Biography - Bernadine Fox
" You paint like angels fly." Jai A.
Bernadine Fox was born and raised on flat, fertile, Canadian, prairie land. She grew tall, lean, wiry, and unruly. With the wisdom of childhood, she understood that creativity stood at the root of all that existed. But, it took decades before she recognized how crucial it was to her own sense of self.
In the 60’s, rural Alberta was a harsh environment. Winters were 40°F below. The twang of Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, and Johnny Cash tunes hovered in the air like left over musical bars gone astray. Black and white TVs received two lonely channels. The nearest village was fifteen miles away. The land was so utterly flat and bald that the wind was either one's weathered companion or relentless irritant. Even the city lights, originating a hundred miles away, meandered unhampered as they dragged a gentle glow through the night sky.
Every few months, the country hall filled to overflowing with people chattering, laughing, doing the two-step or polka, and smelling of booze, cigarettes, or perfume. The square dance was so energetically performed even the wooden floor adopted its rhythmic bounce. Benches, adorned with children huddled around the wood stove or asleep under several overcoats, also kept time with the beat. Teenagers snuck out back to the darkened tree line and sipped beer from bottles hidden inside their jackets, shared a cigarette or two, and made out. By the time Bernadine was in her early twenties, she had lost count of the number of young people (including her younger brother and best friend) who had unexpectedly perished in the serenity of that rural farmland. In fact, the scenic countryside provided a surreal backdrop for the frequent funerals that (in numbers) rivalled hastily performed marriages that barely concealed conceptions out of wedlock.
As the 70’s blasted into focus, it seemed that time stood still in the minds and hearts of these country folk. Politics, technology, and simple evolution pulled metropolitan centres into a new social consciousness. But, this community resolutely rejected any "citified" ideas. They went right on asserting that women in the workforce were the root-cause of male unemployment; that someone should restrict Hutterite colonies from buying up significant parcels of local farmland regardless of the size of their community; and that rape victims must have somehow asked for it despite their age or circumstances. Racism entwined with all that felt natural and was unnamed, uninhibited, and unacknowledged by the overwhelming majority of white folks. Although few gender differences were applied when it came to farm work (herding cows, slopping pigs, digging up fields of potatoes, or driving tractors), it remained a woman's job to take her husband's name, bear his children, work his land, cook his food, wash his socks, and support him regardless of her own needs, desires, or how many times he might batter her. And, children? It was expected that they would remain seen and not heard, even as adults.
The tranquility of farm life also supplied a clever façade for this isolated community that silently (yet, by many, knowingly) colluded and condoned the sexual abuse of young children. Some locals supplemented their income by working during the dark of winter exploiting children-as-commodity in producing pornography and/or providing prostitution. Needless to say, shortly after becoming a young parent, Fox moved her own children a further thousand miles away to make Vancouver (BC) their home.
By the mid-80’s, Fox had refocused her career from working in film as a Producer and Production Manager to providing professional support for victims of violence. For more than a decade, she worked as an Educator, Consultant, and Support Worker providing services to those who had experienced severe, prolonged childhood trauma (including child pornography & prostitution) and consultation to the professionals who counselled them. She lectured, facilitated workshops for professionals, and provided educationally-formatted support groups for individuals. Ultimately, this work brought her and these issues international attention. Eventually, and perhaps more importantly, it re-ignited her passion for more creative endeavours.
An uncommon childhood leads to an unconventional life. Such is Bernadine's life. She was a single mother to her two girls and is now raising one of her granddaughter. She survived two battering relationships as a young adult. She went from heterosexual to lesbian to being "gloriously undefined." An interracial marriage (thirty years ago) led to a multi-cultural family. She is a survivor of sexual abuse and child pornography. She has lived through poverty and is a social activist when it comes to equality and stopping abuse inflicted on women and children. In her work with survivors, she stood up to one segment of organized crime and, therefore, dealt with ongoing harassment and death threats from a variety of despicable folks including a few sketchy police officers who inherently are a part of the territory of corruption. She emerged a strong, independent individual who makes no apologies for what she has survived. Emotionally, Bernadine learned to rely on her ability to produce art, to make images, and to relate complex ideas and narratives in simple, straightforward ways. Her work and, naturally, her art aptly reflect her life. She now makes art for and about women and their lives.
