Visually Speaking: Two Artists, One Canvas

Visually Speaking: Two Artists, One Canvas
By Anna Horsnell

It begins over morning coffee. Surrounded by an idyllic setting on the shore of Black River Lake, artists Heather Alexis Porter and Jen White begin to imagine their next painting. They discuss ideas, suggesting a direction, a theme, maybe some aspect of the Valley near to their hearts. Here the spark of inspiration is often spoken out loud, shaped, and realized in a wonderful collaboration of life and art.

Their shared studio is a large, bright space dedicated to art making. That’s not by chance. From the moment they decided to build their new home, studio space was a crucial part of the plan. As White explains, “for both of us, the art just has to get out. It’s part of who we both are.” That art may be individual work or shared pieces and can take a multitude of forms. Each of them is endlessly curious, exploring different means of expression, from cement sculpting to needle-felting. Whatever they learn on their own, they bring to their work together. In fact, it was nearly eight years ago, when White considered combining her needle-felt work with Porter’s painting. Porter had read an article on collaborations in art and wondered at the possibilities. They haven’t looked back.

Today, their joint work is most often a large bold canvas full of bright colour and intriguing detail. Each painting is the sum of individual contributions. From the first mark on a blank canvas, they alternate back and forth, responding and reacting to what came before, pausing to discuss what might come next, and deciding when the painting is done. “We try to flow into eachother’s work,” smiles White. They both have distinct styles. Porter provides the looser, free-flowing brushwork, while White brings in the finer detail. In Porter’s words, together, “we have a broader range of skills, and we’re trying to make a balance between our work.” This is a visual duet of sorts and the result is fascinating.
Porter thoughtfully explains that working together they choose subjects they wouldn’t do on their own. Mutual trust and communication are crucial, as is having fun working together. It’s another way to connect on a very unique level, building understanding and anticipation of the other. She continues, ”[working together] opens your mind in a different way, involves a different thought process, and a different direction. Personally, it sometimes creates a bit more hesitancy, that I might take the painting in a wrong direction.” White adds that creating together requires more discipline, but when all is considered, they both agree collaboration is something other artists should consider.

Working together is bound to influence what each artist creates on their own. “It has definitely changed what I do on my own,” agrees White, “It has changed my style, and I’m more willing to put things together, mixing different media, choosing different subject matter, and adding layers.” Porter has had a similar experience, adding, “my choice of colour combinations is affected, as is my mark-making. We learn from each other.”

As with much in life, the willingness to work together, to find solutions, to coax each other beyond personal comfort zones, can bring great outcomes beyond individual effort. Creating art with another takes a certain confidence and skill level, bravery perhaps, to let go and open up the artistic process, to be vulnerable. Creative collaboration also asks each artist to consider nothing is precious. However, there is a freedom in making art with another, an opportunity to play and try new things, encouraged perhaps by the shared adventure. The joyful artwork of these two artists shows just what is possible.

Both the individual artwork and collaborative paintings by Porter and White are available at Tides Contemporary Art Gallery located at 36 Cornwallis Street in Kentville.

Images: Heather Alexis Porter and Jen White