Barbara Houston was born in Saskatchewan and her full time art practice is based in Bonavista, NL.
She attended Parson’s School of Design in New York City, the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, OCADU (formerly OCAD) in Toronto and ECUAD (formerly ECIAD) in Vancouver. Houston’s work includes painting on linen, canvas and torrefied maple panels, drawings, linocut prints, and sculpture.
Houston has worked nationally and internationally with projects in Canada, the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia (India and Japan). Houston was an teaching assistant while attending Parson’s and UofM, a University design instructor/mentor, she leads art and design workshops at the community level.
Her work is included in public and corporate collections across Canada. Houston is a member of VANL, ArtsNL, Surface Design Association, the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, Eastern Edge and CARFAC.
My work evolves from an intimate connection to place and reflects a deep sense of discovering and knowing that place. Informed by and anchored by the Prairies, I bring a keen sense of observation and innovation to my art practice. Taught in the 60’s and 70’s by the Modern Prairie artists of the day, my connection to fine art was through the Mendel Art Gallery, private art collections and artists who taught me to see, to record and interpret the land and space around me.
Venturing from the Prairies to the urban landscape of New York City at the age of 18, the world opened up to me. Similar to the Prairies, NYC fostered a need to find oneself amidst the throngs of people, buildings and ideas. NYC solidified my drive to explore the ideas around belonging as it is rooted in place or places. Isolation in a city or in a landscape became inspirational for me. It taught me to draw from personal strength and focused on my ability to learn, to express and to be..
In art and design, place holding and belonging became my focus. In my formative years, the subject matter was the built environment, both interior and exterior space and how those spaces can be sculpted to create a quietly visceral and very personal experience. The relationship between our interior spaces and exterior, our persona(s) and how those are presented to the world. how we are in this world, the impact of our persona, how we 'sit' in the landscape. So it cames as no surprise that whether in Newfoundland or in the middle of NYC I am looking for seeking meaning in my surroundings. Those visual conversations, anchor myself in a place.
Trained to see inherent qualities, form, shape and line, etc, I constantly push and question fundamentals of design and composition to create a feeling that is evocative, perhaps even innovative. Research and study reveals the qualities that make up a materials; linen, canvas, wood, paper, metal, kelp + sea grass - a new application, a new medium creates a new narrative. Through this narrative the materiality is revealed along with the stories and ideas embeded in them.
Studies are created at a small intimate scale, prototypes, maquette and sketches are the basis of larger works. Pushing the conventions of application and understanding the qualities and limitations of my materials allows for innovation and a newness of interpretation of the people and places that surround me. The panel paintings created on torrefied maple panels has been described as 'lyrical', a contemporary Group Of Seven approach to landscape painting. The 'painted colour' of the panel as well as the wood grain is part of the composition. Imbued with multiple layers of meaning, I explore materiality in my work which is landscape based and full of references that I see in the place or places that I live.
By exposing the beauty of the linen or cotton canvas, or the torrefied maple wood of the panels, I build on this 'foundation' to capture in acrylics or oil, the place that surrounds me. The process and the conscious material choice creates subtle and delicate variations within the picture plane, reminiscent of stone or sea, the flaxen colours inherent in the landscape. The wood grain of the torrefied maple or the weave of Belgium linen suggest the composition, the laying on of inks, graphite, acrylics and oils, I draw out each work.
Creating work in different scales encourages discovery and an evolution of technique and intent. Similarly I move from different coloured grounds, layers of tonal gessoes, white to dark neutral greys to pull out the image, graphite outlines my next step and is blended into the ground and the acrylic/oil. Repeatedly drawing over and creating layers of paint in levels of transparency and opaqueness. As I am working through an idea on paper canvas or in maquette, I will work in plan, section, elevation, perspective, a mirror image and rotate my picture plane to test and challenge relationships.
I layer one drawing on top of the other to find the shapes and forms as they engage in the work, as they map out for me, the image and idea that comes through.
The scale of my work begins to engage the viewer by allowing each person to select and create meaning in the marks, the colours and the overall content. Small scale works are intimate and draw into personal memory, a closeness of thought or experience; larger works surround the viewer, creating place and place holding in a more physical scale.
When my work is viewed as collective, it becomes an archive of places I have lived, people and place holding. It is also an archive of process with each piece linked to a trajectory of thought of subject matter. Each study, maquette, prototype and finished canvas or sculpture have a story, a reason, a connection to people and place. Fundamentally my work is related to the place or places I have lived. they are informed by and intimately connected to my personal archives, my memories, my joys and my sorrows; belonging and being different, my work is a very personal documentation of experience and observations, and they hold me in this place.
Houston is a member of Visual Arts Newfoundland Labrador (VANL), the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador (http://www.carfac.ca) and greatly appreciates the work and voice of CARFAC. (Canadian Artists Representation)