Fox has won numerous awards for her art and a provincial award for her writing. Throughout college, she was awarded several scholarships. She obtained a BFA from the Emily Carr University (formerly ECIAD) in Vancouver, BC where she studied both drawing and animation (classical and computer). She also trained at the Alberta College of Art and Design and Douglas College in BC. After graduating, Fox worked as a Film Producer/Production Manager for both film and animation projects including Johnny Quest, the Care Bears, Mattel, Expo 86, and a variety of TV commercials, documentaries, and feature films. She has volunteered her expertise on the Boards of various art organizations including Women in Focus, CARFAC, BC and the Society for Disability Arts & Culture (host for the (2001) International kickstART Festival in Vancouver, BC). She is the past National Representative for CARFAC BC and is currently a member and a signatory to the Canadian Artists Representation Copyright Collective. She is a member of various art organizations in Canada including MAWA and is an Active Member of the Federation of Canadian Artists. Bernadine teaches drawing and has developed classes for individuals who are able-bodied and those who have a range of physical challenges. Most recently, she has begun to curate both national and international exhibitions such as Heroes for Kickstart and Drawn, Draw, Drawing for the Drawn Festival in Vancouver.
Bernadine regular donates her expertise, time, and art to support the lives of women and children and to develop innovative programs that support artists. She has facilitated the West Coast Mental Health Network’s Expressive Arts Group since 2007. She is a part of a group of women artists who created The Retro Show in Vancouver in the fall of 2010 which is a unique art show that allowed artists to pull their older works out of storage offering them for sale. Fox researched the viability of a mentorship program in BC for CARFAC members. She has volunteered her time at Gallery Gachet, an artist-run centre dedicated to supporting artists marginalized by mental health and/or trauma experiences where she has taught drawing in the DTES, put on life-drawing opportunities, curated art exhibits, participated in a group that published the premier issue of The Ear, participated in their outreach into the community, coached their collective members on the business of art, and submitted her work for art exhibits. Although not a Collective Member, she is proud to be an Associate Member of this gallery and help support their mandate. Bernadine, in conjunction with Heaven Tree Gallery in Vancouver, organized and produced The Muse, an evening of culture-created-by-women. The event included an art exhibit, spoken word, musical and live-theatre and boasted of "standing-room-only” within an hour of opening the doors. She has also volunteered her expertise at putting people and ideas together with the Heart of the City Festival and CARFAC BC, providing much needed access to information on the business of being an artist and copyright. Currently, she is one of the primary organizers of a new organization in the Pacific Northwest that will support and promote women in the arts.
"Your paintings were gifted with a delicacy of light and shadows that webbed the simple into a complex narrative of reflections and colour, I truly admired your paintings!"
Edmond W. at PHS and Interurban Gallery
Bernadine’s art practice started in a very traditional manner: painting oil on canvas. Uncharacteristically, it also began at the tender age of ten years. Her family was no stranger to professional artists as her great, great, uncle was the renowned Timothy Cole, a printmaker who worked in wood blocks replicating the old master’s work in Europe for publication in print medias. Throughout the years, her work has naturally evolved into an expressionist/post-impressionist style. She starts with a black canvas and then she paints how the sun meanders around a banana, or how light unearths the shape of the glass jar, or how it informs the viewer of the feel and texture of a wicker basket.
"Parts of your paintings make me think of how colours might be in heaven." "The realism ... connects with some emotional memory I carry." Daniel Curtis
She uses bright colours, often right from the tube, as she highlights and brings to the foreground the feel of what she is painting. During a recent Eastside Culture Crawl, one little boy burst into her studio and squealed in excitement “I want to eat that!” pointing to her tomatoes in “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
Those who collect her art into private collections and those who view it at exhibits describe being moved by her use of bold and vivid colours in images that provoke emotions. People have said the paintings make them "happy" and that they have been moved to tears or into a state of awe. It is not uncommon for folks to approach her a year or more later to express how one of her exhibitions or pieces had left a lasting impression. The words most often used in comments are "reverberating, astounding, mesmerizing, joyous, unsettling AND beautiful, happy, intellectually stimulating, strong, vibrant, delicious, powerful, disturbing, inspiring," and "bold."
