For the sixth year in a row, the Penticton Art Gallery is pleased to partner with Island Mountain Arts and the Toni Onley Artist Project, a ten day artist in residency program held in the community of Wells, BC each summer. This partnership was designed to provide emerging artists with the opportunity to share their work with a larger community and more importantly, it provided a selected artist with the impetus to carry on with the body of work they were developing during their participation in this program.
The two artist mentors based their selection on their interaction with each of the participating artists over the course of the program taking in account their artist talk, daily critiques and the work each artist was able to produce over the ten day program. This past year’s mentors were Peter von Tiesenhausen from Demmit, Alberta and Sarah Anne Johnson from Winnipeg, Manitoba. In discussing his selection of Eliza Fry, Peter wrote: “It became very evident at the residency that Eliza was searching for the deep metaphors and there was an urgency and a joy in that search and in her discoveries. She was very prolific and it seemed to me that anything was fair game in this pursuit for meaning. It was a joy to see her flourish.”
Building on Peter’s comments Sarah adds: “Eliza has a rare honesty and depth. She makes work about difficult personal things which is the greatest gift an artist can give."
For Eliza Fry the original impetus for the body of work came as a result of an open call for an exhibition that was to be held at the Langham Cultural Centre in Kaslo, and was inspired by a paper model of a mechanical toy she had. The theme of the Langham show was “sustainability” and Eliza decided to explore the potential that recycled materials could have as part of her artistic practice. The result of this was the first of the “bird” pieces, Raven Steals the Moon, an ambitious work made from recycled materials that also invites the gallery visitor to interact with the piece by turning a crank which moves the wings.
It was an ambitious undertaking considering that Eliza had only previously worked in two dimensions and this newfound freedom and personal engagement with the audience inspired her to build more. In the midst of this flurry of creative activity, Eliza was diagnosed with a type of glaucoma that is resistant to treatment. The result of her diagnosis caused yet another shift in the work and the mechanical aspect of the birds suddenly became less important and her focus shifted to the wings themselves and the illusion of freedom created by the idea of flying.
During her time in Wells, Eliza continued to work on this series which now included a freestanding 'life size” pair of wings. With the support of her mentors Peter Von Teisenhausen and Sarah Anne Johnson, Eliza experienced a rush of creativity and this inspiration resulted in her producing three additional pieces that spoke strongly of her desire to explore the joint images of escape, as represented by the wings, and blindness.
Over the course of developing this body of work Eliza has created one large bird similar to the initial piece which inspired this exploration along with a series of birds that are more wings than anything else, where their bodies and features are merely suggested. The freestanding set of wings speaks directly to her gradual loss of vision, skillfully juxtaposing negative and positive spaces in the structure to symbolize the gradual process of blindness.
At this point Eliza feels that her work has barely begun to explore the implications of losing her sight, and while she knows that her life will change irrevocably she is driven to use her art to document this process through its inevitable conclusion. Over the next period of time she hopes to complete a total of twelve sculptures with each representing a different aspect of personal loss.
Throughout her life Eliza has always been driven to be creative and make art, but it has only been over the past fifteen years that she has come to truly define herself first and foremost as an artist. The act of creation is what drives her and makes her life worthwhile, no matter how much of a struggle this has become over the past few years. Through it all her creative output has become not only a motivational tool but also a significant and tangible part of her legacy which will surely inspire, beguile and motivate generations to come.
This legacy comes honestly with Eliza’s grandfather being the renowned English artist and art historian, Roger Fry and his art and writings filled the homes of her childhood and remain an ongoing source of inspiration. Growing up Eliza always assumed that she would be an artist or architect and as fate would have it, she arrived there by way of a diploma in child and youth counseling. For many this may have looked like a detour but art was always an important resource for her and throughout her career Eliza used art as a tool to facilitate communication with youth and to give them a voice. Eliza Fry continues to live and work out of her studio in the picturesque community of Kaslo, BC located north of Nelson on the shores of Kootenay Lake.