Visual Dialogues: Layers of Living

March 26, 2016

Digging up this review and profile, that I put together in 2004, makes me yearn to go and view another art show soon.

The last ones I enjoyed were part of a pre-Christmas art walk/ open house of several galleries in downtown Nanaimo, BC where I currently house sitting. There was celebrating logs which was quite unique but very at home in the world of Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island.

Someone also decorated smaller trees in a park with visual art. I was alone there and decided to soak in the displays of paintings by doing my morning chi gong while viewing them. Getting into a meditative state goes hand-in-hand with coupling ones’ spirit with art.

When I lived on Salt Spring Island for 16 years, I had a joyous routine. Every time I read or heard about a new art exhibit going up in ArtSpring, I would wander across the small park that separated my apartment from the multi-arts centre half an hour before it was set to close. I would ‘breathe in’ the beauty of art before going, in an uplifted state, for a walk in the temperate rain forest of Mouat Park.

On the way back, I would emerge from the park to end my hike with a walking meditation I learned when I attended a Zen Buddhist meditation workshop on Orcas Island in the Washington State San Juans.

Thinking about my many connections to art– including the years I did life drawing modelling–serves to ‘oxidize’ my memories.

All of this inspires me in my rudimentary, yet satisfying, attempts to sketch and paint pictures their of the animals I house sit and the landscapes I explore in my travels as does a piece like the following  — how two artists support each other, to overcome illness, and intertwine in art:

Salt Spring Village Views

Friday, May 21, 2004

Visual Dialogues: Layers of Living

by Tanya Lester

“Take two women from different art backgrounds, mix with stimulating dialogue, collaborate for five years, and serve a unique art show.”

This is how Judith Borbas and Marlene Smith introduce “Visual Dialogues”,  their show which brings uplifting artistic light to ArtSpring’s foyer and hallways for the entire month of May.

It sounox trot,ds as easy as following a recipe. If so, these two are gourmets.

Yet both of them kw neither art nor life fits easily into frames. In Borbas’ “Pepperpot ,” Foxtrot,” watercolour vegetables appear to burst out of the frame within a frame, refusing to limit themselves within linear lines.

Vegetables, in Borbas’ “The Cutting Edge,” lay sliced next to the knife but others are still in the bowl while some appear to just have been harvested.

The rectangular shapes superimposed over them reflect the way we live our lives in layers.

Smith’s “Interior Pages” and “Pages on the Surface,” done in mixed media, do not want to stay put any more than Borbas’ do. They want off the page, off the frame. They want to get out there even if it sometimes feels inside that life has split apart. There is much more to them than even meets the eye.

With a background in ceramics and textile arts, Smith began creating with paper and painting on canvas after the use of toxic dyes used to hand paint silk fashions left her with fibromyalgia.

Borbas grew up in a creative environment with her father being an artist. In 1986, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Their common ground is coping with physical pain and discomfort as well as being prolific artists.

In 1998, the two became friends during a time filled with political strife for artists on the Southern Gulf Islands. “Our liaison was initially a result of a shared interest in reclaiming the members’ voice in our local Community Arts Council,” stated Smith. “After that trying experience we both felt the need to transmute some of our feelings into art. And the collaboration began.”

The two started to get together in each others’ homes on Tuesdays for what they call Art Play Days. Smith’s showpiece entnitled “Breathing Out — Release” seems to illustrate the relief they both felt when they could again spend time in their studios away from the arts council controversy. Featuring pink and other pastels, the painting shows bubbles freely rising into the atmosphere.

Borbas, too, has a piece called “Time and Space” with buoyant bubbles against the background of squares that could be a quilt. There is fun and nurturance there. This is what the Play Days evolved into.”We wanted so much to get our lives back ,” said Borbas. Much needed after the stressful arts council mediation days exacerbated their health problems.

On Tuesdays, there are sometimes walks on the beach to find things to incorporate into their art. These are done at their own pace. Gone is  the feeling of lagging behind others.

Sometimes it is one artist drawing a charcoal line on a paper and the other adding a mark in response. It builds from there.

They talk on the phone a lot. When Smith finds out Borbas has been working on her art, this inspires her to move into her art room and vice versa: “You’ve been working on a piece…I better get working.”

Other times the conversation goes something like this: “I don’t feel well enough to come over today.”

“Just come for tea and we’ll talk.”

Soon they are creating art together.

Play Days vary. “It’s like a piece of art,” said Smith. “You never know…”

Still, each time they get together “it’s like the conversation just picks up where it left off.”

The pieces in the show that total collaborations are darker yet seem stronger than any of the other art. The materials are more varied and even three-dimensional. There is netting in “Net Maquette” but it does not trap them. “Arches and Doorways” is perhaps about merging into another third being: a synthesis of the two.

Then, “Greenpiece” is about running out into a very freeing place. The rectangular green patches, though, provide love and caring. Somehow, Smith’s influence seems prevalent in the collaborative pieces.

“What we have together is greater than the sum of the parts,” said Borbas.

She feels Smith’s intuition has rubbed off on her. Both discovered, for example, they were working on “bubble” paintings separately but at the same time without consciously knowing what the other was doing.

Smith believes she has learned more about values and colours from Borbas.

If the show can be summed up, perhaps “Moments in Time” by Borbas does it. “I watched these energetic young women for several hours at the beach,” Borbas wrote next to the painting. “I wanted to capture the feeling I had of peering into their futures.”

The piece superimposes image upon image. This is life. We think we have got it. Then, it changes….


To read more of the  kladiscope of posts in this blog, go to and

Tanya’s books are Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader (purchase from the author or from, Friends I Never Knew, Women Rights/Writes, Dreams and Tricksters. They are available in libraries and the last three are in the Legislative Library of Manitoba.

Tanya is an intuitive counsellor (including tea leaf reading and tarot), a reiki master and a house sitter. To access her services, go to her website at or her pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Google. You can also contact her directly at or call 250-538-0086 cell.






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