Published on: November 17, 2017 | Last Updated: November 17, 2017 12:00 PM PST
SEAFORTHS SEEN: Bagpipes skirled in 1917 when Seaforth Highlanders of Canada troops fought and died in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. They sounded again recently when piper and South Main Gallery owner Don MacMillan opened Tracy McMenemy’s Songs of The Smoke exhibition. Its works couple past battlegrounds with details of the regiment’s Burrard Street armoury. The latter were derived from technical blueprints, as were those in McMenemy’s 2016 Maritime Museum exhibition, Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard. Some from that series enhance lobbies at Cates Landing, a condo development that art collector-gallerist-philanthropist Michael Audain’s Polygon firm built on the 85-year-old North Vancouver industrial facility’s waterfront site.
Tracy McMenemy explores our collective memory of war
North Vancouver artist showing work at South Main Gallery
In her piece, Boys To Men, North Vancouver artist Tracy McMenemy shows the faces of some of the first Canadian soldiers to travel overseas and fight in the First World War.
Photo Supplied, Tracy McMenemy (Detail from Boys to Men)
Tracy McMenemy presents Songs of the Smoke, Nov. 10 to Dec. 4 at South Main Gallery, 279 E. 6th Ave., Vancouver. Opening reception: Nov. 10, 6-9 p.m. tracymcmenemy.com.
As a mixed-media artist, Tracy McMenemy has worked with many different materials. Only recently did she discover fire.
She wields a candle like a paintbrush, applying haunting billows of smoke to her wood panel. Holding the open flame against a stencil creates charcoal-black silhouettes of warplanes flying overhead.
“I discovered a way of using a candle and taking the soot from the burning candle and capturing it onto the wood,” explains the North Vancouver resident. “Once the soot’s on the image, then I take a paintbrush and I can actually manipulate the soot.”
McMenemy later learned this method, known as fumage, is an existing art technique that was popularized during the surrealist movement in the 1930s. Fumage features heavily in her new exhibit, Songs of the Smoke, which opens tonight at South Main Gallery in Vancouver. Smoke seemed an appropriate medium, since the show explores our collective memory of war.
It was a trip to the Seaforth Armoury on Burrard Street that set the project in motion. McMenemy initially visited the 1936 heritage building seeking blueprints. At the time, she was collecting architectural plans of Vancouver landmarks for use in her art.
“The armoury had always caught my eye because it’s such a stunning building,” she says.
While looking through the building plans, she also came across impressive electrical blueprints – “They had these gorgeous 1930s chandeliers.”
She got chatting with James Calhoun, archivist at the Seaforth Armoury Museum, who produced densely packed boxes of maps, photographs and artifacts from the First and Second World Wars. Calhoun regaled her with tales of the people who had donated these items.
“As he was telling me those stories, I was getting excited,” McMenemy recalls. She started to feel the energy behind each war medal and photo; they became more than just objects. “I just kept going back.”
Up to that point, McMenemy had considered wartime imagery scary and depressing.
“The way we were taught in school, it was so sanitized,” she says. It was about committing dates and names to memory. “There was never really that personal side to it.”
But as the lives of dozens of people emerged through black-and-white pictures and handwritten letters, she realized the story she wanted to tell through her art was about much more than Vancouver’s architectural history.
Her new series incorporate the artifacts and heirlooms she discovered at the museum. She took photographs of the old blueprints, maps and documents and transferred these images onto a wood panel. She then added ink or acrylic paint and employed the fumage technique. One of her pieces, “Home Away From Home,” juxtaposes blueprints of the palatial Seaforth Armoury with the rudimentary tents soldiers preparing for the First World War in Saanich, B.C. slept in. “Boys to Men” shows the faces of some of the first Canadian soldiers to travel overseas and fight in the First World War.
McMenemy describes Songs of the Smoke as a “collective memory” intended to allow people to revisit, reinterpret, and give new meaning to wartime.
“With the letters and the images, they’re coming from people’s personal photo albums that they donated to the archives,” she says. “That’s what really drew me in, is that it wasn’t so sanitized and boring, it was actual real people.”
She hopes the personal element allows gallery visitors to relate to her artworks. And, although war is a dark subject matter, the message she wishes to impart through her art is a positive one.
“It’s not something that everybody necessarily wants to look at, but I think if they see the beauty in the imagery it’s not as scary and I think it’s presented in a way that’s uplifting and beautiful,” she says.
“I hope that people realize how important it is to talk about our history and be connected to it, but in a good way.”
McKenzie Shipyard in North Vancouver subject of art exhibit
Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard runs until April at the Vancouver Maritime Museum
By The Early Edition, CBC NewsPosted: Jan 08, 2016 3:00 PM PT Last Updated: Jan 08, 2016 3:08 PM PT
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A new multimedia exhibit at the Vancouver Maritime Museum captures the last day at a North Vancouver shipyard before it was demolished in 2014.
“Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard” is the creation of artist Tracy McMenemy. She was present for the last day of the McKenzie Shipyard before it was demolished after 82 years of existence.
“It was very ghostly. It appeared as though everyone had gone to lunch and were going to come back. But they didn’t,” she told The Early Edition’s Rick Cluff.
“There were notebooks open with pens. There were saws that looked like they were ready to chop wood. There was a chair positioned on the dock as if someone had just had their lunch. You could feel the energy of the workmen around. I had never felt anything like that before.”
