An exhibition of mixed media works at the Galerie de la Ville
Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec, Canada
Curator:  Claudine Ascher  ~  Guest co-curator:  Diane Collet

Galerie de la Ville - Exhibition "Repeat Offenders" - Photo by Myriam Frenette

In the time it takes to inhale, I am transported into the spine-tingling world of Monica Brinkman and Tina Struthers.  At the entrance of the gallery, an explosion of colour and texture beckons me to enter.  I hesitate at the threshold.  
What is going on here?  
Stunning workmanship, virtuosity, artistry, and creativity.

I am ensorcelled, held spellbound as I slowly penetrate the space.  A quick scan reveals a cosmos of bottled aliens, underwater creatures, super heroes/heroines, and spikes, lots of them. I am in a monumental wonder-room and have shrunken like Alice to explore this distended microcosm.  Vibrant colours disguise an alchemist's brew of complex thoughts and feelings.  

Tina Struthers - Photo by Myriam Frenette
Tina Struthers grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, immigrated to Canada in 2008 and settled in Québec in 2011.  Much of her work deals with her experience of displacement.  

Deracination is an interesting process. Like a plant that has outgrown its pot, the roots object a little when first removed from their container for eventual transplant, but ultimately, they adapt and appreciate the additional wiggle room that the new larger pot and earth provide.  

Impressively, within the last 5 years, Struthers has learned French and fully integrated within the community.  Actively involved in cultural mediation projects and in the creation of large scale commissions for the region, she is a highly respected multidisciplinary artist, couturière, and costume designer for theatre and dance. 

Her achievements underscore her incredible strength of character.  She is like a disciplined Energizer Bunny with directed energy to burn. Focused, she's a workhorse who seems happiest when doing two things at once (such as stitching together one of her textile elements while planning the next project). Possessed with the spirit of an acrobat (she loves to climb and suspend things), she continuously stretches the boundaries of her mediums.

Environmental concerns, the contrasts between South Africa and Canada, the effects of water and wind, roots and growth, fantasy creatures and specimens from the deepest recesses of her imagination, rain or lack of it, shadows, longings for the sounds and rhymes of Afrikaner words, building blocks, and the vivid colours reminiscent of african fabrics are woven into every piece.  

"I Need My Cape"
Sometimes our superhero needs Cape Town.
Back view of "I Need My Cape"
The lowered zipper reveals a backbone
(his strength on the inside)

These beautiful works are charged with meaning that often stems from Struther's background. "Patina" reveals an ornate, thickened skin of armour over a woman's torso which cannot completely protect her against life's assaults.  Some originate from within (childbirth), while other offensives come from external sources.  With the patina of time, the shield strengthens and transforms the body into that of a super heroine. 

"Patina" by Tina Struthers

The devil is in the details.  A close-up of "Patina" reveals exquisite beadwork intertwined with elegant binding and coloured fabric.  The torso has spikes on its back.  Interestingly, they are soft spikes.

Detail of "Patina"
Spikes on the back of "Patina"

Having grown up near the ocean, Struthers is particularly fascinated with exotic creatures that generate their own light in the dark, secret depths of our seas. They become the perfect metaphor for her own cross-continent odyssey.  While all works are extremely powerful, I am drawn into each piece by the rich detailing and contortions of her wild things. The interplay of light and dark fascinates Struthers.  She becomes animated when she sees the changing cast shadows that magically appear on walls and floors. "One can't grab hold of shadows", she says.  

"Time to grow"

"Time to grow' ~ contortions


Yellow Specimen

Detail of Yellow Specimen

Part of "Amans" and  its striking shadows

"Amans" - Looking inside

In Africa, there is not enough water.  In contrast Canada has an abundance.  Struthers lived near the ocean but the water was unusable.  Having grown up in a country where water is a precious commodity, she deplores excessive waste.  A throw away society contaminates that which gives life to all living things.  An active scavenger, Struthers reuses leftover material from the wedding dresses she makes, recycles found objects, and shops at secondhand stores to find precious heritage fabrics.  

The mixed media painting "Waste" begins with a background of scrunched-up papers, lace, metal from old cassette tapes, and paint.  Screws are drilled into the sides of the panel.  Threads that pierce fragments of sliced rubber tubing are attached to the screws, stretched over the substructure and appear to float over it resulting in a shimmering effect. This impressive work embodies the beauty of discarded things.


