Claudie Azoulai, left, and Nicole Schouela. Their work comprises the exhibit Heart to Heart, which is at the Zack Gallery until Nov. 9. (photo from the artists)
The latest show at the Zack Gallery, Heart to Heart, presents the work of two artists in two vastly different media. Claudie Azoulai makes felt tapestries, while Nicole Schouela specializes in photography. Despite the differences in material representation, however, the colour palettes and the themes are amazingly similar – places close to their heart, places that invoke love and peace. The places and the emotions they inspire consolidate the show into a seamless, cohesive whole.
“We wanted to have a shared show forever,” Azoulai told the Independent. “We’re cousins, Nicole and I. We grew up together.”
They came up with the idea of a joint show about a year ago. “The timing is perfect,” said Azoulai. “It takes me, on average, about a month to create one piece, and there are 13 pieces of mine in this show, all new.”
All of these pieces are related to a children’s book Azoulai has written. “The book will be called The Spring Feast. It’s about the flora and fauna of Hornby Island, one of my favourite places. I will photograph every tapestry here, and they will be the illustrations for the book,” she said.
Azoulai considers herself a part of the great pageantry of life, and Hornby Island provides her with the opportunity to experience it firsthand. One of the tapestries, “Herring Run,” reflects her connection with nature.
“Every spring, herring come to Hornby Island to spawn,” she explained. “Then salmon come to eat the herring. Seals come to eat the salmon. Whales come to eat seals. Eagles fly over to eat the roe. Everything is alive, this great circle of life, and I’m part of it, too. When I come to Hornby Island in spring, I try to stay outside all day.”
Many of the tapestries depict various birds of Hornby Island. “I work from my imagination,” Azoulai said, “but when I need a particular pose or gesture, I go to the beach to watch the birds or look at photographs.”
Azoulai dyes her wool herself, and no batch comes out of the vat exactly the same, even if all the ingredients of the dye match. “Colours of the fleece always surprise me,” she said. “They influence the images. When I’m stuck, I would dye a new batch, and the new colours might affect the image, lead to a change. The colours dictate the picture more often than not.”
She frequently experiments with new materials, incorporating silk or synthetic particles into the base of wool to add a shine or a different texture. “As long as the fleece entangles the other threads, the image stays together,” she said about that technique.
Mixing and matching is also Schouela’s preferred technique, using Photoshop to work with different parts from a multitude of photographs.
“I have nine pieces in this show,” she said. “They are places I revisit often, not by traveling far away, but the places where I live and work. The places I walk. The places I love. The places that have almost a ritualistic meaning for me.… Sometimes, they are physical places. Other times, they are mental places.”
Schouela started her artistic life as a dancer, but dance is an unforgiving art form that takes its toll on the body. She switched first to ceramics, and later dedicated herself to photography. In everything she creates – a dance or a vase or a photo collage – there is movement and transformation. The images flow through each other, striving towards abstraction and emotional truth.
“Photo manipulation is freeing,” she said. “I could take pieces from here and there and create a new image I want, while it still retains the essence of the originals. It might take me several months to finish one picture. I would stop working with it and then, later, I would return to it again and again, until I’m satisfied.”
She photographs places that are part of her and her search for connections and understanding. By now, she has thousands of photos in her digital archives. “Sometimes, I would use a photograph or a fragment of one years after it was taken, because it would fit one particular composition or a feeling I want to explore,” she said. “I don’t want my images to resemble the real places. The original photographs are not important by themselves. They are part of the process. Sometimes, I play with pieces of 30 to 50 photos for one picture. It is fun.”
Schouela’s abstract compositions on the gallery walls lean towards pastel or black and white, with occasional splashes of bright colour. Some are geometrical. Others tell a story or convey an emotion.
“Traditional photography doesn’t interest me anymore – anyone can take a picture now with their phones,” she said. “I don’t want my imagery to be like paintings either. Photography is a separate art form. If I wanted a painting, I would paint. No, I want my collages to keep their photographic elements obvious.”
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].