Introducing the winners to CC’s Portrait Contest!

Celebrating community, creativity and courage.

Congratulations to the winners of Christian Courier’s Portrait Contest! We asked contestants to capture their encounters with friends, family and strangers after our shared experience of isolation.

The submissions we saw this year are evidence of the creativity that runs throughout our communities, a creativity worth celebrating. Here’s to your creativity and courage!

A word to all artists

Judging the visual art category is Betty Spackman, a multimedia installation artist, painter and educator from Langley, British Columbia. Spackman shared her thoughts on the contest:

“In general competitions are problematic in a society that has such a strong success ideology and tends to think that if you are not one of the top three that you are nobody, and if you do not win a competition then you are a ‘loser’, or at least ‘not good enough’. It is beneficial to acknowledge skill for all kinds of reasons and celebrate achievement within various contexts, but these do not mean the merit of a person is in question if one’s skills and experience are at a different level or of a different kind than someone else. Yet a competition can be a way to see our craft in relation to possibilities and potential to strive for within that craft and help us grow from what we learn.

It is already a great thing to put yourself and your work ‘out there’ and be vulnerable.

Art competitions can be particularly difficult given that most people think art is completely subjective. Having had to grade university students for a couple of decades helped me find some ways to break down a critique of visual art that helps assessment be more objective. Good art is not only proficiency with using tools and materials, which H.R. Rookmaaker called, “beautiful meaninglessness”, but also imaginatively expressing emotion and communicating meaning. Likewise, good art is not only expressing emotion and meaning but doing that technically well. So, I have used these basic categories in assessing these works in relation to both the image and the statement the artists have sent according to the criteria of the call: Imagination (5), Thinking (5), Technical Skill (5) = 15 total points.

It is an honour and a great deal of responsibility to be asked to critique someone’s work. In my own life I respect a critique someone gives me as a great gift – one that if I don’t even agree with, helps me to know better what I believe about what I am doing. I want to congratulate all those who participated in this call because it is already a great thing to put yourself and your work ‘out there’ and be vulnerable. These works, without exception, show so many valuable things about the artists and the subjects of their portraits. Thank you all for sharing them.”

Photography: ‘the world will look different’

This year marks Christian Courier’s first ever photography contest! We were delighted to welcome Malik Dieleman, Toronto-based photographer and multidisciplinary artist, to judge these entries.

In first place is ‘Wonder’ by Leanne VanderMeer from Abbotsford, British Columbia.

“Wonder. My son explores a meadow while out on a hike by our house.

I know the route well – where and when the Indian Paintbrush will appear, how deep the puddles will be at various times of the year, which view points to seek out depending on the weather and my moods. I hope that my son will find peace in nature, just as I do. I have learned that having a child is a process of separation, both painful and delightful. He is, and will be, his own person. Yet when I come face to face with him, I also come face to face with my own desires and fears. I want him to value what I value, and to reject the things I believe are harmful for him.

The pandemic has brought out the best and worst of humanity. Of these, a dependence on technology and a pursuit of nature seem to wrestle with each other. The world will look different for my son than it has for me. I hope that he will be able to sit in wonder at Creation, just as he does now.

In this photo I wanted to get down to my son’s level, to see what grabbed his attention. The photo emphasizes the fullness of his world, and the wonder of little details.”

Dieleman writes, “This delightful image captures a precious moment of child-like curiosity so well. The perspective is excellent – I feel like I’m right there in the scene. The relationship between human and creation is explored beautifully. Congrats!”

In second place is ‘A Holy Hug’ by Victoria Ojo from Nigeria.

“Every Sunday when I go to church, I love to see the congregation in their best and radiating in happiness,” wrote Ojo. “When service is over, this same feeling still linger on as people exchange love, hugs and greetings. In this picture, my Sisters (Boluwatife and Adeshewa) wear this feeling while hugging.”

Dieleman writes, “What a joyful and tender moment is captured in this shot! I particularly enjoy the framing of the subjects; their bright outfits against the dark gate. It makes the eye go right to the two girls. Black and white was a good decision for this image.”