Detail of "Waste"

Monica Brinkman - Photo by Myriam Frenette
Monica Brinkman spent her summers on an ocean beach in New Brunswick and at a summer cottage at Lake of Bays, Ontario (Rabbit Bay). The daughter of a immigrant father from Germany and an Acadian mother from the maritimes, she feels especially fortunate that her best childhood memories are of daily excursions in unpredictable, remote, and secluded terrain. 

She pretended to be an explorer/marine biologist and brought various dead specimens that washed up on shore to her home for scientific dissection. She examined each organism in detail and through play and fantasy, became enthralled with the minutiae and textures of geological and marine life, a fascination which continues to this day.  

These adventures provided a perfect training ground for her eclectic approach to mosaics. There was no garbage on the beach in New Brunswick except for pieces of broken glass which in her mind metamorphosed into precious glass. Green and amber gems came from soft drink or beer bottles. Blue sparklers were rare and the occasional red piece of glass was dubbed a "ruby of the ocean". The colours of rock, glass and marine life changed under water.  Brinkman became "addicted to light".

In Ontario, she spent her time running through the woods where she created an imaginary world that kept her both scared and excited. Interestingly, these types of contrasting emotions animate many of her current creations.

Brinkman was appalled and consumed by the poverty and suffering she witnessed on travels with her family to Brazil and Haiti.  She remains equally troubled by the hardships that Indigenous Canadians continue to face each day. 

She is intensely committed to the community.  Her creative workshops and projects are for everyone including children, the elderly, and the intellectually handicapped.  Mosaics beautify various municipalities as an old scrapyard tractor, discarded article, walls, floors, and furniture magically transform into jewel-like, otherworldly objects.
"Jolene" by Monica Brinkman

Detail of Jolene's heart
Jolene's eyes

"Jolene" is a self-portrait. Some people wear their heart on their sleeve but Jolene has hearts unabashedly exposed on various parts of her body.  A large one grows on the outside of her chest while a row of hearts mutates into a spine.

Repeated eyes on both sides of the torso declare that she will not turn a blind eye to people in need.  

Like Struthers, Brinkman is not averse to spikes although they manifest themselves differently, in this case via the natural shapes of deer horns which protrude from the back to symbolize self-awareness and resilience.  

Because her approach to mosaics is non-traditional, many of her three-dimensional works veer into assemblage.  Almost anything can be "upcycled" and converted into art.

Horns of self-awareness

"Make Time for Tea" (below) is an affirmation for peace. Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world. Brinkman used to serve tea in the tearoom of a quilt shop and the experience reinforced her convictions that sharing tea is an elegant and effective way to get to know and understand others.  Happy and sad times are shared through bits of everyone.  Bits of knowledge, bits of emotion, bits of life, bits of broken cups and saucers, a deluge of bits combine in this intricate work, which not surprisingly, resembles a quilt.

"Make Time For Tea" - photo by Myriam Frenette

Detail of "Make Time For Tea"

"Seebriese" (German for sea breeze) alludes to Brinkman's roots and her imaginary worlds in New Brunswick and at Lake of Bays.  A deer horn protrudes from her neck, she is one with the land, part of wildlife.  A little recessed box in the abdomen contains a butterfly, a specimen preserved by an avid collector.  Is it dead or alive?  The artist has butterflies in her stomach as she explores the unknown. 

This work is extremely complex. The colours are rich and refined and contrasting materials invite the viewer to explore the surface, to see what Brinkman sees. She is unequivocal, "We are not separate from nature, everything is interconnected".

Seebriese - Photo by Myriam Frenette

She loves working with mirrors which reflect life. When used in mosaics, everything moves. In this close-up, mirror fragments, fabric and the unexpected "belly-butterfly box" reveal how intricate details become an entrancing whole.

A touch of whimsy animates "The Looker" which involves word/image play.  Brinkman sees life in shades of gray; for her nothing is black and white.  Society must look beyond physical appearances and she hopes that women will play an active role in opening the eyes of society, one in which there are no extremes.  An advocate for peace, she is actively involved in World Citizen Artists, an international group of creative individuals who believe that united, they can achieve positive change in the world.

"The Looker" - Photo by Myriam Frenette

This awe-inspiring, multilayered exhibition should not be missed.  It runs at the Galerie de la Ville, 12001 boul. de Salaberry, Dollard-des-Ormeaux until the 18th of December 2016.  


  1. Diane, what a wonderful tribute to two engaged and dynamic artists, Tina and Monica. It was a pleasure working with the three of you!.

  2. It's always a pleasure working with you Claudine, a curator with an open mind.


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