Peggy Ann Turner's mixed media collage paintings are, in part, a full-circle exchange with the world. From her downtown Montreal studio, the contemporary artist creates her colorful canvasses through an alchemy of acrylic paints, pencils, inks and found and textured papers she collects in everyday life.
A practicing architect for 35 years, in 2008, Turner, who had been making art all her life, was given the opportunity to work in an artist's studio. Enthused to pursue her art full-time, she dove into a new career as a practicing studio artist. Since then, approximately every six months, she's produced a new solo show of 20 to 35 pieces. Her works, in a style between figurative and abstract have been acquired by collectors in Canada, the U.S., Australia, France and Indonesia, as well as Pratt & Whitney Canada and Canderel. She's also participated in many gallery group shows. To say she's prolific is an understatement.
"This is a communication," says Turner, whose passion for dance and movement informs her art, as does her insatiable need to exchange with the world. "For me, it is very important to communicate 'how I see.'"
Her mixed-media collage paintings, on canvas and wood panels, come alive through layers––both literal and figurative––of colourful energy evocative of space, texture, structure, and movement. The collections Postcards From Havana (2014), and the upcoming Colours of Cancun (2015), depict places she's been, with collaged words and figures catching the viewer's eye. The Art of Performing (2013) was a celebration of performers in action. Interiors (2012) explored the relationship of objects to defined spaces, while Facades (2011) and Where We Live (2012) focused on buildings and cities, the latter title about "not only where you live physically, but also where you live emotionally and spiritually," she says.
Her subjects are varied, yet each work seems to tell a poetic story. In fact, Turner writes a Haiku to accompany every piece. The rhythmic, fragmented structure and imagery of the traditional Japanese poetry mirrors Turner's visual aesthetic. And conceptually, the Haiku's ability to inspire presence, awareness, and revelation reflects her evolution.
Turner's architectural training and career, much of it alongside her architect husband, who she met at McGill University when both were earning their degrees, offered her the insight to truly see the shapes, compositions, and connections of a city; of positive and negative space; of our world. "We learned how to see," she says It's an artist's gaze, one with which every creative person, be it actor, writer, musician, or dancer, is familiar.
Composition is one of her fortes. Turner knows space. "Creating collage is similar to a construction process. I'm creating a space to be looked at, and the story happens within this space. You are taking elements and structurally building a composition. There is a design of contrasting elements, proportions, compression and expansion of spaces, layers, movement and rhythm through the repetition of shapes, lines and colours."
Her architecture career also taught her the value of discipline and deadlines. She loves working towards a goal, making things happen and getting things done. A dynamic ball of energy, she chats about consciousness with the same gusto as she talks about her Latin and Broadway dance classes, cooking dinner every night, and her two sons.
The beauty is, it's all connected. Creatively, thematically, and even on those more subtle levels of awareness that open up when you trust that life knows what it's doing. In life, and certainly art, there are many layers of meaning.
For Turner, the opportunity to engage in this figurative dance by sharing her vision with the world is one of the things that drives her to show up at her studio (across the street from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) seven days a week. "I make a pot of herbal tea, put on classical music and I'm in my zone."
Like her dancing, the way she makes her collage paintings floats upon this intuitive exchange like a buoy on water; an improvisatory process Turner likens to life. She particularly likes to juxtapose things you don't expect to go together. "I see connections in the push-pull, juxtapositions, of texture, shape, colour, scale, and space. While creating a work, I'll see something that triggers an emotional response and then the art starts to emerge."
After all, the art is crafted, in part, from actual pieces of real life––found papers. Her work table is covered with torn and cut papers; coloured and textured. "It's something outside of my brain that I'm introducing, repurposing, and incorporating to create something new," says Turner, referencing the philosophy of 20th century multidisciplinary artist Robert Rauschenberg, who put forth the idea that creation was a collaboration with the external world.
Her process has a lot to do with trust, letting each artwork "just be what it wants to be" with no predetermined destination. Like dancing, she tries to let the work lead the way. Kind of like trusting life. "I would never have been able to do this 35 years ago," she says. Certainly, on the cusp of 60 and on her second career, Turner feels she's gained not only maturity, wisdom, and confidence, but also vulnerability and freedom. "With each year, I grow more and see more."