In third place is ‘Untitled’ by George Dekker from Grimsby, Ontario,

“Each year one of our six children in turn chooses a different destination and all 34 of us reserve time for a weekend of camping together to re-connect,” said Dekker. “After a COVID break, this past year it was at Algonquin Pines Campground, in Dwight, Ontario.

One of our eighteen grandchildren was playing camera shy every time Opa took out his camera.  After being persistent enough I finally managed to catch this shot of [name] peaking out from behind a pine tree.”

Dieleman, “It’s quite captivating how in just the small sliver of what we can see of the subject’s face, there is so much emotion expressed. This portrait captures not only the playful spirit of a granddaughter, but the warm relationship she has with her Opa.”

Visual art: ‘the waiting period’

First place for visual art goes to Maria Lise Jones of Bobcaygeon, Ontario, for ‘Reflection’ (graphite, coloured pencil, acrylic on rice paper collaged onto stretched canvas, 22″ x 28″).

“Delicate drawings on rice paper are collaged and overlapping to reveal what is underneath,” Jones explained. “Layered onto a canvas, pale colours and graphite set the tone for a time that felt strange, lonely, and sometimes hopeless.  Empty tree branches signify the waiting period, and when the time is right, will bud.  Mourning doves call from the sky or sit on a branch near the hibiscus.  Their call becomes a poignant reminder of the passing time.  My parents’ retired faces appear like a reflection in a window; you can see yourself, and the scene outside at the same time.  Their dog eagerly awaits his long walk through the garden and down to the river alley.  I know with them I will always find acceptance, support, lots of food, and a walk led by Sammy.  My parents are caretakers of the environment, but most of all, of people, whom they love as they love themselves.”

Spackman comments, “The strongest attribute of this mixed media work is imagination. It goes beyond observed reality to express through both technique and metaphor, the character of the subjects.”

In second place for visual art is Lydia Berghuis from Ottawa, Ontario, for ‘Grandpa’ (pencil drawing, 27 cm high x 39 cm wide).

“Treasure the people in your life,” Berghuis wrote. “My grandpa is a very dear person in my life. Not only is he funny, wise, and creative but he is so encouraging and is invested in the dreams and the pursuits of his grandchildren, including me. Therefore, it was a trying and wearying time during COVID-19 when we could not visit him, especially since he has stage four cancer. Drawing this portrait of him for his birthday was a way to connect with him and remember him and while it made me miss him and wish to see him face to face, it was a comfort to know I would be blessing him with this gift. Fortunately, he was able to do a zoom call when he opened it, and the pride and love I saw in his face for me was so uplifting and precious. I tried to make my photo as realistic as possible in order to capture my grandpa accurately. I decided against a background since I thought it would distract and detract from him. I wanted him to be the main focus, the one thing that captures your eyes. I hope you take away from my piece that people are a gift. A gift we too often take for granted. A smile, a laugh, what we’ve been missing these past few years, we can cherish once again. So reach out to the family around you and treasure the joy that they bring.”

Spackman’s comments: “The strongest attribute of this drawing is its technical skill. The essence of the subject’s character is made apparent by the accurate observed details of his face.”

In third place for visual art is Kenny Warkentin from Winnipeg, Manitoba for ‘Unbind Him’ (12×12 acrylic, ink on canvas).

“This portrait is now in a series called transformation,” Warkentin said. “In the underlying fear or anticipation of gathering once again: Do we feel like we are dead, do I even want to risk this? Emotions numb, mistakes made, relationships fragile or forgotten. We may lay in our tomb of fears that cripple us, with self – pity, need for control, self preservation, bound in our own sins of destruction. We wait sometimes far too long to re-engage, not hearing the faint voice calling, “Come out, unbind him.” When we listen to the voice of Christ, we begin to come out of hiding, out of our silence and the color of life begins to appear. Grace takes hold of our weakness as we cling to his strengthening power. Slowly we are once again transformed by the continued voice of a saviour who is right there throughout this journey called togetherness, now calling out, “See, I make all things new!”

Spackman writes, “The strongest attribute of this painting is the thinking behind it. It offers the viewer a reflection on the emotions of someone who fears coming out of isolation and the potential transformation of re-engaging with others.”

To everyone who submitted, thank you for courageously sharing your creativity with us!

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