New Hamburg artist Gloria Kagawa reconnects with past works for new Toronto show

Mixed media artist Gloria Kagawa has a solo show opening at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto this Saturday. To prepare for the exhibit, Kagawa has been going back over decades of her art to decide what to show.

'It’s crazy when you realize something years later that should have been obvious,' Kagawa says

Gloria Kagawa is a mixed-media artist who lives in New Hamburg. She will have a solo show at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto. It opens this weekend and runs to Oct. 24. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Gloria Kagawa has decided a painting she did in the 1990s should now be upside down.

Actually, the New Hamburg artist decided to turn several paintings 180 degrees.

"Some of the works have wires two ways. I thought it was interesting that so many of the works I did, say, in the 1980s and 90s, I like better upside down. I don't know. It just surprised me," she said. "Kind of like having new work, in a way."

Kagawa sits on the porch of her rural home, which she shares with her husband Martin Holmberg. There are corn fields on either side of the home and you can hear the traffic and birds on this particular sunny, summer afternoon.

The inside of their home is filled with studio spaces and Kagawa's artwork. In the front hallway hang skateboards she has done for her son. One has a bird flying, another a flower.

In another room, a large piece on plexiglass sits on a table. It shows two people and Kagawa explains that until recently, it was hanging at an office in Burlington.

Gloria Kagawa's husband, Martin Holmberg, created a miniature version of the gallery space at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto and Kagawa's art so she can decide what will go where for the show. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Other artwork is organized in drawers or on tables. Some framed pieces are kept in a space the couple used to rent out as an apartment.

On the kitchen table, like a puzzle, there is a scaled down version of a gallery space and Kagawa's artwork. When she's standing beside the table, Kagawa automatically starts reaching out, touching the miniature versions of her pieces, rearranging them.

"It's provided hours of enjoyment for Gloria," Holmberg said with a smile.

Gloria Kagawa moves some of the mini pieces of artwork in the scaled-down version of the gallery space. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

'There's probably too much'

For the past eight months, Kagawa and Holmberg have been going through the pieces for a show at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto, which opens this weekend.

The solo show, called Gate: ink and paint (works from 1983 to 2018). It will highlight works from Kagawa's career, which started after her graduation in 1982 from the University of Waterloo. She took part in her first professional group show in Orangeville in 1983. It's her 13th solo show, but this one is special because it's allowed her to go back and look at where she's been.

It's also a show that she said lifted her spirits after having open heart surgery in May 2017.

"It's good because after going through that surgery and being in recovery and being 70, I felt kind of … not depressed, but finished, what am I going to do," she said. "It wasn't the greatest."

A couple of the pieces, including The Agreement in the back, Kagawa plans to exhibit at her solo show at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

In January, the couple started to go through a massive amount of paperwork and websites to review articles and documents from previous shows.

"I have a lot of ideas of what I want to do, and I thought I would be able to do them. But it turned out, just getting ready for this show, choosing works and … going through all the records overwhelmed me. I just didn't realize how much I had done," she said.

She had to apply for grants, and received an Ontario Arts Council grant, and Holmberg said they spent the first five weeks of the year just on paperwork.

In February, the couple finally started going through artwork, with Kagawa concerned there wouldn't be enough to put on a full show.

"That's what really started to be an eye-opener. There was enough [art]. In fact, there's probably too much," Holmberg said.

Gloria Kagawa pulls out a drawer where unmounted artwork is stacked. Each drawer is full of pieces Kagawa has completed, or works in progress, during her career. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Finding inspiration

Kagawa draws inspiration from various places. She takes a camera everywhere and sometimes uses the images to inspire her works.

A mixed media artist, Kagawa layers colours, textures and shapes. Some pieces include architectural elements. One piece is a long, abstract scene she pieced together from riding as a passenger in a car.

She is also inspired by different mediums, including using extra strips of clear vinyl they used to cover their windows to create long, horizontal pieces. She does printmaking, has learned calligraphy from Waterloo-based artist Noriko Maeda, and Chinese brush painting.

Some of the pieces for the show are stored in an attic apartment the couple used to rent out. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Looking back at the pieces now, Kagawa sees some of her art differently.

"I think the people look alone, they look isolated, even if they're with other people. There's something about them that looks like they're just separate," she said.

"I have always felt that way. It's getting better now," she added, noting she only just realized that's how she tends to paint people.

"You don't realize a lot of what you do until after, and sometimes until much after, why you did it or what it meant.

"For a long time, I did mountainscapes in the background and I always thought, well that's really good for composition. But then later, it just came to me that I grew up in Denver and the mountains are always there, so that was an eyeopener. It's crazy when you realize something years later that should have been obvious."

Gloria Kagawa has an outdoor studio space she uses in the warmer months. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Inspire and give hope

When she thinks about the show, which opens on Saturday, she hopes those who come out to view her works feel inspiration.

"It would be nice if somebody is inspired or given hope. That I would like," she said.

"If it helps somebody, although I don't know how it can help anybody, that I just hope that people will feel good or see something that touches them or that they identify with."

Gate: ink and paint (works from 1983 to 2018) runs from Aug. 18 to Oct. 24 at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in North York. Kawaga will give an artist's talk on Oct. 14.


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