Artist Reviews

"Within the Labyrinth", or Judith Ingwersen's Ode to Joy in the Third Millenium (2005)

By Dermot Wilson
Curator, WKP Kennedy Gallery, North Bay, Ontario

Under the umbrella of a touring exhibition project called: Shifting Transversions, the artists Judith Ingwersen and Mary Green have created separate artistic statements that create a dynamic, dramatic "conversation" for the viewer. This short descriptive essay is focused on the works of the former artist and upon the body of work that she has titled: Within the Labyrinth. Before considering the works though, it is important for the reader/viewer to understand that this is a fractious collaboration, one that is fraught with personal tragedies, private yearning and differing opinions. Shifting Transversions is about combining oil and water, about blending opposites in a crucible to see what new "unstable" alloy will result. Both artists are experimenting with new media, both are confident arts professionals interested in communicating directly to their viewers. But these are, on the surface, vastly different messages. It is exactly those differences and the conscious and subconscious resonances emanating from the works that brings these two artists together and that makes this such a "mysterious" and engaging exhibition.

North Bay, Ontario painter and installation artist, Judith Ingwersen has been creating "realist" paintings and drawings for over four decades. She is a gifted representational artist who is constantly searching for new ways of "involving" her viewers in the works and the stories they tell. Her recent searches and experiments have led her to study Inuit and First Nations myths, to incorporate the Greek myths as vehicles for her thoughts and also to construct fantastic spaces in the gallery that surround the viewer and invite interaction. For Within the Labyrinth she has constructed a small facsimile of a maze from writings, drawings, mail-art, and fragments from the collaborative and conceptual journey, twenty-one works of two-dimensional art and a hanging work called: Everyday Miracles... Transverse Shifts from Horizontal to Vertical, that invites the viewer to respond to a simple request: "What makes you feel light as a feather?". The Labyrinthine Path of Mailart is an ephemeral structure that follows Judith’s journeys and thoughts and focuses us on the image of a feminine force using intellect to reveal hope and joy (Ariadne of the Greek myth). For this show, and underlying many of Ingwersen’s works, is a spirit of elation and of spiritual energy. These are lyrical paintings that may be understood as pathways to joy. Images of dancers, loved ones, and swirling abstractions seem all to be communicating this positive life force.

Of the smaller wall works in Within the Labyrinth, there are examples of this life force of the earth and within the artist’s life and even within the labyrinth she has created. There are also works that set up a dialogue between imagined characters, characters from Minoan and Greek myths and the forces of destiny of hope and even of joy. "Walking daily, one step at a time, the Spiritual Path to Wholeness" is an example of such a work. The central "historical" figure is poised to leap and is joyful in the face of choice and change. In this work the medium (mixed media on paper) seems to suggest a narrative. This is a painted scene from a dream, one that leads us forward with great hope and one that revels in that most contentious of human qualities: faith.

This artist is communicating joy and spirituality through her art and through the events that shaped this exhibition. It is immediate, readily accessible work, extremely well wrought, that cares more for the expression itself than for the contemporary art theory or labels that it might fall under. The strength in Ingwersen’s work is in its unflagging devotion to the "story" to be told, and to the joyous spirit inherent in each one of us.

Dancing in the Labyrinth: Ariadne Rediscovered (2005)

by Dr Diana Walton, Classical Studies, Nipissing University

When you visit the Thera Room of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens or the Heraklion Museum in Crete, you are surrounded by marvellous images: women in colourful robes, dancing, a bare-breasted mother-goddess with snakes winding up her arms, and dark-skinned male and white-skinned female dancers somersaulting over the back of a bull in flying gallop. You have entered the world of Minoan Crete, a bronze-age civilization that pre-dates Greek hegemony of the Aegean by more than 500 years, and in whose art female representations outnumber those of the males by a ratio of three to one.

