Fresh perspectives on the familiar

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‘Vuja De’ exhibit opening in Amelia Douglas Gallery

By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor

For Claire Sarfeld, artist of the Amelia Douglas Gallery’s newest exhibit Vuja De, every painting she creates is an experience both new and familiar. Vuja De opens on Thursday, January 12, and Sarfeld hopes that viewers will find something they recognize in the abstract, fast-moving lines of her art.

Vuja De—the opposite of déjà vu—is the sensation of being in a familiar situation or environment, and finding something new in it. “The best way that I have explained it to people,” Sarfeld said, “is, say, you’re driving to work every day and you take the same road, and one morning you have the realization of something that you’ve never really noticed before.”

This is the sensation that Sarfeld captures in her own work. She begins every painting the same way, stretching out and priming the canvas and laying it on the ground, but although the process is the same, each piece is a new way to explore something that inspires her.

Vuja De will feature about 18 paintings, the largest show that Sarfeld has done so far, and most of the paintings will be entirely new, including some that she’s completed within the last few days.

Her work is mainly done with acrylic, and she utilizes a huge variety of tools, including painter’s rollers, scrapers, and a range of brushes of different sizes. She even creates some of the tools herself. “I’ve done a few pieces where I can’t buy brushes big enough, so I have to attach them and figure out a way to make the marks that I want to make without the tools,” Sarfeld said.

The results of these homemade tools are often unexpected, and usually in a good way. “That’s kind of the cool part of what I do. Sometimes the best mistakes happen when you’re really not too focused on what you’re making.” She calls these “happy mistakes” or “little moments.”

It’s part of her approach to painting. “I don’t plan any of my pieces before I go into them,” she explained.

Sarfeld draws a lot of inspiration from her environment, and being in BC definitely has a big impact on her work. “When I was in school in Toronto, I came back [to BC] for Christmas every year… and when I would go back [to Ontario], my lines were a lot less rigid, and they were way looser, and it was more colourful. And I noticed that as I made the transition to moving out here, I lost a lot of the geometric forms completely.”

She attributes a lot of this to how active she is and how much time she spends outdoors, citing for inspiration one particular 14 kilometre trail near Hayward Lake in Mission, where she lives. As well as being an artist, Sarfeld is a very active runner, and one notable characteristic of her paintings is their fluid sense of movement. She usually trains in the morning before working in the studio in the afternoon, and she takes that energy into her art. “That’s what really inspires me, to have the viewer’s eyes dart around the canvas and really feel that sense of movement.”

“There’s not a big meaning behind my paintings, it’s more of just a feeling,” she said.

She loves it when people tell her that they see certain shapes and images in her work, often in ways she never would have imagined herself. “I think it’s a way for people to approach abstract paintings, because it’s kind of hard to wrap your head around. I’m definitely very open about things like that, people putting their own images and ideas into my work, I think that’s great.”

Vuja De will be on display in the Amelia Douglas Gallery, on the fourth floor of Douglas College’s New Westminster campus, from January 12 to February 25. There will be an opening reception on January 12, from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., with refreshments and a no-host bar, and an artist’s talk on Saturday, January 14, at 3:30 p.m., both of which are open to the public.