"My idea was to do the things in my head. They were all experiments, but it was just to make the things in my mind that were visually and emotionally strong."
Gathie Falk, 1999
Gathie Falk has defined her work as a "veneration of the ordinary," the witty and whimsical treatment of the common objects of everyday life. To this end, she has worked in a variety of media from performance art to sculpture, ceramics, painting and drawing. She was born on the prairies to Russian immigrants.Falk refers fondly to their close-knit Mennonite village where people had emigrated in the nineteenth century. She has memories of fields of juicy, red watermelons, the fragility and economy of eggs, her mother's gardens, piles of fresh fruit from the neighbour's cherry tree, homemade shoes and dresses, a colourful Parcheesi game board with mesmerizing illustrations of rural scenes. Visceral moments such as these, rising from the midst of economic difficulty, would later resurface in the content of her work.
Despite going to work early in life to help the family financially, Falk attended night school to complete her education and made time to study singing, violin and piano. After years of factory-work, she became an elementary school teacher. She devoted her spare time and summers to art studies and in 1965, after a decade of teaching, she decided to devote herself to a career in art. That same year she had her first solo exhibit and travelled to Europe for the first time. In 1968 Falk was introduced to performance art through workshops given in Vancouver by New York artist Deborah Hay. She was attracted to this medium that she found was well suited to her sensibilities. Falk turned to developing her unique performance style. Repetition of ordinary activities and motifs of domesticity that were central to her performance then, such as eggs, shoes and cakes, would recur in sculptural and installation works.
In the early seventies Falk turned her attention back to painting and sculpture. Signature pieces that were created in these years such as Eight Red Boots (1973) in the National Gallery's collection are regarded by critics as theatrical and influenced by surrealism. The juxtaposition of ordinary objects in an unusual environment suggests a new, often dream-like experience of reality. This mood is also evoked through the enigmatic treatment of everyday objects such as a ceramic pyramid of glistening red apples, a birthday cake burning uncontrollably, weathered shoes preserved and encased. Other still lives, Picnic with Clock and Egg Cups, (1976) and Picnic with Birthday Cake and Blue Sky (1976) also in the collection, are examples of central motifs in Falk's oeuvre that are about the passing of time, mortality and death. Cast in ceramic and covered with colourful glossy varnish, they are typical of Falk's shiny, wet-looking surfaces and the intention that her sculptures resemble living, breathing objects. Dress with Candles (1997), made with papier maché and acquired by the National Gallery in 1999 exemplifies the artist's recurring themes of life's fleeting moments and the interplay between life and death.
In recognition for her achievements she was awarded the Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 1990 and was named to the Order of Canada in 1997.
Falk continues to live and work in Kitsilano, Vancouver.
Born in Alexander, Manitoba, 31 January 1928
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