Greek legend tells us that Prince Theseus of Athens sailed to Crete to vanquish the flesh-eating Minotaur, a creature half-man and half-bull hidden by King Minos in a labyrinth under his palace at Knossos. Princess Ariadne betrayed her father by lending the Athenian stranger a sword to kill the beast and a ball of string to guide his return passage through the labyrinth. Ariadne eloped with Theseus by sea, only to be abandoned by him on the island of Naxos, where the god Dionysos fell in love with the abandoned girl and in her honour placed the Corona Borealis among the constellations.

As her name "the very holy one" suggests, Ariadne was not originally the princess known to Greek folk-legend, but the powerful mother-fertility goddess of Minoan Crete. That her worship was absorbed by the Greeks into the cult of Aphrodite, goddess of love and fertility, is apparent from Ariadne’s cult at Amanthus in Cyprus. Here each year, in a curious example of gender "transversion", a young man enacted the death of a woman in child-bed in honour of Ariadne -- Aphrodite, since it was believed that Ariadne, after being abandoned by Theseus, died in childbirth on the island of Cyprus. Significantly, Cyprus is also the birthplace of Aphrodite, an event famously portrayed in Botticelli’s painting of the goddess emerging from the waves.

The earliest mention of Ariadne in Greek literature occurs in Homer, where she is linked to Daedalus, the prototype of the artist and inventor. Homer does not specifically mention a labyrinth, but sings of "a dancing-floor, like the one in the wide spaces of Knossos Daedalus built for Ariadne of the lovely tresses" (Iliad 18, 599). Later vase paintings depict Ariadne performing in the ceremonial Cretan "Crane Dance", a part of the collective ritual for marrying couples. Other sources add to Ariadne’s fame, portraying her mastery of thread and weaving, practical skills which identify her with the weaving goddess Arachne, whose name identifies the genus Arachnids, the spiders.

In Greek religion, the god most closely associated with both ritual and ecstatic dancing is Dionysos. The nexus of Greek drama is the chorus: their space, the orchestra (meaning "dancing place") occupies the centre of the Greek theatre, and their dance is always in honour of the patron god of the theatre, Dionysos. Originally a vegetation deity, Dionysos eventually became the god of theatre, wine, fertility, ecstasy and orgiastic release. He often transformed himself into a bull, lending him an iconic connection to Crete, which perhaps explains his association with Ariadne and the apotheosis which restores her from abandonment to immortality. The wildwood companions of Dionysos, his female band of dancing Maenads, represent the liberation of women from the conventions of urban life, the awakening of primeval instincts and the union between humans and nature achieved in the Dionysian cult. The Maenads wield the thyrsus; tipped with a seed-filled pine cone, this wand possesses magical powers of transformation. Smitten by the thyrsus of inspiration, the artist can no more refrain from creating her work than the Dionysian reveller can refuse to dance.

A visitor to Judith Ingwersen’s exhibition "Within the Labyrinth" is transported to a realm unified by the sure craftsmanship of Ariadne’s thread and imbued with the transforming joy of her dancing. Here, organic and human-made materials fuse, northern and Mediterranean landscapes converge, Classical and modern themes entwine, and the ancient heroic quest to the centre of the labyrinth and back merges into a passionate contemporary dance of self-discovery.

Musings on Recent Work of Judith Ingwersen (2005)

by Jim Mroczkowski, Associate Professor of Art & Art Education, Nipissing University, North Bay, Ontario
November 8, 2005

Some artists create a place or a sense of place through highly personal involvement in a setting, time, circumstance, or way of life. They do not necessarily represent these scenes or a way of life directly, but they construct highly personalized images of their involvement with their surroundings or community of thought which amount to the construction of what at one time would have been called the genius loci -- the spirit of the place or circumstance. To appropriate a term from literary criticism, they give birth to a mythopoeic moment or circumstance, a place where myths are made. Such is the work of Judith Ingwersen.

