Artist opts to return to set up own studio

Peggy Revell

Several years and with thousands of miles later, contemporary artist Lindsay Hamilton has bid adieu to Canada’s West Coast and returned home to Fort Frances to establish her own art studio.
The 27-year-old is returning to her roots, with her family’s business—Little Beaver Snow Park—now being transformed into the Little Beaver Cultural Centre with a renovation adding a second story to serve as an artists’ workspace.
“It’s sort of a beautiful place of art and music and community, creative community development,” Hamilton said about the vision for the Little Beaver, which still functions as a banquet hall but now hopefully also as a community base for the visual arts and music.
“You can come out here and have dinner, have a party, and also have a painting party upstairs or have a band playing, or have an open mic,” Hamilton remarked.
“It’s like a blank slate right now for us, we can do lots of things out here,” she added.
“We just shoot for the stars and get the moon.”
It’s a fresh start for the artist who graduated last year from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver.
“The amount of work I can do now here in a studio space, with a business that I can run in order to support my work, I would never have that in Vancouver, at least not anytime soon,” she reasoned.
Hamilton is aiming to start teaching beginner-level painting classes in the fall, and eventually intermediate and advanced ones, covering both acrylics and oil and with a lot of drawing, which she says is “fundamental to all art.”
“I’m not teaching a technique,” she stressed. “I’m teaching how to find your own visual language—that’s a big one.
“You hear lots of people say, ‘Oh, I can’t draw,’” she added. “In essence, drawing is just mark making on a page, so anybody can draw.
“Maybe you can’t make something look exactly like it does in real life, but that’s not as interesting to me as someone taking the time to find they’re own way of expressing themselves or finding their own visual language.
“So that’s what the class will be more focused on—finding your own visual language and getting really messy with paint,” she remarked.
As a contemporary artist, Hamilton said there’s no specific medium or technique she’s focused on, although she did specialize on sculpture at university.
“What’s more important to me is the idea of the work, and the idea dictates the material,” she explained, noting she’s worked in everything from traditional materials like ceramic and metal all the way to pancake batter.
As well, she’s hoping to connect artistic talent from across the area, setting up a sketch club where fellow artists can come together and start drawing as practice with models, live models, life drawing classes, and en plein air.
“I would like to have art shows, as well. It is a space to showcase local talent here,” Hamilton said about her vision for Little Beaver, where local art would be displayed on a rotating basis like an art gallery in any city would.
“I would like to have a unified creative collective in Fort Frances, where we support each other and go to each other’s art shows and talk about each other’s work,” she noted.
“Because that’s really important for me as an artist—to have others witness my work [and] it’s good to have constructive criticism, especially if you’re going to develop.
“The critique is very important in art.”
Hamilton also hopes to eventually establish an artist-in-residency program, and have artists from the area and beyond to visit to develop a body of work, run workshops in the medium they work in, and hold an art show at the end of their stay.
“The point is to have the artist [in residence] affect the area, as well as see how the area affects the artist,” she explained.
“As well as maybe give light to other types of beauty that, say, someone who lives here might completely overlook.
“But new eyes can always bring new perspective, and it’s important, it’s really important, to infuse this area with a lot of different perspectives,” she reasoned.
After several years of living on the West Coast, leaving behind good friends to return to Fort Frances is “definitely scary and weird,” Hamilton admitted of her decision.
“It was disappointing because you go to a city and you set up your life, and they tell you in university—they pump you up hoping that it will be easy to get a job once you get out,” she noted.
“Well, it’s not that easy. Things are a lot more complicated now, and you can’t just walk out and get a job, especially not in the arts.”
Hamilton left Fort Frances at age 19 to attend school—first in Toronto and then Vancouver—and originally focuses on drama.
But after graduating from a year-long program at the Vancouver Academy of Dramatic Arts, she realized she was drawing more than pursuing an acting career, causing her to rethink her future.
