Photo Credit: Perry Rath
Lost in definition Art lives in Smithers
The creative process is a great and beautiful mystery. Art is simultaneously unknowable and immediately identifiable—from ancient cave art to modern installations, the artistic impulse is the very thing that makes us human. But defining art is like trying to verbally explain the difference between left and right without referring to objects or landmarks. It can’t be done. And maybe art is best left un-defined.
Northern BC has an incredible array of artists of every persuasion. Art here is so diverse, so concentrated, and so good that a single article can’t do it justice. An entire magazine would only scratch the surface. Here, then, are three Smithers-based artists you need to know more about.
The politics of humour
Facundo Gastiazoro exudes approachability. The goateed and bespectacled artist is characterized by positivity and openness. A graphic designer by trade, the Argentinian artist came to Canada about a decade ago. Settling in Smithers with his partner, he’s a much sought after creator of captivating images.
Growing up in culturally rich Buenos Aires, Gastiazoro was exposed to art from a young age. But it was family that instigated his early love for artistic creation.
“I was just a kid, no? My brother teach me to play,” he says in his thick accent. “The first time I consciously did art, it was primary school. I had a good teacher.”
His first real art experiences have their roots in political graffiti. “Literally, it was drawing on the walls. The other political parties would try to do their messages too, so it was a fight for the walls. The other parties hired soccer hooligans, so we went ready for a fight. We had security—two people on motorbikes and one car. The guys on motorbikes would stand watch while we paint,” he says.
For Gastiazoro, the message is an integral part of his work. “Graphic design is all about communications, expressing your message.” University is free in Argentina, which allowed him to explore different areas of study. But being an artist in a densely populated city isn’t easy.
“In Argentina, it is way harder to be an artist,” he says. “In a small town it’s way easier to be shown and seen. It’s easier to be more relevant in people’s lives or the art history of a community.”
When he arrived in Smithers, art was the obvious thing for him to do. It was also necessary.
“I didn’t have a work permit so I did a gallery exhibition,” he laughs. “A big part of being an artist is being involved in the community.” He’s currently curating an art show called Life Exposure, a community-based photography project that will be displayed in Smithers and Hazelton in October, and preparing for a November show at the Smithers Art Gallery.
Painting the sound of music
Mark Tworow works in a Smithers bookstore and his enthusiasm for literature is contagious. But books, despite his seemingly inexhaustible knowledge of them, are a lesser love for this soft-spoken Smithereen. Painting is his real passion.
“As a kid, I did the usual things,” he says. “Drew lots then went to art school. I graduated in 1991. Like a lot of artists, I was slow out of the gate after.” The problem, he explains, is that in art school, students are taught to think critically about art, to define it and analyze it. It stopped him for a few years. “But then my wife said to me, ‘I thought I married an artist.’” With that prompt, he started painting again.
Now, the artist is hitting his stride. He’s involved in exhibitions both locally and in other cities, he experiments with different styles, and he’s dabbling in a kind of performance art—painting to live music.
“If I had to define what I am as a painter, I’d lean towards abstract expressionist,” he says. “Responding to music is very expressionist.” Tworow’s paintings also include incredible landscapes. “In northern BC it’s hard to avoid landscapes,” he says. He’s quick to qualify his approach, though. “I avoid very much what I would call postcard images,” he says. “A mountain painting should represent what a mountain is.” Tworow’s current works include images of local bands performing, local scenery and, as he puts it, a “full blown abstract.” Despite juggling different styles and approaches, the medium is always the same. “I am a painter, through and through.”
Lately, Tworow has opened up his studio online. “Facebook’s been really good for me,” he says, smiling. “People have to friend me, but I only use Facebook for my art; I don’t post pithy sayings or pictures of cats.” He posts pictures of partially completed pieces as he works on them. “It’s a great way for people to participate in art on a daily basis,” he says. “I have to fight a tendency to be influenced by likes. I do really like the comments, I just don’t want to be influenced by it.
Art is everywhere
Smithers Secondary School art teacher Perry Rath is about as grounded and likeable as a person can be. His art is striking, intensely creative and filled with expression. The office beside the art room is decorated with student art and notes, including one that says, “I’m really gonna miss your class—you’re the best teacher EVER.”
“My mom’s dad was an artist,” he says. “My granddad was my first big artistic influence.” He was also a spiritual influence on the young Rath. “My granddad taught me about the ideas of multi-dimensionality,” he says. “Art is a way for me to escape things. It’s a way to step out of this dimension and exist only in the realm of the creative.”
In school, Rath started exploring his artistic inclinations early and his parents were supportive. After graduating, he continued studying art. “Art school was a great milieu of art craziness!” he smiles. “But right after art school, I found it really hard to make art again. It took me a bit to balance the intuitive nature of art with the cerebral side of things you study in art school.”
When he found that balance, Rath never looked back. His pieces are now shown all over the world. “Art-making is a compulsion,” he says. “I carve it into the wee hours. I definitely sacrifice sleep for art. But if I go too long without making art, I feel a sort of vacantness.” Art is life—literally.
Rath’s art often expresses intangible ideas, but he also participates in projects that actively convey a message. These range from shows on pipelines to installations and collaborations with scholars and dancers. He speaks fondly of collaborating with dancer Miriam Colvin.
“Miriam saw a show of mine, an installation that explored the ideas of absence and presence. She found in that a connection to dance.” He adds, laughing, “We also really wanted an excuse to work together.”
In everything he does, Rath is quietly passionate and humble. “As an artist, you allow yourself the permission to notice artful things,” he says. “I look at the world through visual and artistic eyes. There is art everywhere, you just have to notice.”