The elements of the mythopoeic are usually evident, though sometimes subtly hidden, in the drawings, paintings, collages, and constructions of Judith Ingwersen. The elements of intense sensual involvement in place, the receptivity of the artist, and an assurance of truth in the necessary coming together of experience in what is basically the beginnings of mythology. Through her art, Judith Ingwersen explicitly emphasizes that she is not "only an eye." Her works are constructs based on experience and memory, and her experiences and memories emanate from not only her recent past, but from what I believe to be her collective wisdoms and memories of an "ancient" past that she possesses from the spirit of connectedness with her "sisters" from time immemorial.

I know that this may sound a bit oblique but I have always found Judith to be a bit "odd" in this regard. She often admittedly chides herself in public situations by saying "I know I’m a bit strange." This is not just a self-deprecating act to comfort herself with her own smile and the usually muffled laughter turned inward when confronted in an awkward or uncomfortable situation as someone asks her to explain her work. She has no need to explain it. Her need was to make it. I have known her for over twenty-five years and have witnessed firsthand, the evolution of her work as an artist and her quest for a purposeful life. She is a gentle soul, yet powerfully in command of all her expectations of herself, artistic and otherwise. Hence, her work and her life reflect a larger sense of "being". She is a highly instinctual painter. Her paintings are "done" long before the first stroke of paint touches the panel. What I am saying is.... she may have made these works "before" in another time and place. What I and others see is only the most recent version.

Without getting too deeply entrenched in the argument and my particular point of view, it is easier to visit her works and let them speak for themselves. Each has a voice. They wait for you. They present themselves for scrutiny. Each has a story. And the stories may be old or new. It all depends on your vantage point and how receptive you are to the time, place, circumstance, and way of life depicted.

What you will find, without too much effort, are works that are technically refined yet spiritually releasing and devoid of pretense. To connect with them, wholly and honestly, in the same fashion as they were made, you must not only be a passionate observer but also a willing participant in traveling through their mythopoeic offerings. You will not be disappointed in the journey.

The Compassionate Artist (2005)

by Donna Sinclair
Author of The Spirituality of Gardening
Senior Writer for the United Church Observer

In her deep compassion for the land and all of Earth's creatures, Judith Ingwersen simply paints Creation spirituality. Theologians struggle for words to say these things -- that Earth is our home and that we must love Her; that gratitude is the way we speak to Her; that God is to be found in every cell of our bodies and in every atom of the universe. Ingwersen knows all this, and places it in front of us with clarity and ease.

These paintings rest on both maturity of heart and innocence, coupled with the skill and assurance of an artist at the height of her powers.

We consider these paintings, and feel joy.

Selected Earlier Reviews

The North Bay artist whose canvases crop up around the city is comfortable working on pieces that tower above her. she's not sure when she started painting bigger canvases. This columnist is in the most amazing studio - a former living room. The studio is alive with her work, as is the rest of the house. To tour Ingwersen's work is to tour her metamorphosis as a painter, not just stylistically, but philosophically.

Two years ago when I reported on Ingwersen's Ragged Edges show at a local gallery, she was exploring the transitions of mid-life.  Many of those paintings drew their imagery from mythology.  There is a richness and maturity to the work that reflects someone experienced and comfortable.

"That isn't an envelope - it's art" North Bay Nugget, November 15, 2001

"Dozens of unusual packages have been arriving at the North Bay Post Office recently.

Adressed to the White Water Gallery on Mail Street East, the items - originating from across Canada, the United States, Germany and Korea - are raising eyebrows, but not because they could contain any suspicious white powder.

"It's mail art....anything that can be sent through the mail as long as the artwork is displayed on the outside," Judith Ingwersen, the gallery's programming chairwoman, said Wednesday.

The gallery, Ingwersen said, has received more than 130 entries for its mail art exhibit.....

Mail art, Ingwersen said has been popular since the 60's, but can be traced back centuries to when Cleopatra had herself sent to Caesar rolled in a carpet. "The idea had been in the back of my mind for some time," Ingwersen said, noting the timing, while not intentional, also reflects some optimism after so many anthrax scares in post offices."