Japanese audiences were treated last month to a uniquely Canadian experience — exhibited on a grand Canadian scale.
Susan Falk’s May exhibit at a small gallery in Kyoto, was very much a ‘go big or go home’ scenario, chuckled the Langley artist, who recently returned from a two-week visit to the city, located about 450 kilometres southwest of Tokyo.
Falk had been invited to exhibit her work in Japan several times over the years, by a friend who works in holistic medicine and often travels to the island nation for work.
Two years ago, he approached her again. This time, Falk was ready, having been on the lookout for something a bit different to do.
So in April, 2014, she traveled to Kyoto as a visitor.
Her trip coincided with the city’s annual cherry blossom festival.
Despite her wonderment at the rich colours, ornate detail and sheer scope of Kyoto’s ancient temples, it was all a bit overwhelming for the artist, who lives on a south Langley acreage, immersed in nature’s quiet rhythms.
“Every tourist in the world who wanted to look at cherry blossoms was there,” she laughed.
During her visit, Falk’s hosts, Tom and Joe, introduced her to Jo Ishida, the director of Kyoto’s Art Forum Jarfo.
She showed him some of her drawings and told him a little about herself as an artist.
About a month after she returned home, she received an email, inviting her to mount a solo exhibit in a month of her choosing.
One part of that decision was easy; she would avoid April at all costs.
Once she’d settled on a May show, Falk tackled the more complex decision about what to exhibit.
“I started racking my brain. I thought, I could take the easy route and select from my existing collection. Or, I could start a whole new body of work.”
“As a Canadian, what would I like to bring to Kyoto?”
She knew that other Canadians exhibiting in Japan in the past had brought small, Tom Thomson-style works. That wasn’t the route she wanted to go. At all.
“I thought, I’m going big — grizzlies and sockeye.”
The resulting series, titled RED – Circle of Life, celebrates basic survival, strength, determination, reproduction and the transfer of strength and energy from prey to predator.
The largest pieces of the 10 she painted for the show are nine feet high. The intent, said Falk, was to create the greatest possible impact on the viewer.
Size isn’t a factor when you’re displaying locally, noted Falk. But she had to come up with a creative way to get the pieces across the Pacific without spending a fortune in the process.
She started by painting them on a lighter weight of canvas than she normally uses. And, rather than frame them, she mounted the canvases on doweling rods — similar to a Japanese scroll — and added hooks.
This way, they could be rolled and shipped by air in one relatively small crate.
Once the paintings arrived, the exhibit was hung in such a way that people walking in the door would immediately come face to face with a massive grizzly swiping at a salmon.
The nine-foot-high piece was mounted several feet up the wall, so that the water appeared to flow onto the floor, explained Falk.
“It was all about impact, and showing that emotion and strength. Each (large) painting had its own wall, which was fabulous because nothing was crowded.”
“There was just a wonderful reaction from people walking into the gallery. “
Dedicating his entire gallery to works by an artist from the other side of the world was a risk for Ishida, said Falk.
“But it was a good risk.”
He invited her to come back next year and bring other Canadian artists with her.
Falk said she is turning over the idea of returning in 2016 or 2017.
“Next time, it will be smaller works on paper,” she said. “They’re easier to transport.”
This time, Falk admitted, it was more about knocking her hosts’ socks off.
“I wanted to show them what I do.”