Lisa Wood has just completed a yearlong project in partnership with the Rainbow Resource Centre, as part of the WITH ART Community Program put together by the Winnipeg Arts Council.
“Over the course of the year, I have worked with ten different youth – each amazingly strong, intelligent, well-spoken, and self-aware for their years. On top of being a teen, the participants are facing huge challenges asserting their queer identity – figuring out what being queer means for them, finding acceptance among their family and friends, and looking for often-absent role models in popular culture,” says Wood, a Winnipeg based artist who specializes in oil portraits.
WITH ART matches an artist with a community group to work on community identity, issues, and shared goals through the development of an art project. Wood and participants from the Rainbow Resource Centre have completed a body of work, which will be released as a publication called Queer Perspectives as well as installed in the Flux Gallery at aceartinc. from Oct. 10 to 27.
The Rainbow Resource Centre runs a Peer Project for Youth (PPY) program that offers LGBTTQA* youth a safe, fun place to learn new skills, create projects and celebrate their identities. The PPY interviewed artists and hand-selected Wood to work with them on their project. Wood was paired with Alison Burdeny, Julian Kirchmann, Sheila Mogg, and Vic Peters to complete collaborative work on their identities and community experiences.
“I was really excited by the opportunity to work with this group and get to know their interests, concerns, and issues. I was particularly excited after that initial interview – the teens [that] were asking me questions were so engaged, intelligent, and inquisitive. I knew they had a lot to say, and that creating art would bring out their voice in a new and dynamic way,” says Wood.
Through weekly meetings, the group decided against doing one collaborative artwork with a singular message. The decision was made to create identity-based work in the forms of self-portraits – in paint or mixed media on canvas. Wood painted life-size figurative portraits of each participant to accompany their work. Wood’s portraits show the exterior of each person as strong and confident, using oil painting’s sentiment of power and authority. Each participant also completed a piece that is an interior take on self portraiture, which allowed each person to express their identity, individuality, and humanity.
“Having Lisa paint portraits of each of us gave us a better idea of how one can view us so differently than we view ourselves. I was so amazed with Lisa’s incredible portrait of myself, seeing it move from a photo, to a sketch, to a beautiful painting was like watching the many layers of myself being put together. I feel strong when looking at the painting of me, something I don’t usually feel in my day-to-day life,” says Mogg.
Wood’s paintings use the authoritative historical expectations of oil painting to respect those depicted. Her subjects in this series, often feel vulnerable, powerless and at the mercy of change – but Wood’s paintings depict them as trailblazers. The results are a frozen moment in the participants’ lives, worth remembering.
“The project represents a year together. It represents a lot of searching, discussing, and exploring. It proves to me the power of art to communicate visually something that could not be communicated any other way. The participants all dug deep within themselves to come up with works that expressed their identity, their journey,” says Wood.
“I’m really proud of the book [we] created together – I feel [it] helps to give context to the process of the WITH ART project. The book will be distributed to libraries, resource centers and schools across Winnipeg to give the project a wide reach and longevity. We hope that when the book finds its way to other queer or questioning youth they will feel a sense of community, and that when the book finds its way to people outside the queer community they will take pause and feel respect and understanding for the participants.”