The people at the Frontenac Arch Biosphere organization recently invited Andrea Mossop to do an on-the-spot painting during the celebration of their new National Geographic geotourism designation on February 15, 2010. I had the pleasure of watching Mossop’s work unfold at the event, and I got to experience first-hand, the intensity of feeling she brought to her interpretation of the geography of the Arch and the Thousand Islands region.
Andrea produced two magnificent paintings during the two and a half hour event, but her creative process had started much earlier. She was a student during the vibrant ‘60’s and ‘70’s at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s ‘Gallery School’; she has a Fine Arts degree from the University of Western Ontario, and advanced Studio from the well-reputed Ontario College of Art and Design.
Andrea’s work in recent years has focused on a series called The Primal Dream Project that looks at the relationship between humans and the natural world in images of the human skeleton, movement and obscured landscape.
Once Mossop heard that aboriginal mythology has described the Frontenac Arch as ‘the bones of the mother’, ideas began to percolate for her participation in the ‘live art’ event. As she contemplated the legend, she recalled there was another story about the formation of the Thousand Islands, wherein the Great Spirit takes away his bundle of Paradise from warring peoples, only to drop it mistakenly into the great river, thus forming thousands of islands. These two narratives inspired the two companion pieces Mossop painted during the Frontenac Arch Biosphere event.
Beginning with low relief sculpting in polyfilla and modeling paste, Mossop built the fossilized skeletons that evoke the bones within the granite of the Arch. Subsequent layers of acrylic and oil then cover the naked earth, with the rich mix of forests, fields and water that comprise our landscape. The human spine forms the thousand islands in The Garden of the Great Spirit. The twisted, yearning arrangement of the skeleton including the pelvic bone in birthing position, gives voice to The Bones of the Mother.
I found myself weeping as the two works emerged from Andrea’s hands during the event. They are both very powerful interpretations of the place we live, produced by a mature and gifted artist who has now been deeply attached to the Arch for almost 35 years. In Andrea’s own words
“With its raw and expressive physicality, this is a land that challenges. Defined by a quality more significant than scenic prettiness, its rugged beauty lies in its unapologetic juxtaposition of impoverished scrubland, shallow arid rocky terrain, and ragged wildness with fertile verdant pockets, dramatic overlooks and peaceful lakes. Within a mile in any direction, this land can reveal her alter aspects.”
Andrea Mossop is a renowned Eastern Ontario art teacher, leading sold-out classes and workshops at the Haliburton School of the Arts, the Ottawa School of Art, St. Lawrence College Brockville, and elsewhere across the province. I have had the pleasure of learning with Andrea; she has the magical ability to combine exciting art history and solid technical instruction with gentle readings, art-world news, and inspirational images. In a pre-Christmas class in Athens, Ontario (Mossop has tutored a local network of artists every Monday afternoon for over 30 years), Andrea read to us from the journals of Emily Carr, Canada’s best known west coast painter. In 1934 Emily had written
“There is no right or wrong way to paint except honestly or dishonestly. Honestly is trying for the bigger thing. Dishonestly is bluffing and getting though a smattering of surface representations with no meaning, made into a design to please the eye. Well, that is alright for those who just want eye work…. (but)…you’ve got to love things right through.”
Both of Mossop’s paintings from the event sold at auction to local river enthusiasts, raising money for the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve’s initiatives. Don and Marnie Ross took home The Bones of the Mother, and Greg Wanless of the Thousand Islands Playhouse is the lucky owner of The Garden of the Great Spirit.
For those of you who might want a Mossop interpretation of the Arch in your home, you can reach her via her website at www.andreamossop.com For more information about the Frontenac Arch Biosphere organization, their new geotourism charter, and their latest initiative to strengthen the arts community across the biosphere, check out www.fabr.ca