Figureworks 2017 features the human form in all its variety

Detail from the sculpture, Witnesses, by Shahrzad picked up an Honourable Mention in this year's Figureworks show.

Every year since 2010 an exhibition called Figureworks celebrates representations of the human form by artists from Ottawa, from across the country and from around the world. The exhibition runs until Dec. 2 at St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts. ARTSFILE got the low down on the show from Mark Stephenson, who is the new president of the foundation that runs the event.

Q. Tell me about Figureworks, when did it start and why did it start?

A. Figureworks is an annual juried art prize and celebration of the art of the human form held right here in Ottawa. We believe in being inclusive and accept figurative works in all media from all over Canada and Internationally.

Founded by Hilde Lambrechts in 2010, Figureworks is a volunteer based organization that has been presenting the prize annually for the last eight years. Figureworks was born from the love for art inspired by the human figure but also has addressed the fact that the human figure is often under-represented in galleries. Through Figureworks we provide an opportunity for artists to exhibit in a world class showcase of local, national and international talent. It’s been incredible to witness the growth, strength and diversity in our visual arts community.

With the prize money growing year over year we hope that cash given to award winners will help them sustain their visual arts practice.

Q. Who are you and what is your involvement?

A. I am Mark Stephenson and I’m the president of Figureworks. This is my first year as president although I had been taking on more and more responsibility over the past several years. I am an artist myself and I’ve had the pleasure of being a finalist in several past Figureworks shows.

Q. Why are you involved?

A. Figureworks was the first show I ever displayed work in and that alone can be enough to hook someone. What really got me deeply engaged is that this isn’t just a show, it’s a community of artists and patrons. I have had the opportunity to get to know so many incredible people through Figureworks that have become friends and mentors. I am much more confident as an artist and my practice is stronger; both of which I can credit to this supportive community. This is why I’m involved and believe deeply that Figureworks is worth the effort.

Q. How many submissions did it get this year? 

A. The show is juried. Every year we go through a selection process to choose three jury members that are diverse in their practices, masters of their craft and respected within their communities. One or two of the jury members are always from out of town to ensure that we have some fresh perspective on local works. This year we had the pleasure of having Jonathan Hobin, Elaine Despins and Rose Ekins on our jury.

This year we received 318 submissions from 195 artists, 133 of those artists submitting for the first time. These are significant numbers as it represents a 30% increase over last year and evidence that we are connecting with more artists. We had a similar trend last year and hope to continue to build on this growth next year.

Karen by Nicole Sleeth was the first prize winner.

Q. How many artists were accepted and how many winners did you have?

A. Forty Artists were accepted. And we gave out the following prizes:

First ($3000 + $200 from Wallacks): Nicole Sleeth for Karen.
Second ($1000 + $100 from Wallacks): Christine Fitzgerald for Rangifer tarandus caribou.
Third ($700 + $50 from Wallacks): Joyce Crago for What does it mean to be male? Jesse.
Honourable mention ($300): Shahrzad Amin for Witnesses.

We also had some additional prizes from our partners:
Kama Pigments Prizes: ($200 each) Jessie Babin for Assane; Janet Kimantas for Self-Portrait; Neeko Paluzzi for Self Portrait, 2017.
Patrick Gordon Framing Prize ($200): Andrew Moncrief for Shadow Self 2.

Rangifer tarandus caribou by Christine Fitzgerald picked up second prize.

Q. When I looked at the show Saturday I saw names I recognized and names I did not. Does the exhibition deliberately show a range of artists?

A. We show the artists the jury selects and it’s often representative of what has been submitted. As a show that includes paintings, drawings, photography and sculpture (but not limited to just that) we are always reviewing the submissions from the past years and looking out for under-represented disciplines. If we see that then we make a concerted effort to connect more with that community during our next call for artists.

Q. People have been portraying other people in art starting with cave drawings 70,000 years ago. Why do you think the human form is so compelling as a subject for an artist?

A. The human form connects with us so intimately. You can feel a story in the setting, the movement of the body, the eyes and the falling of the light on the face and body. It is all of this that challenges artists. We are all so familiar with the human form that you have to get it right to connect with the viewer.

Q. Why is it compelling for a viewer?

A. Expressions of the human form evoke immediate recognition of the self. As Socrates said, ‘To know thyself  is the beginning of wisdom’. This show is full of stories; each and every piece will evoke some emotion and take you on an adventure if you let it.

Third prize: What does it mean to be male, Jesse by Joyce Crago.

Q. There is a great range in images on display at St. Brigid’s. Please describe the show for readers?

The Figureworks show this year includes incredibly strong photography, paintings, drawings and sculpture. The show is full of works from local and national professional artists including some past jury members along with some strong student works. Hilde curates the shows and this year she saw a trend that is indicative of current times: Strong confident women who know who they are and are not complicit in being stereotyped. That’s countered by men who are struggling to find their masculine identity. I can safely say that the jury did an incredible job this year.

Q. Stepping back, what does a show like this say about visual arts in Ottawa?

A. Figureworks is growing from a local to a national show and our local artists are maintaining a strong presence. That is a testament to the talent we have here in Ottawa area. It is also wonderful to see local artists that move out of the city still maintain their connection to the Figureworks community.

Q. If you want to say something that I haven’t asked, please do…

A. I want to thank our partners, Kama Pigments from Montreal, Wallacks Art Supplies and Patrick Gordon Framing who provided additional prizes for the artists as well as Ottawa Community Music Venue (Folkrum) for partnering with us to present some musicians at the vernissage and last but not least St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts for providing us with such an incredible venue.

These are the 2017 finalists: Shahrzad Amin, Jessie Babin, Rami Baglio, Olivier Bonnet, Julianne Buchholz, Dominique Chauvaux, Matthew Collins, Kristina Corre, Joyce Crago, Christine De Vuono, Mila Desrochers, Samira El-kassis, Christine Fitzgerald, Stephen Frew, Christine Gagné, Nelson Gamboa, Kristy Gordon, Trish Graham, Olivia Johnston, Janet Kimantas, Lilly Koltun, Sarah Lacy, Dominic Laporte, Rouge Lefebvre, Gary McMillan, Katherine McNenly, Andrew Moncrief, Brad Necyk, Shannon O’Toole, JC Olsthoorn, Ronald Onerheim, Neeko Paluzzi, Laura Peturson, Philip Ross, Michael Silverstone, Nicole Sleeth, Sage Szkabarnicki-Stuart, Lesia Szyca, Annie Veitch and Zoey Zoric.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.