Hotspur Studio
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 The Ottawa Citizen

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KawarthaNOW, October 10, 2013
Michael Fazakerley

a little red, a manifesto in fairy tale form, Artspace Peterborough, Sept. 20 - Oct. 26 2013

In contrast to the Main Gallery, back in the Mudroom is the forest primeval, the ghost of Karl Marx, and the Big Bad Wolf.

In a playful take on Little Red Riding Hood, Victoria Ward casts herself in the role of “little red” to explore the oddity that centuries of folklore depicts the forest as an evil and frightening place — while her experiences of being “a girl living in a cabin in the woods” denote that the forest is quite benign and giving. The true villain in the story according to Ward is unbridled greed, personified by the Big Bad Wolf.

In this version of the tale, Karl Marx takes on the role of “The Woodsman”. Ward’s presentation is full of tongue-in-cheek whimsy whose barbs are aimed directly at the politics of privilege in contemporary society. 

The hand-fashioned custom wolf mask, the live-action storyboard, a symbolic pile of firewood, and plenty of political commentary from Marx and Ward on the corkboard offer many modes of exploration here.

I certainly learned a thing or two about Marx’s entry into politics, economics, and morality. While Ward eschews any dogmatic allegiance to “the manifesto”, she certainly shares an appreciation for how the path it has taken leads back to the forest.

Trout in Plaid, October 4, 2013
Annie Jaeger

A little red, a manifesto in fairy tale form, Artspace, Peterborough Sept. 20-Oct.26, 2013

I like smart, sassy women with a wicked sense of humour and writer/painter Victoria Ward is certainly all that. I first came across her online column, State of the Arts, in the Haliburton Highlander. What she wrote really made me prick up my ears, something along the lines of “We need to change our narrative and begin to believe that [artists] subsidize our communities, not the other way around.”

I wasn’t expecting to find political cogency, sharp-tongued reviews and amusing self-reflection in the land of ATV’s and wearisome wildlife painters. It was like coming across Dorothy Parker of the North. We became fast friends via Twitter soon after. The Highlander no longer carries her column but fortunately for us her blog(Freshly Pressed no less) lives on. Her peppery writing continues to amuse, inform and give me pause to reflect on my own internalized misconceptions about artists, the inner machinations of the art world and the challenges of a rural art practice. A Toronto transplant to Haliburton, Ward has been a playwright who worked with the likes of Thom SokoloskiBuddies in Bad Times and Theatre Passe Muraille. But at present her focus has migrated to painting. “The most joyous, straight out-of-the-tube paintings of the year. Imagine a Pucci pantsuit crafted out of wood and metal by rural Ontario eco-activists and you’re halfway there,” wrote R. M. Vaughan for Eye Weekly about a two-man show by Ward and her partner, painter Gary Blundell. Her lyrical, unself-conscious watercolour of snow melting off the sodden field outside her window was one of my favourites of the 2012 Artspace 50/50 show.

So it’s not surprising to see her combine painting, text and politics in her latest show at Artspace on from September 20-October 26, 2013.
a little red, a manifesto in fairy tale form was first read/performed at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche, 2011 just as the Occupy movement took flight and was chosen by The Globe and Mail as one of the best bets for the night.

If Karl Marx and the Brothers Grimm had collaborated on an installation project with a zine aesthetic steeped in a rural sensibility, you’d get a little red.

Today’s Little Red Riding Hood wears a hoodie and fights political injustice while she listens to Billy Bragg music. The work explores not just one theme, but several, drawing parallels of the dark forest of fairy tales with our current climate of political corruption, a rural life with the stigma of being a philosophical outsider, the predators of wealth distribution who exploit the poor through trickery and monetization, and the Occupy Movement with Red Riding Hood’s instinct for sharing, self-preservation and exposing disinformation. The installation includes a cartoony storyboard of wolf and Red Riding Hood encounters with accompanying captions, the stack of firewood that the proletariat was banned from using in Russia at the turn of the century, a picnic basket full of Monopoly money, some projected video of Marxist texts and Ward’s encounter with a statue of Marx, and an extensive board of clippings, mind maps and pop-culture references:  a photo of Louise Michel, doyen of the Communard; a Karl Marx garden gnome; paper stickers of grandma and the wolf, a vintage Viewmaster disk of Little Red Riding Hood, a page from the Occupied Wall Street Journal dated October 8th, 2011; a Carl Sandburg poem; the rules of the Monopoly game.

