Joyce Ozier’s exhibit, Making Panels panels panels panels, is at Zack Gallery until Nov. 2. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Splashes of colors hit you as you walk into the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery’s latest show, Marked Panels panels panels panels, by Joyce Ozier. The green panels smile. The dark purple growl, “Notice us!” The blue looks like wings in the sky, soaring in joy.
Ozier is fascinated by color. In all of her creative pursuits, color has played a prominent role. With an education in art and theatre, she has always been drawn towards the unusual, the colorful and the non-standard. “I was interested in experimental things, in visual theatre,” she told the Jewish Independent.
She arrived with her husband to Vancouver in 1970, and subsequently co-founded Royal Canadian Aerial Theatre, an experimental theatrical enterprise. “We did outdoor events with audience involvement,” she said. “Our performances didn’t usually have a story, but they often had a message. We employed lots of imagination in our shows. One of our pieces had hundreds of colorful balloons. We created a moving sculpture out of them…. It was about beauty and pollution.”
The theatre was a step towards her current show, but it took many more years before the full connection would materialize. After a decade of producing shows, Aerial Theatre dissolved, and Ozier was ready for a new direction, although she wasn’t sure what that would be. She tried her hands at theatre administration, was one of the founders of what is now known as the Scotiabank Dance Centre, but her creativity demanded a more visual outlet.
“In the late 1990s, I founded WOW! Windows,” she said. “It was a display and design company, and we built it into an award-winning firm. We had many retail clients in the Pacific Northwest, but it started by accident. Of course, starting your own business is risky, but I’ve always had courage.”
Her son was a student at the University of British Columbia then. “He knew I was searching,” Ozier recalled. “One day, he came home and said, ‘The Royal Bank at the corner has terrible window displays. Why don’t you offer them to make their windows for free?’ I did. Later, I made photos of the windows, created a brochure and sent it to the other stores in town. I got my first offer the next day: to design windows for Wear Else. Their designer just left, and they liked my brochure.”
Ozier used her creativity to the max with her new company but she had to learn a lot. “You just take one step after another,” she said. “One of the lessons I learned was that retail display is not fine art. It’s a sales tool. The artist must make use of what the company is selling. But I used lots of colors in my windows.”
In 2009, she retired from WOW! Windows, but she still had a passion for colors and looked for a new way to find her expression. “I started painting. I never painted before, but I had an art education.” Never having been interested in realistic figurative art, she immersed herself in abstract painting.
“I wanted to paint large canvases, to work big, but there was a problem. To move such paintings, you need a truck. Then I thought: if I do it by several panels, I could fit a panel in my car.” That was how her current show at the Zack Gallery came into being.
“I always start with four panels,” she explained of her process. “I paint all the panels at once, trying to get them to balance. After awhile, I move the panels, shuffle them around, change arrangements, turn them sideways or upside down, and a new composition emerges. I paint some more. I never know where I [will] end up with each piece. It’s an adventure.
“Sometimes, I have to take one panel out – three panels work, but four don’t. I always know when the piece is finished. There is energy there I don’t control. It sweeps me along.”
Anything could be inspiration for a piece, a starting point. One piece, “Chefchaouen,” is inspired by a real place, the eponymous village in Morocco. The four panels of the painting form a mosaic of blue and white, of sky and snow.
“There is a story there,” said Ozier. “Everything is blue in that village, the houses, the streets. That village in the mountains was discovered in the 1930s by a group of European Jews escaping Nazism. They thought they found safe haven. They didn’t, but they didn’t know it then. They settled there and painted everything blue. Blue has a special meaning in Judaism, divinity and equilibrium. Later on, they found out that blue stucco also repelled mosquitoes. There are no Jews there now, but the color remains.”
Some of her other paintings have more poetic titles, like a symphony of grey called “Cloud Thoughts” or a smaller one-panel painting, “Summer Wind,” a quaint green explosion. “Coming up with titles is difficult. I have to think about them a lot,” Ozier said.
Her first solo exhibition opened at the Zack Gallery on Oct. 2 and continues until Nov. 2. To learn more, visit joyceozier.ca.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].