Artist Jolene Mackie Paints Dreamscapes

Emily Carr University graduate brings art community together

  • Jan. 25, 2019 6:00 a.m.

– Story by David Wyle Photography by Darren Hull

Perhaps art and science are more closely linked than we think. Both help us peer into the mysteries of existence and wrestle with the deeper questions and meanings of life.

Artist Jolene Mackie found herself at the crux of the two. Born and raised in Kelowna, Jolene had earned a full scholarship to the University of British Columbia to study the sciences — but she was also drawn to art.

“Do I have a career that is more linear, and maybe makes more sense, or do I go to art school?” she wondered at the time.

Mackie applied to Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, where some 300 students would be accepted out of 3,000 applications.

“I had a one in 10 chance,” she said. “I was just hoping more than anything to get some feedback.”

When she found out she’d been accepted to art school, Mackie felt the decision had been made for her. Yet that love of science has remained part of her art.

“I’ve always loved anatomy and biology — how all these parts come together and make things work,” she said. “A lot of my earlier work was bridging biology, anatomy and fine arts.”

Jolene is in good company. History is filled with the alchemy of art and anatomy, like Leonardo da Vinci’s ground-breaking sketches of the human body.

Photography by Darren Hull

Jolene, 31, graduated from Emily Carr in 2009. She hit the ground running, quickly building up an impressive and diverse portfolio, including high-profile murals, one-of-a-kind painted instruments and myriad oil paintings.

“I love working on canvas. My fascination with working on a flat surface has to do with depth – transforming a flat surface and pigments into something that evokes a sense of place or depth,” she said.

Jolene describes her style as illustrative and whimsical, filled with dreamscapes; although her art pulls from the very literal world around her, like the shape of a leaf or a colour palette in the sky.

“I love that painting is a language I can use to talk about dreams and the subconscious and other worlds and other places that you can’t do with any other medium,” she said.

Jolene has been a catalyst in bringing the local art community together. For the past five years, she’s been on the board of directors for Art Walk in Lake Country, the biggest art event in the Valley. She wanted to bring a similar event to Kelowna and organized the first ever Discover Art in the Valley at the Kelowna Curling Club.

About 45 artists participated in the first year, including graffiti artists and fire spinners.

It’s an exciting time in Kelowna with a thriving cultural community, encouraged, in part by the creative tech community.

Jolene sees art as uplifting, something she thinks is in dire need these days.

“Art-making encourages me to be present because there’s a lot of bigger things, and more complex things in the world, and art should be something that brings me back to the present moment. There’s a lot of serious things in the world. It’s nice for art to be light,” she said.

“Painting is my meditation. It’s a time I’m not thinking about anything but what’s right in front of me.”

While Jolene’s work has often been inspired by nature, ships and whimsical skies, she has ventured in a new direction. She’s been delving into science-fiction-inspired art — a genre that hadn’t interested her until recently. She was captured by some of the masters of sci-fi, including Ray Bradbury.

“Making art is very much an evolution. I’ll still be influenced by those thoughts and ideas and inspirations, but I’ve built a different level on top of it,” she said. “My work has taken a hard right into something completely different.”

The seeds of sci-fi have been there in the form of a tiny robot she has drawn or painted hundreds of times.

The robot first appeared in her work in her university days. She was replicating very traditional works, and found humour in injecting a little robot into them. The robot continued to spring up over the years in her sketch book.

Embracing a new direction has been teaching her to be open to inspiration and to be true to what speaks to her the loudest.

She said she sees the robot as a self-portrait in a lot of ways — it’s “a curious little investigator.”

“I thought this little guy has somewhere to take me, he’s got something to show me,” she said. “If you’re vulnerable enough to put it out there, people connect with that vulnerability, with the honesty and that little weird part of yourself.”

Existential questioning is at the root of a lot of her art, as she tries to make sense of what existence means for her.

Asked what she’s learned so far, she said, “Strive for happiness and joy more than anything. It’s a strange and confusing and interesting time to be alive. We grapple with why we are here.”

Mackie’s work can be found at jolenemackie.com.

Photography by Darren Hull
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