The book which accompanies the show was published in the fall of 2011 by Pointyhead Press. In Ward’s words, “the book is a faithful homage to the story Little Red Riding Hood with a polemic on class warfare. A timely account of fear and violence, this project is a response to the current climate of struggle.  Little red is the original occupier, a protestor willing to be eaten alive for her beliefs.

With its period typeface and letterpress aesthetic, it deliciously deconstructs the Red Riding Hood story with humour and astute commentary on the avarice of the capitalist system.

Who says art and politics shouldn’t mix? A little red shows us that they are inseparable. There is plenty to chew on in this unpretentious work which confronts our dark days with research, wit and a dab of theatre. I haven’t seen too many artists weigh in on the Occupy movement. Victoria Ward gives us a good place to start.

The Globe and Mail

October 1st, 2011    Critics picks for the best of Nuit Blanche

A Little Red

55 Mill St., Distillery District

A radical reworking of Little Red Riding Hood, via Das Kapital, by performer/painter/writer Victoria Ward, who knows her way around the forest (and the concrete jungle).

– R.M. Vaughan

The County Voice

May 6, 2010

by Will Jones

Local Artists Show the Beauty in the Unnoticed and Forgotten of New York & Haliburton

 What do you think New York City and Haliburton County have in common? ‘Not much at all, thankfully’, would be the answer of most folks that live around here. However, ask the same question to artists Victoria Ward and Gary Blundell and their answers, and artworks, will have you viewing both places in a new light.

Opening on June 4 and running until July 24 at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery in Minden, the duo’s exhibition, More Paintings About Buildings And Rocks, is a journey through oft forgotten places urban and rural and frequently un-noticed patterns manmade and natural. The works exhibited illustrate Ward and Blundell’s ability to find beauty in the most unexpected of place and their talent in conveying their finds to us via collections of challenging and yet beautiful paintings. Ward states that her focus often begins with the discovery of ruins, recycled items and forgotten things. A sugar shack left to rot in the bush or the decaying debris of an abandoned industrial site, each slowly being taken back by nature; these story-filled places provide inspiration. “I like to convey uncertainty, flux, restlessness and isolation; notions that I believe inhabit the natural world and the role we play in it,” she says. “My subject matter often focuses on abandoned shelters or derelict homes that dot themselves throughout rural areas. They are to me the residues of our need to mark ourselves onto the land. These lonely little structures convey how nature and mankind go back and forth in domination. At one time a shack was a home with a cleared yard, now it is a thicket where woodcocks live. The ineffable area between the land, its indifference to us, and our need to see our image somewhere on its surface is where I want my work to exist.”

Wards’ artistic ethos transfers remarkably well into the urban context. While the glittering towers of Manhattan Island are an almost artificially cleansed reality, the majority of New York – the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, to name just a few districts – is in constant flux, its streets witnessing the birth, life and death of countless people and places in a slow evolutionary cycle. “When we visited New York last year we stayed for the first time outside of Manhattan Island,” explains Ward, “and it gave us a new perspective on the city. Suddenly we could see the real New York, the diverse mix of people, the wildlife along the river, the poor neighbourhoods, the forgotten and unnoticed places. It opened my eyes to how my artistic focus was just as relevant in the midst of this metropolis as it is in the outlying rural areas of Haliburton County.” In response, Ward’s paintings (acrylics on wood) such as Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass and WTR BKLN present a starkly beautiful alternative perspective on the city, and, they dovetail wonderfully with her paintings of forgotten places more local, such as Sugarshack and Camp.

As Ward was inspired by the abandoned and disregarded of New York, Blundell came to realise that his senses were awakened, heightened even while in the city. “I got the same feeling in New York as I do when I’m out in the wilderness,” he says, “that alertness, that need to be on your toes. Also, I felt anonymous, small, just as you do when you are trekking far from the human comforts that people are so used to now-a-days. New York is the opposite of where we live and what we experience everyday but in so many ways it is the same.” As a trained geologist, Blundell’s artwork often begins with rocks. He is intrigued by their patterning, their longevity and the tales they can tell of the slow yet constant changing of the landscape. “In practical terms, I use rocks as a starting point to explore my interest in patterning,” he explains. “I create a web of shapes evoking hydroelectric lines, lots and concessions, city grids, quarries and mines, river systems, tectonic plates, satellites and human tissue. My paintings reflect landscape as often transformed through development and always imbued with human memory.” As such, New York is just part of the evolutionary history of North America and its buildings, roads, sewers and subway systems more sets of patterns, this time carved out by man, rather than nature. Blundell takes these patterns and literally carves them into his paintings. Working on thick plywood, he routers the patterns into it, paints and routers more – adding and taking away, adding and taking away – to create exciting patterned artworks that are less immediately understood than Ward’s paintings and so more challenging to the viewer. The origin of these large format paintings, with names like Grip, Reviviscence and Elegy can only be guessed but their patterning, their blurring of life, evokes memories of places visited be they rural or urban.

