Winnipeg’s art scene may know Shelley Vanderbyl from her Memory Tales series – familiar childhood stories set on playing-card-sized matteboards. The process of creating Memory Tales sparked Vanderbyl’s fascination with seeing her paintings, not just as representational images, but as objects; their distressed edges evoke the feeling that the palm-sized pieces exist with their own history. Instead of fighting the dust being created as she sanded down these edges, she smoothed it back into areas of the oil paint, creating matte surfaces in her works. From this launching point, Vanderbyl’s latest exhibition, Fresco, extends this focus onto a vast new scale and into a medium mined from her own past, drawing again on themes of time and memory.
Vanderbyl’s paintings aim to build a material language about hope. Her frescoes are fuelled by hope: she takes risks and experiments with her work, trying things that could potentially ruin a piece in order to keep growing herself as an artist and expand the boundaries of her painting practice. Her fresco work stems from her time as a drywall taper: working with plaster in harsh environments has inspired her to concentrate deeply on plaster’s response to her tools.
“The experience doing my drywall taping causes me to see my artistic practice as a layered, rather than linear, process. Some of these layers are created through discoveries of hope in my own life, being able to mine something good out of difficulty,” Vanderbyl says.
Even the materials she uses add more meaning to her work: mud from a riverbank where she sat collecting her thoughts on a particularly discouraging day and marks from the charred branches of her favourite apple tree, whose growth she had been using to track the years her family spent in one home during her husband’s military career.
“Fresco showcases Vanderbyl’s growth as an artist and bravery to work in new styles and textures. The exhibit invites the viewer to have a conversation with the work, interacting on a deeper level of self-reflection,” says Howard Gurevich.
Vanderbyl’s paintings are inspired by places she’s lived and travelled and others’ stories. It’s these stories, strung together, that create the relationship between the viewer and the painting. When these paintings exist in spaces occupied by people, Vanderbyl hopes they will both comfort and listen, offering messages of hope and assurance.
Fresco opens May 6 at 7pm and runs until May 28.