“Acting was a creative way of living, but I don’t think I really put it together that art could be a career,” she recalled.
“I’ve always drawn, and had a sketch book ever since I was little, [but] I didn’t think of it as a career.
“And then I realized, ‘Oh no, maybe that’s what I’m actually supposed to be doing.’”
From there, Hamilton went on to spend four years studying at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, with a primary focus on sculpture.
“I threw myself into sculpture and I realized that it has a different energy to it,” she said about taking advantage of the facilities the school had to offer—a metal shop, wood shop, and ceramic studios, as well as world-renowned artists as teachers like Liz Magor and Alan Storey.
“Painting is 2-D. It hangs on a wall, and it can be as powerful and has a different type of energy, but when you move something into a third dimension, it’s more bodily, it affects the body and the viewer who’s looking at the work.
“It was important for me to start doing that.
“Moving from acting, sculpture, in a way, is like an actor,” she reasoned, referring to how it connected to her earlier studies.
“It doesn’t move or say words, or dialogue necessarily from a script, but it still says something and has an energy, and takes up space just as an actor would.”
After graduation, Hamilton worked as a studio assistant for both the public sculptor, Alan Storey, and painter, Justin Ogilvie—a “great experience,” she explained, as she was able to see two different facets of the art world.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t pay the bills, and it was few and far between.
“Working for any artist, it’s hard for them to come up with money to pay for their materials, let alone pay for their assistants,” she noted, adding that employment of any kind was scarce there.
Finding studio space—the next step for any artist after graduation—also was a problem in Vancouver.
“An artist needs a studio,” Hamilton stressed. “I’m not one of those artists who can work in their bedroom in a little corner.
“I like big space, I like making a big mess, and I like walking away from it,” she added. “I was barely able to afford rent in a big city—Vancouver is ridiculously expensive—so how was I ever going to afford another type of rent for studio space?
“I was realizing that if I want to really make a career out of being an artist, I have to stop assisting people and I have to get into the studio,” she reasoned.
It was at that point that her dad “made her an offer [she] couldn’t refuse” to put in a second floor at the Little Beaver Snow Park for her studio.
“My dad worked really hard,” Hamilton lauded, pointing to how he built the second floor above the dining area at Little Beaver—all while keeping the business running—and then helping her move home this past spring.
Leaving Vancouver meant leaving the benefits of an established urban arts scene, acknowledged Hamilton, but tools like the Internet mean she can stay connected as an artist.
“There’s so much connection now,” she remarked. “You can sell lots of work over the Internet.
“You can have submissions for an artist-in-residency where people from around Canada or the world could come to, and be a part of the space.
“The Internet’s an amazing tool for an emerging artist because you don’t necessarily have to be in an urban centre in order to make contemporary art,” she argued, noting city centres like Minneapolis, Winnipeg, and Thunder Bay aren’t too far from here, either.
A city like Vancouver, with an established arts scene, has its downsides, as well, noted Hamilton, citing more competition and it being harder to get people’s attention.
“And if there’s already a fashionable trend that’s going on and you don’t fit into it, you’re isolated already in a big city,” she warned.
“Whereas here, I have a chance to create my own space, invite the creative people of Fort Frances, give everyone something to talk about and work on, as well as myself.
“It’s like it’s just an odd space of rural vs. urban.
“There’s lots of creative people in this area,” Hamilton added. “It’s almost like an untapped environment, [a] unique, cultural perspective that isn’t represented in urban centres.
“I’m really excited for that,” she enthused.
Hamilton said it’s important to have that contemporary art scene which happens in urban environments—but whose to say that that can’t happen here­?
“It certainly can happen uniquely, and from a cultural perspective that hasn’t really been represented in Canadian culture,” she noted.
As her studio gets up and running, Hamilton is looking to get in touch with other local artists, noting they can reach her through her website at www.lindsayjoyhamilton.com, by phone at 275-7680, or just stopping by the Little Beaver.
Updates on events, and what’s happening at Little Beaver, also can be found at www.littlebeaverculturalcentre.com


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