Although they are partners in life, Ward and Blundell do not often show their work together and so it is a rare treat to see how the same things – lifestyle, journeys, events – can touch two people in different ways. “We take the same journeys, use the same inspirations but that is where the similarities end,” says Blundell. “Our work takes on very different characters from then on.” Ward adds, “What I would say though is that the trip to New York and this show have brought about a realization that over a decade of our work about geological events, decomposition and regrowth – the slowest of life’s events – can be as relevant in the city as it is in nature for both of us.”

Importantly, what this exhibition also does - with its throw away title that plays on the Talking Heads album ‘More Songs About Buildings and Food’ - is make the viewer realize that painting, the oldest art form, can be as powerful, exciting, beautiful and intriguing as any of the more immediate and unusual mediums that we see artists employing today. Go see it because it’s just as good as all that art in the city!

The Ottawa Citizen, Critic's Pick

Saturday, May 10, 2008

by Arts Editor, Peter Simpson

Victoria Ward's subjects and materials can change - watercolours or rural France in 2004, mixed-media images of a scarred Ontario mining town (Cobalt) this weekend at Artguise - but one thing doesn't change.   Always, the viewer gets the deep, disquieting sense that whatever humans build onto nature is vulnerable, to nature's dominance, and perhaps even its wrath. man's homes and buildings seem to  tip, swirl, or other wise appear unstable and transitory.  The murky colours in her new exhibition 'rockets & gallows', draw you beneath your feet.  The show contiues to May 28 at Artguise Gallery, 590 Bank St., across from the Clocktower.

The Thunder Bay Source

November 25, 2005

by Kathryn Lyzun

On Saturday Nov. 26, two of Ontario's most interesting landscape artists are giving local artists the chance to challenge traditional ideas of landscape paintings and discover new and rugged contemporary practices. E. G. Blundell, born in England but a longtime resident of Ontario, and partner in artistry Victoria Ward of Oshawa, ON, will spend the day helping people develop new ideas about landscape painting and environmentalism at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. Their exhibition is already in place, showcasing Blundell's enormous, bold and "virile" gouged-wood paintings and Ward's smaller, softer wood and paper acrylics.

Curator Glenn Allison said the pair's style is a really hands-on, return to the earth concept that is the modern face of landscape painting. "In the 60's and 70's, landscape atrophied as an art form... the Group of Seven is now three generations gone. Blundell and Ward represent a new group of talent that is re-examining landscape, and it's coming up very differently, perhaps fortunately."

E. G. Blundell and Victoria Ward are two of Canada's best known landscape artists

Blundell and Ward the make the environment a direct part of their work, using the plywood canvas as a carving board before it's painted. They use heat guns, blow torches, hammers and gouging tools to carve out and illustrate their stories. Blundell, in fact, is not artistically trained: he has a background in Earth Sciences.

"You see in Blundell a real mining of the wood," Allison said, "It's a shift from objective representation, as seen in the old landscape style , to direct engagement. As environmentalism both artists call for a greater depth of identification with the forces of nature."

Blundell's mesmerizing pieces look geological, like flowing lava or alien terrain of rock and earth. Ward's are more ethereal , story telling pieces, like the strangely beautiful "lunar shack" which features a huge glowing moon painted above a tiny stuck-on photograph of a little shack, dwarfed against the massive sky.

The pair both strongly believe in their art, and Allison said the workshop will be wonderful for anyone willing to open his or her mind. "It's a chance to experiment and explore new ways to discover the earth."


Ottawa Xpress Magazine

April 14th, 2005
Anita Euteneier


I met Victoria Ward at her studio near the hamlet of Gooderham, roughly half way between Toronto and Ottawa. Surrounded by the rugged Canadian Shield and spectacular waterfalls, it's easy to see where Ward gets the inspiration for her paintings. The studio is a former woodshed that she and her partner, landscape artist E.G. Blundell, designed, converted and now share.

The walls of Ward's studio display postcards of works by favourite artists Tom Thomson and Anselm Kiefer, a collection of images of the Northern Lights, and Ward's own poetry. Ward is comfortable with words, having worked for 10 years as a professional playwright in Toronto. "I learned to write in metaphors, so images come easily," she told me.

In 1997 she looked around for a new direction and fell into painting-and in love-when she met Blundell at an art opening. "We started going sketching together and he was very encouraging," she said. Since then the couple have painted and exhibited together, most recently in a touring show from the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa.

