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Safe Harbours: Art on the Edge of the World

My parents tell me that from a young age I loved to draw. I wore out a VHS tape of the Smurfs by pausing it for hours on end, copying out the images I saw on the screen. Eventually my parents thought I should expand my artistic horizons beyond scribbling out forest elves three-apples high. Plus, Dad was worried I'd wear out the VCR.

I started art lessons in the nearby town of Springdale, and the works I produced in that class still hang proudly on my parent’s walls. Well, the walls of their basement, anyway – I wasn't exactly a prodigy. Not for the lack of a good teacher, though. I studied under an artist by the name of Doug Downey and I never forgot the lessons I learned in his class. Lessons that encouraged me to be free and to never be afraid to express myself. Lessons that are universal and are alive in well in the artists working on Fogo Island.

Thought to be one of the four corners of the planet by the Flat Earth Society, Fogo really is a place unlike any other. Quaint fishing villages round the shore of the island and centuries-old architecture lives alongside modern homes and the ultra-modern Fogo Island Inn. It is the home to an arts residency program that offers opportunities for contemporary artists to work and live in this place. And they come from all over. Visiting artists from across the sea and local ones from across the arm. Joe Batt’s Arm, that is. They come from Upper Canada, from Germany, from Brussels, and Norway to create beautiful art at the “end of the world.”

Artists like Kate Newby of New Zealand whose arrangements of kiln-fired rocks and sticks rest on a low platform that resembles the fishing flakes of old. Or my school chum Jerry Robson, whose 2013 residency saw him creating large-scale drawings with ink and flashe. My favourite? Stages. And then there's Katie Bethune-Leamen whose work involving misshapen mummers speaks directly to local custom. And, of course, Fogo Island born and bred Geoff Butler, whose bio reads, “Butler practices his art daily so as not to fall over the edge.” These are just a handful of the many artists who've splashed some paint around the studios of Fogo Island. 

Studios with names and shapes as whimsical and striking as the art produced there. Like ‘Long’ studio that stretches like the very arm of Joe Batt across a vast stone beach. Or ‘Tower’ studio that rises like a monolith overlooking Shoal Bay, and ‘Bridge’ studio that looks out over the water from the barrens of Deep Bay. I think my favourite of the six, though, would have to be ‘Squish’. Its pyramid-inspired theme with triangular angles is just quirky enough to tickle my funny bone. These spaces marry traditional themes with modern design and, like most houses in this place, they offer sanctuary and safe haven. The woodstoves and the piles of dry firewood don't go astray either.

And the point of all of this is to create a safe environment for these artists to work in. To make creations informed and inspired by their time spent in this beautiful place. Work that is created freely and of themselves.

Doug Downey would approve.