Testing the Waters

Joanne Feely De Graaf, Testing the Waters

  1. Tell us about the salmon artwork you have in the Salmon Run Project: The Exhibition.
    The salmon sculpture, provided by the Art Gallery of Mississauga, symbolized for me the waters of theCreditRiver.  I wanted my art work to make visible some of the things that we can not see with the naked eye, but are important to the health of the aquatic ecosystem.   By making the fish appear to be composed of water, I hope to emphasize the fact that all living things rely on water for our life essence. I also chose to include communities of diatoms in the water and to accent the salmon with copper.  Diatoms, considered to be “powerful indicators of environmental conditions” 1 are magnified in the artwork and given candy-like colours.  Copper holds personal and elemental symbolism for me, but in this work also stands in for all the non-living components tested for in fresh water2.  We test our water to monitor the impacts of human activity on nature, but when we protect our ecosystems, we protect ourselves too.1 Government of Canada, “Canadian Diatom Database”, 2010-07-16,   (http://publications.gc.ca/site/eng/277919/publication.html) (accessed April 16 2011)
    2 Region of Peel, “Water Report”, n.d., (http://www.peelregion.ca/planning/soe/waterreport.htm) (accessed April 15 2011)
  2. What made you want to submit a proposal for the Salmon Run Project?
    On a personal level, Testing the Waterswas a metaphor for expanding myself as an artist living and working inMississauga.  My previous artwork has been driven more by my own ideas and history.  In recent years, however, I have felt a greater desire to connect to my community.  Participating in the Salmon Run Project has allowed me to explore themes relevant to my environment and city, and work as part of a larger artistic community.My favourite subject matter is nature on a macro scale.  Usually this is expressed in capturing the beauty and frailty of small creatures (i.e. insects, snails, and amphibians), or vegetation (leaves or roots).  Works often include microscopic close-ups of parts of a living thing (i.e. wings, skin cells, veins) and a wider view of the creature / plant whole.  I had never used fish in my artwork before, but it felt like the time had come to explore the aquatic living world.
  3. How and when did you become interested in creating art?
    I always liked to draw and create since childhood, but started to take myself seriously as an artist in my late teen years.  It was only then that I saw it as something that I wanted to be part of my day-to day life.  My first university degree was a Bachelor of Fine Art at York, and then I obtained my Visual Art teaching qualification at the University of Toronto.  Since then I have restlessly pursued training in a variety of media so that I can keep incorporating new materials and techniques to my repertoire. My visual arts education lead to many jobs in the visual arts overt the years.  At a younger age, I was employed as an arts camp counsellor, which lead into being an arts camp co-ordinator.  I also worked part-time in a photography store.  I was employed as a Gallery Educator at the Mc Michael Canadian Art Collection and volunteered at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  For the last 15 years, however, I have been a Visual Art teacher with the Dufferin Peel and Peel District School Boards. By making art a part of my career, it is a part of my every day life.  I am fortunate that I have been able to also work in the arts in a capacity to share in the creativity of others as they too explore their creative sides and make art.
  4. What do you think of the art scene in Mississauga? Where do you see it heading in the next ten years?
    I think that it is an exciting time to be an artist living and working in Mississauga.  We are a young city, but we are maturing.  This affords us the ability to see the value in the arts, and to be open to many forms of expression, as well as to have the space to put our art.  Most of our city is still a blank canvas.The community is eager to express its culture and continues to find new and exciting ways to incorporate the artistic voices of our citizens.  I am very excited to see the fruition of some of the current art proposals and projects around out city.  I hope that in ten years we demonstrate a continued commitment to the arts, and can see the benefit of new projects that are only in proposal / infant stages now.  For instance, the Culture Master Plan’s Public Art program is going to lead to some exciting art spaces.In the next ten years I also hope to see the Arsenal lands at Dixieand Lakeshore converted to art studios and galleries.  I see this as a great investment in the community and the arts. We have seen in Toronto many times…where artist thrives, culture follows, and then revitalization pays off with stable neighbourhood.  I hope that Mississaugacan follow Toronto’s example and set an exciting chapter for Mississauga’s Lakeview neighbourhood in motion.
  5. What advice would you give young people who want to become artists?
    There are many ways to be an artist, not all of then involve starving or struggling.  If you feel the need to create, allow yourself to keep this drive alive.  Accept that it is part of who you are and let it touch as many parts of you life that you can.  Maybe you will find a career in the arts; maybe you will explore it as a hobby.  Perhaps you will bring a creative flare to your home, garden or the community groups that you are a part of.  Maybe you will do all of these.  Allow you passion to create to drive you and you can find a way to make it work for you.   Also, trust your artistic instinct.  Second guessing often leads to inaction and stifled work.  Allow yourself to create and see where your ideas can lead.  You will surprise yourself and others with what you can accomplish.
  6. What do you currently have lined up in terms of artistic opportunities? For people interested in finding more of your artwork, do you have a website, blog, Twitter account or gallery?
    You can see the picnic tables that I just finished with my students at Peel Alternative School South at the corner of Lakeshore Road East and Front Street, on the west bank of the Credit River.  Next spring watch for a set of decorated trash cans that we are planning for city parks.  With these, we hope to give back to the community and promote pride in our city.As for my individual art work, I hope that in days ahead I will be able to work in a series.  I was fascinated by the diversity of salmon that were created as part of the Salmon Run Project, and after I finished my fish I wished that I had another, and another.  This has made me eager to work on a set of art works that will be tied together in subject, but perhaps explore different themes.  Time will tell.
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