that has included a number of different forests.

Even after 17 years, Harrison still welcomes the challenge of working within well-defined parameters. “The theme shows keep me fresh and push me in different directions,” she said. “It gives me a spark; it’s sort of like a treasure hunt.”

And once she’s taken on an idea, the artist likes to mine it for every piece of inspiration she can find. “I like to pursue a theme in-depth,” said Harrison, who has no fewer than eight pieces she plans to submit for Into the Forest, including images snapped in the Amazon rain forest, as well as in Bali, Indonesia and (closer to home) along the Fort to Fort Trail in Langley.

This show played right into her hands, but that’s not always the case. “Occasionally, we pick a theme, and I think ‘Oh my God, what am I ever going to do with that?’” she laughed. “Almost functional” was one theme — selected about 10 years ago — that Harrison recalls having left her scratching her head for a time. But the artist persisted and eventually it led her to create her first Comfort Cat — sculptures of sleeping cats, usually curled up on a pillow — for which she has become well known over the years.

A sleeping cat is alive, but it’s not doing anything overly productive — for instance, catching mice — the artist points out, and is therefore, ‘almost functional.’ Sometimes, Harrison said, a chosen theme will lead artists to stretch themselves into unfamiliar mediums or techniques which they may carry through into their work. Although there are no other original members left in the group, Harrison stays in touch with many of the artists who’ve come and gone over nearly two decades.

Donna Leavens, one of a handful of artists who are brand new to FLAG this season, joined in the hope of creating a few of those connections for herself. Leavens moved here from Port Coquitlam about three years ago, drawn by the rural nature of the community.

“When I came to Langley, of course, it’s a new artists community and I was looking for an opportunity to connect with other artists,” she said. Leavens met FLAG member Robin Bandenieks when she stopped by the artist’s home studio during the Langley Art Studio Tour, held over two weekends last September. As other area artists made their way through Bandenieks’ space, Leavens had the chance to chat with them.

“I thought, ‘these are people I could relate to.’ They seemed like good people to work with,” Leavens said. She enjoys the group dynamic, partly because it’s a way of connecting with a larger audience, but it also helps her art to be among peers.

“There’s a motivational factor, to be working with other artists and to see their approach and the skills they bring,” she said. “Sharing and picking up gems of information — that’s all really helpful.” Although she works in acrylics and pen and ink drawings, water colours have always been Leavens’ artistic mainstay. Some artists find working in water colour quite challenging, she acknowledged, but for Leavens, that’s part of the appeal. Her other reason was far more practical.

“I liked it, because when my kids were small, it wasn’t toxic. I could leave it and come back to it.” Leavens has prepared a few pieces for the exhibit, though she’s not sure how many will be selected to hang in the small CN Gallery space for the next six weeks.

“I embraced the theme quite enthusiastically, because I do relate to and enjoy the outdoors and everything nature has to offer,” Leavens said. “I’ve come up with three relatively small works — whether they’ll all get into the show, I’m not sure.”

Playing on the show’s title, she has named her own submissions accordingly: Into the Dark Forest, is meant to convey a sense of foreboding to the viewer; Into the Old Forest depicts a single gnarled tree; and Into the Cedar Forest — done in pen and ink, and water colour — features beautiful lines, she said. Opening reception for Into the Forest will take place on May 13, from 7-9 p.m. inside the CN Station Gallery in Fort Langley. To learn more, go to www.fortlangleyartistsgroup.com.

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