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Woodland featuresExhibit looks deep into B.C.’s forests and the artist’s place in the natural world

A large figurative, titled Stop, Look and Listen, by Betty Spackman is among the works that will be on display at her upcoming exhibit in the Fort Gallery. It opens Dec. 19. -
A large figurative, titled Stop, Look and Listen, by Betty Spackman is among the works that will be on display at her upcoming exhibit in the Fort Gallery. It opens Dec. 19.
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The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Inspired by the words of poet Robert Frost’s, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Betty Spackman has followed her own, sometimes dark, journey — one that has led her along a path of some rather introspective creativity.

And this period of self-examination has taken root in the artist’s upcoming untitled exhibit at the Fort Gallery.

The tangible focus of the multi-media show, which opens Dec. 19, is the tree.

“But it is really more about stopping long enough to see and to ‘hear’ — the trees and everything else around me,” wrote Spackman in her artist’s statement.

“Nature is not outside me; I am inside it. When I move I can push the air enough to jostle a leaf on the tree I pass by. When the leaf falls, when the tree falls I should also be jostled, I should feel the earth shake, feel my body shake…but I seldom do. I am fat and dull of hearing. I have too many “promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

“I love working with the theme of new life. The tree theme is just a visual handle on it,” said Spackman on a chilly December afternoon, seated inside the old wooden Willoughby barn that serves as her studio.

The artist is surrounded by a number of unusual pieces, including the 35 works she has created over the past six months for this exhibit as well as the beginnings of a five-room installation she has planned, using hundreds of animal bones.

The idea for the upcoming show started with a single painting —  a canvas that now bears a multitude of colourful stick-like flecks on a pale background.

Titled Trees Ascending the canvas is thickly layered with evidence of the artist’s thought processes.

“It is a process painting,” she said. “There are probably 20 images beneath the final surface.”

Beginning with more literal representations of trees, she gradually “eliminated them down to sticks, branches, whatever they are.”

In a carton nearby, bundles of long ponderosa pine needles, though dead and dry, still emit a pleasant woodsy scent.

Spackman has placed several of them in wood-frame boxes under glass. She’s called them souvenir boxes “because we’re not going to have ponderosa pines anymore,” Spackman said, referring to the toll the pine beetle (which makes a cameo or two in her exhibit) has taken on B.C.’s forests.

However, the exhibit is not protest art, she said.

Rather, it’s a multi-layered expression of her own, sometimes painful journey. The painting on her invitation is titled Wound’ after all.

“There are pieces about grief and loss (reflecting) a lot of my experiences in the last three years since I came to B.C.,” she said.

Spackman came to Langley to care for her ailing mother and to organize a conference at Trinity Western University.

Eventually, her mother passed away and the conference was cancelled.

“My two reasons for being here died, but the gallery has kept me here for a couple of years,” she said, referring to the Fort Gallery, an artists’ co-operative she helped start.

“Being here has given me the opportunity to revisit who I am,” said Spackman, who is originally from the area but traveled for number of years between Toronto and Europe.

That revisiting has culminated in a show that is “very personal at a lot of levels.”

“It’s become kind of eclectic ... I like the assembly art process,” she said.

Her piece titled Requiem, for example, is a canvas that includes several thick branches, sawed sharply off at the top and nailed on, then covered in fabric painted a metallic blue.

With no money for supplies, Spackman worked with whatever materials she had laying around.

“I’ve been living on prayer and peanut butter,” she quipped.

“I’m learning not to trust God for the answers, but to trust God.”

Months spent scrubbing bones have made the artist comfortable exploring themes of life and death.

“As you become older, you look at the world with bigger eyes,” she said.

“There’s life and death and it’s all part of the big picture.

“I’m not interested in being famous anymore. I want to create something that is real and honest,” she said.

Spackman’s priority is to be in the studio, and she’s willing to sacrifice a comfortable home and possessions to do it.

“I’ve learned to accept there are treasures in dark corners,” she said.

After all, she pointed out, a seed goes into the dark, cold ground and one day emerges as something beautiful and life-giving.

•••

Opening night for Spackman’s untitled exhibit is Dec. 19 and the show carries on to Sunday, Jan. 6, closing with an artist’s talk.

“I think it’s the first time we’ve carried on a show over Christmas,” said Spackman.

Four hundred seedlings have been donated for the event.

“Come by, have a glass of hot apple cider and take a tree to plant.”

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