The Imaginarium exhibit

Space devoted to the imagination

Collaborative art showcase crosses borders, blurs lines at Oxygen Art Centre.

What would it look like if you took six emerging Kootenay visual artists and let them run wild in an open studio?

Imagine you didn’t give them any instructions or any clear theme, and you let their compositions bleed on to the roof, the floor, and even out into the streets. Now what if, after all of that work, they decided to paint over their creation with a thick layer of white paint?

If you’re curious about the answer to any of these questions, all you have to do is stroll into Oxygen Art Centre on Friday, where a collaborative, multi-genre artistic showcase called Imaginarium will open as part of BC Culture Days.

“When artists open their process up to collaboration, infinite possibilities arise,” said Amber Santos, who worked alongside her husband Sergio, Chelsey Freyta, Coleman Webb, Bryn Stevenson and Tanya Pixie Johnson.

“This is a place devoted to the imagination. It’s an opportunity to be free, to speak through painting, to let stuff from your subconscious come out,” said Amber.

Amber and Sergio, who initiated the Imaginarium project, both have experience creating street art in Canada and in Brazil, where Sergio successfully worked with local government to get street art recognized as a legitimate art form. Sergio said he was inspired by the drab colour palette of most cities.

“Between you and me, grey, it’s depressing. I don’t want people to see grey walls. I want them to see colour. We paint on the wall because that thing represents something to us. It doesn’t matter what kind of picture, I just don’t like grey. It’s ridiculous,” he said.

The artists all asserted that they’re hoping to blur the line between street and gallery art, and attempting to start a dialogue about what belongs in a gallery, the temporary nature of art and the imagination itself.

To that end, they have been painting on 4×4 pieces of plywood that will be installed along Baker Street, which will be considered part of the in-house showcase at Oxygen.

“A lot of people don’t consider street art real art and they don’t think it should be hanging in a gallery,” said Freyta. “For me it’s about the conversation. It’s about finding a marriage between the two.”

The collaborative process the sextet came up with was relatively loose, and each artist brought their own unique perspective.

“Was there a process? I showed up one day and they were like ‘hey, Coleman, you wanna do this crazy idea?’ Of course I said yes,” said Webb.

He originally had a firm concept in his head of what he hoped to accomplish, but eventually his goals started to evolve as he let himself be influenced by those around him.

“It became a dialogue where I could be inspired by a stroke that Sergio had done, or even the smallest thing, and I would build off it and work across the room,” he said.

“The main thing about this that I’ve found so liberating is the process. You don’t have to worry about making something somebody else wants or likes, the way they want it. It allows you to just enjoy yourself.  For me, that’s crucial.”

Stepping into the space, it’s clear that there was no plan for the chaotic mural that covers all four walls, as well as parts of the roof and floor. To your left a grotesque-looking pig is caught in the net, while elsewhere golden cat prints work their way up the wall not far from an ominous-looking pyramid. When the Star visited, Sergio was on the top of a ladder drawing a pink man on the roof with a marker while his fellow artists roamed across the space, adding a touch here or a flourish there.

The work is chaotic, alive and vibrant. And in a sense, it will never really be finished. When people arrive at the studio on Friday, there’s no guarantee the artists won’t be continuing to tweak details, cover up parts they don’t like or adding elements wherever they feel like it. And they’re going to keep doing that until the moment they paint over it.

“We know we can’t keep it. The photographs and the documentation of the space, that will become the art,” said Amber.

The exhibition opens from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, September 26. The artists will give a talk on Saturday, September 27 at 4 p.m. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m.

Admission is free and everyone is welcome. For more information visit oxygenartcentre.org.

For more on BC Culture Days (September 26-28) visit bc.culturedays.ca.

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