Her collage work has a graphic and clean edge to it: crisp in its delivery and message. Her most recent series of collage/mixed media assemblage pieces is a series entitled: Family Px – Exploring the Personalities of a Dissociative System. These are completely fictionalized “portraits” of common personality-types found in those individuals who have (DID) Dissociative Identity Disorder formerly known as Multiple Personalities). She begins with a photo and digitally alters it to subtract information (i.e., backgrounds, additional people) and add layers of texture, words, and objects. She prints this image using archival inks and papers and then this becomes the basis for her collage. When she is done the collage, she begins to assemble it with other items in a shadow box frame. (below) Family Px: Exploring the Personalities of a Dissociative System (Verena).
"I was totally moved to tears, in awe astounded and mesmerized. Thank you so much! I am forever indebted to you." Robyn Livingstone
Bernadine commonly works in sets or series that have a common theme, thread, or message and augments that with an artist statement. Although, she hopes that her audience will bring their own ideas and interpretations to the work, these artist statements are meant to add another dimension to the work. For the same reason, she wants her work to be accessible and understood by the mainstream. She chooses not to employ elite artspeak but instead prefers to use open and approachable language.
"Marvelous. Stunning. Powerful. Great Work. The style is simple, sincere and unpretentious which presents an agreeable aura with genuinely pleasing imagery for us to look at twice." Jonathan Rogers
As a teacher, Bernadine has one simple philosophy: everyone should and can draw. Engaging in a creative endeavour has been scientifically proven to have a profound impact on our emotional and physical health to the degree that, in Bernadine's opinion, it ought to be prescribed along with vitamins, yoga, or exercise. With a few simple techniques and tricks, one's drawing ability can be dramatically improved. Bernadine sets out in each drawing class to impart these within a simple easy going, relaxed atmosphere. So why teach drawing as opposed to collage, mixed media, or painting? Because drawing requires the least amount of art materials and it can be done practically anywhere and often at any time. Bernadine has taught drawing for the last fifteen years in community centres, in the DTES as a drop-in, and in her own private studio.
“…thank you for giving me the courage to continue with my art and to see things in my “mistakes” and make them work for me. Thank you for opening my life to art, an opening I always craved and one that I will never again starve for in my lifetime.” Kim G.
When considering her audience and her customers, Bernadine focuses on two areas of her art: the quality of the workmanship and the accessibility of the art itself. If there is one consistent quality in all that Bernadine produces whether it is her art, her writing, a course she has developed, or an exhibition she has curated, it is professional excellence. She uses archival materials and gallery/museum standards. As she continues to build the body of her work, Bernadine is always pushing herself to elevate the level of professionalism and/or technical quality of her work while honing her skill and technique in painting, mixed media assemblage or whatever genre she chooses to employ.
Accessibility is the second major concern for Bernadine. Art is a powerful form of language that Bernadine strongly believes belongs to everyone. And, therefore, it must art be accessible. Too often contemporary art has become an elite exercise appreciated only by gallery owners, art collectors, art critiques, and other artists. Often it requires studying art history and/or contemporary art practices. This excludes huge numbers of individuals. Bernadine seeks to critically-engage her audience with her work. She forgoes referencing privileged knowledge and like the impressionists and post-impressionists of the nineteenth century, makes art for and about the common wo/man. She is not concerned with how her work fits into the historical context of art, but how it maintains a connection to and carries a relevance for contemporary wo/man. Bernadine’s art can take complex material/narrative and simplify it hoping to inspire dialogue, interaction and reflection. Another area where accessibility is an issue is that original art often carries a hefty price tag. Bernadine consciously endeavours to produce work along a wide price range so that more of her customers can afford original art in their homes.
Bernadine Fox’s work continues to garner increasing attention in the last several years and is now held in private collections across North America including New York, Toronto, Los Angeles, Calgary and Vancouver. She has exhibited throughout Canada in a variety of venues from solo, two-person and group exhibitions to commercial galleries, artist-run centres along with juried and curated exhibitions. Her work has been accepted into preview shows for ECC including one at the PNE Home Improvement Building. She lives in East Vancouver where she hangs out with her daughter (Wendy), raises her granddaughter (Avy), lives with two cats and two rats, and works out of the Williams Clark Studios.
“Thank you for putting colour and joy into my day!" Pollod