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The Online Bridge: FALL 2005
Issue 12, September 2005

at home and around the world

       
 

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by Michael Wiens, Artist, Edmonton, Alberta


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My family is very supportive of the arts. Both of my parents are music teachers. My father has been a voice professor at the U of A for over thirty years. My mother teaches piano, both at home and at Taylor University College. My sister, Juliana, is currently living in Halifax and just completed her master’s degree in women’s studies. Brooke, my wonderful wife, has spent her last two years as an elementary music teacher and is currently looking to complete her ARCT in piano. We have all chosen to put our time and energy in doing things we love. For me, it is art.

I’ve lived in Edmonton my whole life of 26 years. I suppose that somewhere between sketching pictures on the backs of church bulletins, instead of listening to the sermon, and drawing elaborate caricatures of my teachers and classmates at school, instead of doing my work, I discovered a serious need for a creative outlet. I fostered this by focusing my attention on art classes in Jr. High and High school.

       
During my last semester at Harry Ainlay High school I had decided to take the following year off to pursue a career washing cars and living hand to mouth in an apartment, strategically located a few blocks from my parents (and where their car resided). Both of them strongly encouraged me to enrol part-time at NABC and at least take a few classes. So, that September, I hauled out my old backpack and headed off to my only class, English 101, taught by Dr. Martin Friedrich. I soon began to really enjoy the atmosphere in his classroom and his challenging teaching style. Also, referring to teachers by their first names was a big plus. Before the fall ended, I had already made up my mind that I was going to start taking more classes and become more involved. It was around this time that I met Brooke Gajdos. My mom taught her piano and, thinking we would be a good match, had tipped me off so I could swing by during a lesson. (I found out later that she had also been “talking me up” to Brooke.) We dated for the next 6 years and got married last summer.

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I spent a total of three years at NABC, the last two attending full time. This is where some of my most treasured memories remain. Although no painting or drawing classes were offered to me, I still ended up spending the majority of my time in the Arts. I became involved in singing and, with some coaching from my father, threw myself into Choristers, vocal ensembles and our seasonal church choir. I enjoyed the combination of ministry and performance. I also really loved my Psychology 101 with Dr. Troy Janzen, and German 100, with Frau Schmidt. The most beloved project, by far, was a vocal team that my friend Tim Batke and I formed. The five of us would perform four-part gospel tunes and barbershop harmonies with our own words, typically parodying our teachers, fellow students, or any other unsuspecting subjects. We called ourselves MANNA…an “unofficial” vocal team.
       

It was during my last year at NABC that I felt the need to get back to creating art. One of my first major undertakings was painting a 4ft x 8ft mural on canvas, for my home church - Lendrum Mennonite Brethren. It was based on a concept from a member of the congregation, Frieda Claassen, who wanted me to paint it for our sanctuary. The painting depicts Christ breaking down a wall of brick and metal, with the river of life on the other side. Behind him, a path with every other religion following. The message is that only through the path of Christ can we reach eternal salvation. It was important for me to make my fellow “Lendrummers”, who had seen me grow up and had always taken an interest in what I did, proud (not to mention the fact that it would be permanently displayed for all to see…gulp!). The banner was a success, which in turn, gave me the confidence needed to submit my portfolio to the University of Alberta.

The next four years were spent developing in the areas of painting, drawing, printmaking and design. The focus for my paintings began with traditional subject matter: landscapes, portraits, the figure, and still life. It was with the help of my professor, Allen Ball that I managed to expand my views of colour, composition, and experimental mark-making into new directions. I worked through many post-impressionist themes and painting styles, found in works by Gauguin and Van Gogh, until I ended up at the crossroads between representational and abstract. It was at this point, under the guidance of Graham Peacock, that I made the switch into full abstraction.


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In the spring of 2004, I emerged from the concrete pillars of the fine arts building determined to put into practice what I had learned. Shortly after my final fourth year art show, I was contacted by a gentleman in Edmonton who wished to represent me. It was through him that I began to sell some of my works, and was able to obtain my first solo art exhibition this past spring.

Throughout this year, I have been sharing a studio space, on Jasper Ave, with three other artists-friends from University. Luckily, it is located not far from where Brooke and I moved to after our wedding. I have used this time to work through many ideas, while starting to find my own distinct style of painting. My works have involved abstraction of landscape through simplification, use of post-impressionist motifs, and bright combinations of contrasting colours and textures.

My spring show, ‘New Paintings’, consisted of 23 works on paper. They were the later half of a series of 50, 22” x 30” paintings, which I started in late August. I love all types of paint. These multi-media works include everything from high-end oil and acrylic paint to household latex and designer’s Gouache. I also use charcoal and conte when I need a certain kind of mark. I find the unique thing about paint is that every tube has it’s own characteristics. By not restricting myself to a specific type, I have immediate access to a large vocabulary of textures, colours and pigment saturations.

       

While I was in University, there were two unwritten rules which all students were expected to follow: the first one being, never paint with black unless you’re good enough to use it properly. Obviously, I wasn’t. When I went through my stock of paints last summer, I found multiple tubes of Mars and Iron Oxide black that were purchased in my very first semester, many of which hadn’t even been opened. The second rule was, never mix oil and acrylic paints. This rule makes more sense on a practical level in that we all know what happens when you try to mix oil and water. Still, the minute I was no longer a student, breaking these rules became my top priority. Most works include an element of straight, undiluted black, and the combination of oil and acrylic.

During my baptism confirmation, Frieda Claassen, the person responsible for commissioning the banner, made a comment which has never left me. “Michael is someone who isn’t afraid to colour outside the lines”. I have adopted this as a personal directive because it gives me the freedom to make many mistakes, sometimes really big ones, while pushing myself as far as I can in painting.


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[editor’s note: Taylor is very proud to have had a spiritual influence on Michael. As a student he was involved in different ministries on campus, and we have had the privilege of watching him grow over the years because of his family’s continuing involvement at Taylor. It is also a pleasure to see how our goal of developing Christ-minded leaders who make a difference in the world can touch so many different parts of society. Through Michael that difference is being made in the arts, and the Taylor community wishes him the best.]