Karen Gallant stands next to Blue Spirit at her studio gallery in Rustico. It's one of the illustrations in Peter’s Dream, a new book that matches the Island songs of Lennie Gallant with her paintings.
© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY SALLY COLE
While working in her family’s grocery store as a teenager, P.E.I. artist Karen Gallant often found herself listening to other people’s stories.
Sometimes they were happy. Other times, the tales were filled with sadness and heartbreak.
“As a child I absorbed them all. These stories turned into feelings. And, although I was a happy child and had great parents, I couldn’t keep all those emotions inside me, so they started coming out in paintings,” says the Holland College commercial design graduate, pointing to the landscape and figurative works adorning the walls of her studio gallery, which is upstairs at A.P. Gallant’s Market in Rustico.
Gallant was also influenced by her brother, award-winning P.E.I. singer-songwriter Lennie Gallant.
“We grew up together and he was always a great big brother to me. And his music has always been there. And I’m sure, in many ways, the songs have found their way into my paintings.”
So, when Lennie approached her with the idea of doing illustrations for a companion book for his show, Searching For Abegweit: The Island Songs and Stories of Lennie Gallant, this past April, much of the work had been done.
“There were pieces that I knew I had but had to search for. And in no time at all everything fell into place,” says the artist of the 105-page colour book that combines her paintings with her sibling’s songs.
Her brother agrees.
“It was just the fact that she had these paintings and I had these songs. That’s how we ended up picking up a lot of the songs for the book. Some of them were eerily appropriate,” says Lennie.
Take The Blue Spirit, for instance. The painting, which shows a ghostly figure with light radiating from both sides of her head, was inspired by a beach walk she took several years ago.
“You know those blue mussel shells, the ones that when they get burned by the sun all these colours come out? Well, I became very intrigued (with them) and wanted to do a big canvas of this blue — nothing else.”
Although it was all she intended to do, a coastline started to take shape.
“Soon this woman appeared,” says Gallant, adding the painting was a perfect match for the song, Tell Me a Ghost Story.
“Some people see her as an angel. I see her as a spirit. That’s why I call her the Blue Spirit because she just came out of nowhere.”
Another painting, Last Day Out, was chosen to illustrate Peter’s Dream, a song about the shutdown of the Atlantic fishery.
“I had this big canvas .... I drew a boat and the man. I didn’t know what it was going to be about until halfway through (the creative process) when, all of a sudden, the clouds got dark and he follows the light back into the shore. In his eye, he’s got the look of, ‘There’s not going to be many days of fishing left, anymore.’”
Although most of the paintings were done 10 years ago, at least one was painted for the book, and the show, which is part of the Charlottetown Festival.
Entitled Abegweit, it shows Glooscap, the great spirit, reaching down as he shapes Prince Edward Island with his hands.
“I wanted him to be strong but to have a gentleness. I also wanted to have animals in it,” says Gallant noting that while many of her paintings are in private collections, this one is currently on view at the Farmers’ Bank Museum in Rustico.
Her images also appear on large screens in Lennie’s show, which runs on selected dates until Sept. 13 at The Mack in Charlottetown.
“Karen’s paintings accompany us visually. They play an important role in supporting us and bringing us in,” says Lennie.
It’s a great collaboration, adds his sister. “Lennie is good at writing, and I express my feelings in my paintings so we balance each other. And, seeing my images on the big screens, during opening night, left me feeling overwhelmed and excited.”
AT A GLANCE
Searching For Abegweit: The Island Songs and Stories of Lennie Gallant, plays on selected dates until Sept. 13 at The Mack in Charlottetown. For tickets, call 566-1267.
For information about Karen Gallant's paintings, go to www.karengallant.com.
To learn more about Lennie Gallant's music, albums, tour dates, visit www.lenniegallant.com.