Happy accidents

By Aaren Madden, March 2013

With a keen eye, accumulated experience and masterful intuition, Marion Evamy paints vibrant imagery out of “the mess.”

Though her work is consistently vivid, vital and bold in form and colour, Marion Evamy paints in a wide range of styles and subject matter. The common thread connecting her work is process: “Make a mess, then find the imagery in the mess. That’s the easy explanation of it,” laughs the artist.

Which is to say she works intuitively, “laying down a bunch of colours on the canvas without any thought about what’s going to be there, then looking at the canvas until you see a shape emerge,” she explains. For a figurative work like “Silver Pose,” for instance, she might find the figure emerging from the acrylic paint, use a water soluble pencil to sketch the form before painting it out, then fill in the negative space to create the background. “It’s a reversal of how most people will approach painting. They’ll have an idea of what they want to do, so they’ll have an outline.” 

While that is often the case, there is art historical precedence for working from the subconscious, most notably the automatic drawings and paintings by the Surrealists like Andre Breton and the mid-20th century Canadian radicals, the Automatistes. The degree to which representational form emerged from the artists’ marks would naturally vary, but for Evamy, “most of the time it tends to be figures because I think that’s just where my interest lies,” she says. “It’s a very fun way to work, because it lets your imagination, your unconscious, kick in,” she shares. 

Combining her initial intuitive response with thoughtful, deliberate choices, Evamy achieves an array of works that emanate joy and motion or suspend moments in time. Her paintings reflect and draw inspiration from the Fauves (those wild beasts of colour and form, especially Matisse), German expressionists, Gustav Klimt and Marc Chagall. Contemporary artists she admires include American Robert Burridge and Montrealer Dominic Besner. Most share her passion for colour.

Working as she does, she is constantly astonished by how one of her works can, in turn, touch another person so profoundly. “You choose art for your own home and your own life because it resonates with you for whatever reason. That’s different for you and different for me based on your life experience and what you are bringing to that piece. Not everybody it going to like [a certain] piece, but somebody might come in here and well up with tears and say, ‘you’ve done this for me. I don’t know how you did it’,” Evamy reflects. 

It was a trip to Arizona in 2000 and a chance encounter with a painting by Ron Burns of a dog rendered in vivid tones. When she returned home to Calgary, Evamy did a portrait of her own dog in a similar style. She soon found herself doing others of friends’ pets.

“It just sort of snowballed,” she recalls, estimating she’s done about 500 pet portraits since. Though becoming an artist was inevitable for Evamy, that turn of events “gave me the confidence to continue pursuing the other side,” she says, referring to the art practice she had only recently decided to commit to. By 2003, she was a full-time artist, albeit one longing for the pace and palette of the coast she had loved so well as a student—she studied psychology at UVic and took studio courses with Pat Martin Bates back in the day. Arguably, the interest in dreams, colour psychology and behaviour she developed in her studies found their way into her process.

To say she took the Victoria art world by storm isn’t really an exaggeration: She literally blew into town on the great gale of 2006 and sold a painting at the Sooke Fine Arts show in 2007. In 2008, she won the Designers’ Award at the Sidney Fine Arts Show. A year later she won Best in Show, and last year, Best on Canvas. As a stop on the Oak Bay Studio tour, her home was overrun with interested viewers, so in 2010, she took a leap of faith into Oak Bay’s Red Art Gallery; her husband Bobb Hamilton is the director, and the gallery represents about a dozen artists, including Evamy. Last spring, they expanded to include a studio where Evamy often paints of an afternoon—“her hours are very flexible,” Hamilton proudly jokes. 

While she appreciates engagement with visitors and fellow artists, chances are if Evamy is not painting in the gallery studio she is working out a new problem or charting unexplored territory at her home studio. “For me, that’s the joy of being an artist. You can experiment, learn, grow, and discover by trying different things and finding what really resonates with you,” she relates. 

Case in point is “Breezin’.” At five by seven feet, it’s far larger than most of her work. It’s one of a few acrylic on canvas paintings she has done in her own typically vivid palette, but with organic abstract forms evoking the style of Calgary painter Marion Nicholl (1909-1985), an artist Evamy deeply admires. “I’ve always enjoyed [her] work because it is deceptively simple,” Evamy says. “And yet it seems that each time you look at her work, you see something different.” 

Similarly, within its initially abstract forms, “Breezin’” hides representation in plain sight: Evamy points out three sailboat hulls. Crisp whites sails sweep across the upper two thirds of the canvas, while warm and cool colours bring dynamism to the tightly-packed shapes around the boat hulls. 

“Breezin’”—which won Best on Canvas in the 2012 Sidney show—will be featured in Picture a Cure, a fundraiser celebrating Red Gallery’s third anniversary while supporting gallery artists and giving to three causes close to Evamy’s and Hamilton’s hearts.

Thirty-three percent of sales will go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada, Victoria Women’s Transition House Society, and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. The artists will thereby be able to receive market value for their work and the gallery will take a small amount “to keep the lights on.” 

Only 33 tickets will be sold for the initial event on March 13, which will allow for first viewing—and dibs—on all artwork (save for “Breezin’,” all works will remain secret until the reception). The element of mystery is tantalizing, as will be an array of silent auction items up for bid. The fundraiser will then continue until the end of March.

Evamy says it’s a way to give back to the community who has supported her so well. While she feels fortunate, it’s certain that the success she has attained is due in no small part to knowing where, among the swirls of paint and form, to look. 


Picture a Cure runs at Red Art Gallery from March 13-30 with proceeds to three charities. Besides Marion Evamy, featured artists include Catherine Fields, Jennifer Harwood, Audrey Hayes, Jan Henry, Martha Jablonski Jones, Carolyn Kowalyk, Elizabeth Litton, Eleanor Lowden Pidgeon, Glen Melville, Genevieve Pfeiffer, Michael Robb, Lucy Schappy, Alison Watt, and Chin Yuen. The opening reception is at 7pm on March 13 (the 33 tickets will be on sale March 1). 2033 Oak Bay Ave, 250-881-0462 www.redartgallery.ca

As a fellow former Calgarian, Aaren Madden shares Marion Evamy’s affection for the pace and palette of this special island.