Angel McDowell at the Art Gallery of Regina

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Exploring themes of death and dying

McDowell is both a writer and an artist who explores identity, abandonment, and loss. Her first book of poetry, Cemetery Music, was published by Nightingale and Sparrow Press and is available on Amazon.

Angel says the impetus for the work was one of her favourite poems, by the romantic poet Christina Rosetti.

From the Antique is a poem by Christina Rossetti and it’s my favourite poem, it’s all about death and dying. So some of the images are titled with lines from her poem, and most of my work, whether it’s writing or art is sort of about death, and dying, and identity, and abandonment, and the things that are lost when we die.”

The artist says she’s inspired by her want to collect things other held dear.

“I’ve been collecting old photographs and vintage clothing for years, and I’ve always wondered about the identity of those people that gone before us. So, in doing From the Antique, I took my vintage items and turned them into artwork to explore the connection between creating and collecting, knowing that the items that I created from my collection will go on to be collected by someone else.”

McDowell says she has a close relationship with the gallery as a patron and a member.

“They’ve been following my work since I’ve retired, and since I’ve retired from the university, I’ve become fairly involved in the art community. As I want to be involved, I’m not one for big groups, I’m more of a loner, so I like to create my work and show it in a safe space that is really supportive of their artists, and I feel like the Art Gallery of Regina meets all my criteria as an artist. They’ve been wonderful.”

McDowell says the difference between her poetry and her visual work is that her writing involves a lighter element.

“The artwork that’s in that book is more whimsical. In the book I’m looking at my conflicting feelings between death and dying and I use found word poetry in my work, so I would use the found word poetry with my images and bring levity to the images.”

McDowell created cyanotype prints as part of the exhibition, a technique she picked up in conversation with other local artists.

So the prints I’ve been interested in for a few years, and no one was teaching it at the U of R, so nobody was really doing it . . . But I began to explore the prints and I really liked the ghostly effect of it. I thought that it really spoke to my aesthetic and what I wanted to say about the spiritual realm, that it sort of translates very well. So, what it is, is they used photo chemicals, so you coat your paper– in the dark because they are photosensitive – then you lay your images, then you expose it to light. So I just used the sun, but I also do have a light exposure unit so I can print in winter if I want to.

For the smaller works, McDowell used photo transfers to create what she calls a “ghostly effect.”

“In the smaller prints, I lay photo transfers, so I took old photos from my collection, and I printed them on a transparency, and because I talk about identity in my work or the lack of identity and the loss of identity, I cut the heads off of the people and so just the images of their clothing is printed. So, I layer the transparency on with lace and other things to illustrate what I was trying to say, and then again exposed it to the sun. So you get a really neat, multi-layered ghostly effect and you can really play with the images, they feel like they’re drifting almost. I really, really like that process and I feel it works well for me with what I’m trying to say, for sure.”

A full biography of the artist, opening hours, and information on the art gallery’s current website.

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