Coming of Age

By Karen Attwell

Like any creation story the specific reasons for Untitled Art Society's origins are up for debate, but it is generally agreed that the basic premise was to extend the sense of community and studio access available to the founders while in art school. A sort of post-graduate crashpad. Sixteen years on there are many things that have changed, and many that have not.

For most people there are habits that define you, like tucking your hair behind your ear, or stroking your chin. They don't change, regardless of your age. Like freckles, or beauty spots or dimples. Like the use of colour by Angela Inglis and Greg Marshall, or the sculptural quality that Shawn Hillis flirted with in his early work and that later became the work.

Sometimes the process changes everything. Such was the case for Untitled when the act of creating a society forced a structure they hadn't planned around. The name, democratically selected from a box, represented the unnamed state of so many of the founder's own works. Everyone agreed to it. And that was a hallmark fact about the way the group operated then and still does today.

For many of the founder's Untitled was something to try on for size. To see how the fit worked. For some, like Derek Waite, it was akin to slipping on a bespoke suit. Others not so. Regardless of where people moved on to, those early decisions became as much a part of who they were, as who they began to understand they were not. Like Jan Kabatoff's textile exploration of her Doukhobor heritage, which subsequently gave way to more nature-focused encaustic work.

At some point the experiments cease and it become clear that there are informed choices ahead. Directions that are grounded in knowledge about what feels right, and what doesn't. The doors are still open; there is unlimited possibility to come. And all the while, while things are taking on a life of their own, a space is being held. A familiar and productive space.

What it ultimately comes down to is that place is more important to growth than anyone could have ever predicted. It's that physical structure that brings and keeps people together. Facilitating the rituals of creation. Not unlike the church or town hall or library or theatre.

No one ever knows the future when something new comes into being. If you are lucky there is someone to cradle it, all slimy and warm, and to wonder what those dewy, trusting eyes will see. And sixteen years on for Untitled here it is. Still focused, critical and aware.

Happy Birthday. Sweet Sixteen.

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