Gathie Falk is a beloved and unconventional artist from Vancouver. She has a reputation in the art world for skillfully using a wide variety of media to venerate the ordinary. ‘Venerating the ordinary’ means that she incorporates commonplace objects into her artworks and invites us to reconsider the role of these objects in our lives.
From 90 years of rich life experiences, Gathie has come to regard everyday objects (apples, boots, chairs, dresses) as full of meaning. Furthermore, she is deeply aware of her encounters – simple exchanges, shared experiences – with the people she daily meets. Through her art, Gathie expresses what is significant about ordinary things and encourages us to be mindful of everyday events and our interactions with friends, colleagues and acquaintances.
Stars, moons and clouds are among the commonplace objects of the night sky that Gathie Falk reveres and features in her paintings. Over the last two decades, she has worked now and then on a series of paintings collectively known as Heavenly Bodies. Several pieces of the collection are on display at the Glenbow Museum in the current exhibition Cosmos: Gathie Falk, Margaret Nazon and Erik Olson. I love all 12 of her works and had the privilege to write interpretations for three of them. Gathie’s choice of colours, minimalist style and misty halos around her heavenly bodies remind me of my favourite impressionist artists.
Gathie Falk, Heavenly Bodies Again #22, 2016, acrylic on canvas. Image: Courtesy of Michael Gibson Gallery
This splendid Gathie Falk painting reminds me of Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over The Rhone. But being the science geek that I am, I also see in it the origin of our solar system.
Billions of years ago, extremely massive stars burned brightly. Within their superheated cores, they forged many of the heavier atoms (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen) found today throughout the universe. When the stars eventually burned out, they collapsed. And then in a short-lived, cataclysmic explosion called a supernova, these dying stars spewed their chemically rich innards out into the galaxy. I’m not sure if that is what Gathie intended to depict with her painting, but that is what I see.
In a real sense, we all originate from star dust! The very atoms that make up our bodies were produced and ejected long ago by those dead stars. No wonder we look up at the night sky in such awe. We are chemically connected to everything we see out there in the heavens.
Gathie Falk, Heavenly Bodies Again #9, 2015, acrylic on canvas. Image: Courtesy of Michael Gibson Gallery
I am intrigued by this art piece and would love to ask Gathie Falk why she juxtaposed the math symbols with the heavenly bodies. Gathie, however, would never tell us. Her standard answer to such a question is “you see what you see and I see what I see.”
This painting reminds me of humankind’s first landing on the moon. The challenges involved in putting a man on the moon in 1969 were enormous, and computer technology played a pivotal role even though constrained by severe limitations. For instance, the computing power used in the Apollo spacecraft was no more powerful than a modern pocket calculator! And yet the design of those computer systems and software was ingenious – able to guide astronauts from the Earth to a pinpoint landing on the Moon. Incredible!
The Apollo engineers not only pushed the frontiers of space, but also the frontiers of computer science. The technical advances needed to put a human on the moon were later spun off in many other terrestrial applications. Today’s information-connected society with our ubiquitous wireless systems and smartphones is the grateful beneficiary.
Gathie Falk, Heavenly Bodies Again #18, 2016, acrylic on canvas. Image: Courtesy of Michael Gibson Gallery
A good evening for me would be spent with my wife enjoying dinner on an outdoor patio under a canopy of stars. And it would be an ideal evening if the restaurant also provided a jazz combo to entertain us over dinner.
A lot of today’s jazz standards are improvisations on songs from an earlier era. In addition to great lyrics and melodies, many of those older songs included references to heavenly bodies: “Fly me to the moon; let me play amongst the stars; let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars”.
Contemporary songwriters also rely on the celestial metaphor to help convey the depth of human emotion and thought: “Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance with the stars up above in your eyes” and “You’re a sky full of stars, such a heavenly view; You’re a sky full of stars ’cause you light up the path”.
This enchanting Gathie Falk painting recalls those perfect summer nights and the music that were inspired by the vision of stars and sky.