Art of the earth

Image via Laura Wee Lay Laq
Image via Laura Wee Lay Laq

‘fire/water’ gallery exhibit opening on Thursday

By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor


Laura Wee Lay Laq and Marcus Bowcott, the artists of the Amelia Douglas Gallery’s newest exhibit fire/water, both have a long connection with Douglas College. Both were students at Douglas when the college first opened in 1970, before the school even had an Art Department, and the two have been friends since first meeting in 1972. Even so, fire/water—featuring ceramics by Wee Lay Laq and paintings and sculpture by Bowcott—will be the first exhibit they have done together.

One of the works that Wee Lay Laq has chosen for the exhibit is one of the very first pieces she made at Douglas College. The piece, a ceramic blossom, was made under the mentorship of Fred Owen, one of the first instructors of art at Douglas, who taught both Wee Lay Laq and Bowcott. She included it in the exhibit to honour their late mentor.

fire/water also features various pieces from throughout Wee Lay Laq’s decades-spanning career, though she said the average viewer probably wouldn’t be able to tell from looking at them. “My work has a timeless quality,” she said, “not because of me the maker, but because of the process that I’m involved in […] it has that continuity about it.”

She said the only notable difference over the years has been in the weight of her work, meaning the thickness of the clay. Her ceramics are less than half an inch thick, an unusual quality in her field of art.

Most of what she works with is Plainsman Clay, which is naturally occurring glacier clay from Alberta and is hundreds if not millions of years old.

Along with her prolific artistic career—she has taught workshops and exhibited her work all across the world, in Canada, Italy, China, Australia, and the US—Wee Lay Laq has also made very significant contributions to the preservation of the Upriver Halq’eméylem language, the ancestral language of her father’s people. She spent many years teaching and developing university programs for the language.

After her amazing contributions to First Nations culture, Wee Lay Laq has returned to her career as an artist, though she continues to mentor students in Halqu’eméylem. She considers herself incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunities to teach and to create.

“I do my work in order to help show my love for nature and for the things around me,” she said.

The title of the gallery exhibit was picked by Wee Lay Laq in reference to the artistic styles of herself and Bowcott. “I chose the name fire/water because his paintings are largely of the water, and [my sculptures] come out of fire,” she explained.

It’s also meant to poke lighthearted fun at their respective heritages: “[His] subject matter is a big boat coming in here and I’m the Indian that’s been sitting here and tending the fire for thousands of years.” She considers the title a joke that the two can laugh about, and not something meant to be read as a political statement.

The opening reception of their exhibit is on Thursday, March 2, from 4:30–7:30 p.m., with an artist’s talk on Saturday, March 4 at 3:30 p.m. fire/water is also a part of the Seventh Triennial Canadian Clay Symposium, which includes many other exhibits in galleries across the Lower Mainland. fire/water will be on display in the Amelia Douglas Gallery, on the fourth floor of the New Westminster Campus, until April 21.