Mother, daughter sharing gallery space

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A mother-daughter duo is putting its artistic talents side-by-side for the first time.

Award-winning Black Diamond encaustic artist Penny Gunderson and Calgary painter Mariah David are showcasing their assortment of portrait, figurative and abstract work in the exhibit Wax On, Wax Off in the Sheep River Library’s art gallery until Dec. 15.

“I’m really excited about showing with her,” said Gunderson of her daughter David. “She shares a similar style with me in that she loves to paint people.”

Gunderson is no stranger to the world of art. She had been working with pastels, acrylics and other mediums since her teen years, and began exploring encaustic painting, or hot wax, after the 2013 southern Alberta flood destroyed most of her artwork and supplies in her High River home.

She began with greeting cards.

“I was looking at books in the library and I thought I would like to try this,” she said.

Encaustic painting is an ancient art form that uses heated beeswax, resin and coloured pigments that can be painted on wood panels, bamboo paper, canvas and other surfaces.

“I really like the process of working with wax,” she said. “It takes you on a journey because it’s not always predictable. I love that you have to heat it so you have the smell of the wax and it has to be fused onto whatever substance you’re working on.”

To burn the images onto the surface, Gunderson uses a heat gun, iron, heated tool or torch.

She loves to watch the colours pop as she creates her images.

“The encaustic wax is highly pigmented,” she said. “They used the same pigments that they use to make paint for automobiles. I’ve been to both factories that make the wax. My pieces are very bright.”

Gunderson’s work has become highly acclaimed and well sought-after.

She’s received several scholarships and grants to take workshops across North America, including an advanced encaustic workshop last spring with Lisa Pressman, one of the United States’ leading abstract encaustic artists.

Gunderson also won the 2017 Lillian Nunn Memorial Award for artists over 50 years old, which required submissions of four works that were juried by the University of Alberta’s art department. She used the prize money to enroll in a workshop in Penticton, B.C. earlier this fall.

In addition, Gunderson’s piece James Hart Carving Reconciliation was exhibited in the Canwax West Waxing Poetic Show in the Western Canada Encaustic Association, which honoured the renowned British Columbia artist.

“I won the Pushing Boundaries Award (with Canwax West) because the carving was something that is not something often done,” she said.

Gunderson’s artistic abilities don’t fall far from the tree in her 32-year-old daughter David.

David, who paints in oil stick, pastels and acrylic, creates representational work through portraits and figures with a heavy focus on bringing out the gesture lines.

“You can see the whole process of the piece being created from those really fast early lines to the more structured parts of the piece that are detailed,” she said. “It brings out the movement and the process it’s creating.”

For many artists, those early lines serve as guidelines and are often removed throughout the process for a more polished look, but for David they add to the final image.

“It makes it imperfect, but you get to see the whole picture,” she said.

David has only showed her work a couple of times publicly, including at the ArtPoint Gallery & Studio Society in Calgary with a group of emerging artists two or three years ago, and is excited to show alongside her lifelong mentor and inspiration.

“It’s really exciting to be showing with my mom and to see her progress with her work,” she said. “She’s always been an amazing artist.”

David, who has a young family, said she sees a lot of similarities in her life as her mom.

“I think that in a lot of ways my life is currently mirroring her life,” she said. “When I was younger she would do commission work for people but she didn’t really have the time to hone her skills and get out there and show as much as she currently is.

“Now to see her really take her skills to the next level is awesome to watch.”

David remembers art being a big part of her life growing up.

“When I was little she was always drawing and painting and being creative and encouraged my bother and I to do the same,” she said. “It was definitely something that I really aspired to do. It was something we connected over.”

Years later, putting their work together in the same show will offer some perspective.

“I have some of her work when she was younger and it’s stuff I really cherished,” she said.

“She’s developed so much since then. I’m really curious to see what are the similarities and what are the differences and have them side by side and do that comparison.”

Wax On, Wax Off will be available for viewing at the Sheep River Library Monday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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