Ward's early desire to become an artist was encouraged by her mother, a hobbyist painter who took her to museums and galleries. "I tend to think that people who step out and decide to take a creative avocation and turn it into a vocation become aware of their mortality. We don't feel like we have a lot of time, so it's about leaving our mark."

Ward's works on wood and paper reflect her observations of the natural world. "I am attracted to human interaction with the land," she said of her paintings that show barns and houses and hydro poles, but never people. "People get in the way of the scenery," she said.

Ward fuses text (often poems) with visual images, creating narratives with universal themes. They are less about a place than a place in time, where even Icelandic lava fields seem familiar. "Some artists like to be wilfully obscure. It just doesn't interest me. I think it's the height of arrogance when an artist says it all comes from the imagination... it's all out there, somewhere."

Ward is not a spontaneous painter. Much of what comes out gestates during long walks on the country roads near Gooderham and in travels in Canada and abroad. "Before I put a piece of metal on board, I've drawn it 740 times in my brain," she explained.

Outside the studio, a large picnic table serves as a work space for some of Ward's more hazardous artistic techniques. She often alters wood surfaces with a router, blowtorch and heat gun to add and remove paint.

Her upcoming exhibition at the Manx Pub in May is called Gamey. The idea came from a visit to the Louvre where she spent time with paintings by 18th century genre painters. Ward was struck by still-life paintings of splayed oxen and dead partridges displayed next to portraits of monarchs.

"Gamey" also refers to Ward's experience of finding roadkill and extricated deer limbs (left over from hunters) while out walking near her studio. The exhibit runs May 11 to 31 at the Manx Pub, 370 Elgin Street.


Express Magazine

Ottawa, June 12 - 18, 2003

Precambrian Shield foundation for artists

Sometimes a place leaves such an indelible impression that it must be revisited. Some two years after an artist residency in Iceland, Gary Blundell and Victoria Ward have done just that, revisiting Iceland's mystical landscape in drawings and paintings.

But while their new paintings and drawings incorporate elements of Iceland's gritty black lava fields, the rocky Precambrian Shield that surround their isolated studio in Gooderham, Ontario, chiefly informs the work.

Blundell and Ward, who are also life partners, moved to the rural area because of the landscape and because it's half way between their families in Ottawa and Orillia. Blundell first visited Gooderham to collect minerals while and earth sciences student at the University of Waterloo. But Iceland challenged his notions of landscape.

"In Iceland, the land is very young geologically, " he said in a telephone interview. "The lava comes out of the volcanoes and flows down over the surface of the land. When it cools, it forms a surface that's very broken and almost cellular." It does not look at all like the scraped, old and metamorphically reorganized Precambrian Shield.

In Waterline, Blundell gouges the wood with a router into small square forms that take on a pixilated quality. Oil paint is applied with layers of gradated colours, with green and grays becoming oranges and reds, creating a textured large-scale work that takes a full week to complete.

"There's a pivot in each painting, when I'm working on it for a few sessions and it starts to become more about the piece than the information I've selected to make the piece. It's a natural progression, very expressionistic. Blundell's exhibition Rock Show opens at Artguise June 13 at 7pm.

Gooderham is an unlikely place to live, , especially for a visual artist with a a theatre background and big city sensibility, but it's been the fuel for Victoria Ward's art.

"Living up here it's a funny cliché but you really start noticing nature and how it changes," she said. In Field and Steam, opening this week at the Manx Pub, Ward's small, framed paper works with acrylic and pen "are based on the kinds of things I see from my passenger window in the truck near my home: bulrushes, wetlands, hydro lines and litter."

Ward also reads form her poetry chapbook, notes from a log cabin, ,published by Ottawa's Camenae Press at Gallery 101, Nepean Street, on July 10 at 7:30pm.

- Anita Euteneier

From Eye Weekly

The Year in Pictures, December 2001

"The most surprising thing about the last 12 months of art? Not one Stanley Kubrick or the HAL the Evil Computer Tribute show -- no kaleidoscopic tunnel rides, no big black slabs, no shiny white rooms and only a handful of psychotic primates (mostly gallery dealers). What a waste.

Here, then are my 10 Best Art Moments for 2001. Just because I care.

7. Gary Blundell and Victoria Ward at the BUSGallery. The most joyous, straight out-of-the-tube paintings of the year. Imagine a Pucci pantsuit crafted out of wood and metal by rural Ontario eco-activists and you're halfway there."

R. M. Vaughan

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 Hotspur Studio


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