Portrait of an Island — Mahon Hall, Salt Spring Island, March 30th until April 8th.

During the Easter holidays the Salt Spring Arts Council will be showing Portrait of an Island — my work as a painter, together with my work as a theatre designer. The main exhibit, Portrait of an Island, will include a number of portraits that I have been working on for the past year and a half – portraits of the community who live on Salt Spring Island. A permanent legacy of the exhibition will be a catalogue, designed by Lynne York, Studio 2901 Graphic Design, including all the portraits in the exhibition, available on Amazon.

Portrait of an Island, full book cover designed by Lynne York, Studio 2901 Graphic Design

The full book cover: Lynne York, Studio 2901 Graphic Design

I have loved working on portraits since I was 16 years old. Each portrait is an important exploration for me and my desire is always to capture and explore the spirit of the person and their form, rather than employing a more photo realistic approach by creating exact likenesses. My years working as a theatre designer have enforced the discipline of capturing the essence of someone very quickly during rehearsals and fittings defining the character the actor was playing through their costume and makeup.

I arrived in Canada in time to be a part of the Centennial celebrations in 1966/67 and in Portrait of an Island I wanted to create something that would echo that time and the fact that I have lived for 50 years in this country. My original intent was to portray 150 people who live and work on Salt Spring Island, but this has expanded, and there are now 160 portraits in oils. With this snapshot of the island I wanted to convey the vibrancy of the population, and so chose to use a patchwork of colours as background for each portrait.

I would like Portrait of an Island to convey my interest in the variety of people on this island and what it feels like to be a member of the community. There is such a wide variety of people from all backgrounds – writers, painters, sculptors, diplomats, and the people around us who work in the recycling depot, the grocery store and restaurants – everyone makes up what is this island community.

Helping to explore these themes, the exhibition will include a soundscape based on interviews with some of those painted as well as a number of performances and talks in the gallery.

PORTRAIT OF AN ISLAND is an exhibition of more than 160 portraits in oil of people who call Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, home. Artist Susan Benson, RCA, inspired by Canada 150 celebrations, creates a group portrait of an island. This exhibition is sponsored by the Salt Spring Arts Council, with support from the Banff Centre, Paul Fleck Fellowship.