She says her aim was to remind people to slow down and appreciate what’s in their own backyard before it disappears forever.
You can see some of the exhibit’s photos in the photo gallery above.
“Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard” runs until April.
“…haunted but hopeful” CBC’s Early Edition interview with Tracy McMenemy talking about her Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard exhibition
Tracy McMenemy documented, archived and collected objects from the McKenzie shipyard in North Vancouver before the site was demolished in August, 2014. Her resulting mixed-media artworks will be on display at the Vancouver Maritime Museum Jan. 7 to April 3. photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News
Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard: An Exhibition by Tracy McMenemy, Jan. 7-April 3 at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. Reception: Thursday, Jan. 14, 6-9 p.m.
It felt like everyone had just gotten up and left.
Having jumped at an opportunity to photograph the McKenzie shipyard, located just west of Cates Park, a day prior to its demolition to make way for a new condo development, mixed-media artist Tracy McMenemy was completely taken by what she saw.
Things were sitting still. There was clothing hanging on hooks, open notebooks on tables, blueprints lying around, and a chair sitting out on the dock as if someone had just had lunch on it.
“It felt almost apocalyptic,” says the North Vancouver artist who maintains a studio in East Vancouver.
“I got goosebumps a couple of times when I walked through some of the spaces. You could certainly feel the energy of the people that worked there. That’s what you’re looking for as an artist is that connection and it was there in spades,” she says.
According to McMenemy, McKenzie Barge and Marine Ways was launched in 1932. Bustling in its heyday building ship and tug boats, since the late-1970s, operations were downsized and the company was primarily focused on things like repairs and painting. The shipyard remained operational until the day in August 2014 that McMenemy went in to conduct her self-described “material investigation,” photographing, documenting, archiving and collecting various objects from the site. Today, waterfront townhomes and apartment residences are being built on the site.
McMenemy went on to spend a year on a series of works inspired by the shipyard and her resulting pieces are set to be showcased in Ghost Passages of the McKenzie Shipyard: An Exhibition by Tracy McMenemy, opening at the Vancouver Maritime Museum Jan. 7.
“I think it was just the perfect fit for this theme,” she says.
“It’s exciting to talk about the shipyard – as another place that’s disappearing. If we don’t notice these places, the energy, they will be gone the next time we drive by. It’s a reminder to stop and take note, look closer and take time to see what is in our backyard and community. My artist’s resurrection brings the colour back,” she adds.
There were a “couple of strange, serendipitous situations” that led to McMenemy’s McKenzie shipyard project coming into fruition.
Her initial introduction was simply the result of driving past the site for the last decade, along Dollarton Highway.
“It was striking because it was this very beautiful setting with this building on the water. I always wondered what was happening there. Once I started painting, I would imagine myself having a gallery in the front of the building and a studio in the back looking out at the water. I saw there was lots of parking and thought about it very rationally as well as in my imagination. It had always been in my mind as a beautiful spot,” she says.
McMenemy was pleased then when, out of nowhere, in the summer of 2014 she received a phone call from a family friend whose wife, unbeknownst to her, was a member of the McKenzie family. The wife’s father and uncle had been the shipyard’s two owners.
The family friend had long been a supporter of McMenemy’s art, having attended her shows over the years, and had a proposition for her.
“He said, ‘They’re demolishing it tomorrow, can you come in today and do your thing and make a piece for my wife as sort of a memory of her father who had recently passed away?’” she recalls.
In disbelief at the timeframe, McMenemy jumped at the opportunity nonetheless and the next day, grabbed her gear and headed over, spending five intensive hours photographing intricate details of the site.
“I thought I was going to do a piece, but I was just so blown away by everything that I found there and the feelings that I had there. It was really serene with the setting on the water but the actual shipyard was quite ghostly,” she says.
In fact, she had heard rumours about actual hauntings, having been told about a number of employees who’d over the years seen “an old man down at the dock,” yet the man never actually materialized.
“I had a lot of feelings about it so it blew up into a year of my life, working away at it,” she says.
McMenemy will be exhibiting 38 pieces of a variety of types in the upcoming exhibition, showcasing her efforts to blur the lines between photography and painting.
“I basically start with a photograph and then I either use that as inspiration or I actually transfer part of the photograph onto my panel and then I paint after that,” she says.
She’ll also have some three-dimensional works on display, including a 17-foot-tall water line marker and a tool box with art on the inside of it.
The show’s title, Ghost Passages, is a reference to a common theme in McMenemy’s art.
“A lot of the work that I’ve done with abandoned places have something to do with the passage of time, and so I knew that I wanted to have passages in the title and it had that ghostly feel,” she says.
An added significance to her chosen title is that passages can also refer to waterways.
“I grew up as a sailor, so I’ve always been connected to the water. . . . and I think that’s probably why the shipyard caught my attention when we first moved out to Deep Cove and I’d always wondered what had happened there behind those doors. It’s funny you know, you get a phone call and it changes your life. I had no idea I’d spend the last year of my life working on this,” she says.
– See more at: http://www.nsnews.com/entertainment/dossier/artist-tracy-mcmenemy-resurrects-the-bygone-mckenzie-shipyard-1.2142747#sthash.byEoE2rO.dpuf