Interview: Sky Pape Brings Her Artwork to the Yellow Box

The Aquinian

The Aquinian, Volume 7, No 13, p. 9, January 15, 2013, by Meghan O’Neil

Ontario born Sky Pape’s art has been shown across the United States and internationally including Japan and Europe since the early 1980s.

Now she is bringing “Selections from the Bellagio Suite” to St. Thomas University’s Yellow Box Gallery for her first Canadian solo exhibition Thursday.

Pape began her education at Queen’s University in Ontario before the Art Students League of New York.

Selections from the Bellagio Suite” was created using water and Sumi ink on handmade Japanese kozo paper. The collection was done during her stay at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy.

Her work is an interpretation of the landscape genre. It’s a portrayal of nature in the least obvious way. Pape uses familiar tools in a unique way to convey her perception of nature. She uses materials consistent with the roots of society.

The AQ’s Meghan O’Neil had the chance to ask Pape about her upcoming showing.

This is your first solo exhibition in Canada. Has this been anticipated for a while? Why now?

William Forrestall, the Director of the Yellow Box Gallery at St. Thomas University, was aware of my work and first contacted me in September, 2011 with an invitation to exhibit in Fredericton, so the planning has been underway for some time.

Transporting the art over a border is the biggest bear to deal with in these circumstances, but with a coordinated effort, it all turned out to be quite doable.

As it happens, this is also the only opportunity I’ve had to visit New Brunswick, so the show is the occasion for a number of happy firsts.

Do you remember when you wanted to pursue art?

This began for me without fanfare: I was in diapers and someone put a drawing implement in my chubby fist. If it had been a stethoscope or shovel, things might have turned out differently.

The formal declaration to make a career of it came, I suppose, when I applied to university.

If you’re reading this and think this occupation is especially glamourous or profitable, I’ll do you the favour of tearing that gauzy veil from your eyes. Not to sound melodramatic, but this path has been more difficult – and more gratifying – than I could have believed or expected at the outset.

Left off my resume are the grinding day jobs and sacrifices required to make enough money to keep creating while holding body and soul together.

With enough luck and single-minded perseverance I’ve managed to make a living at it, but I’ve learned to slip into a thick skin before I step out to greet each day.

Can you describe “Selections from the Bellagio Suite” and what creating the exhibition meant to you?

This exhibition offers a selection of nature-related, abstract ink drawings on Japanese handmade paper from my “Bellagio Suite” series, connected to my residency fellowship at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in northern Italy.

The work stems from an exploration of water as a source of inspiration, as well as a substance in itself, and the ways water can be used as a creative material.

This work was the fruition of ideas that began germinating over ten years earlier, and it became a gusher (forgive my water metaphors – they become unavoidable) that was thrilling and at the same time, quite astonishing.

I credit the environment at the Bellagio Center for providing an ideal setting, uninterrupted time, and the right number of high-achieving people to catalyze a sublime outcome. It had the effect of intensifying my work on many levels, including form, content, and the birth of new techniques.

You use mostly use traditional drawing materials like ink and graphite. How do you keep these materials refreshing?

My idiosyncratic techniques develop from the inherent physical properties of familiar supplies. Indeed, I’m engrossed by the potential for expanding the vocabulary of drawing as a visual language, and in challenging the artistic conventions of these well-known substances.

Drawing with the paper instead of just on it is often characteristic of my approach, and exploring the limits and possibilities of my materials is fundamental.

In the past, I have made marks using my lungs to blow ink through funnels and tubes, and have built strong arms by applying graphite with full force so that light bounces off the work’s two-dimensional surface, giving the appearance of 3D steel relief sculpture.

Reaching beyond brushes, pens, and typical tools, my methods include drawing with mist, ice, rain, and palm fronds, allowing the materials themselves to literally and abstractly convey something of what I experience as nature’s truths, seen and unseen.

While forward-looking, I respect that my work has age-old roots. I find continuity and meaning in working with many of the same creative elements essential to our most ancient civilized societies. Grounded in my dedication to the cultural traditions related to paper-making and ink, I view my work as a kind of unspoken collaboration with distant masters, entwined with the fragile endurance of centuries-old practices.