"Come in, come in,” invites Kristeen Verge, waving me into her Nanaimo studio with the wet end of a loaded paintbrush. "I’m doing a red wash,” she divulges, grinning while she brandishes the brush over a large canvas; the maestro playing with music.
It’s magic. Vivid, dynamic, semi-abstract tulips rise from the acrylics like bold skyscrapers reaching for the sun. They feel intensely alive. Painted in passionate colours and a light that seems to shimmer with vibrancy, it’s captivating. All around the small room, more exuberant floral canvases fill the walls. A rich kaleidoscope of reds and yellows, purples, blues and greens spills down and out onto the floor space, creating a brilliant collection of the artist’s very distinctive work.
Verge has been drawing and painting since she was a child. In her youth, the Montreal native spent time exploring the business and marketing end of the art world. She earned her B.A. degree and became a Graphic Designer at Laval University, then married and began raising a family. Painting all the while, Verge and her husband created a successful porcelain business along the way. Through her own art, she discovered a tremendous enjoyment in encouraging others in their creativity and well-being. In 1997, she added ‘Life Coach’ to her professional resume.
Her inspiring passion for art is matched by a considerable talent. Verge has won several prestigious Federation of Canadian Artists (FCA) awards, including an "Outstanding Achievement Award” for the painting ‘Red Majesty’ in 2005, and the "Award of Excellence” for her work ‘Sun Ruffles,’ in 2007. Earlier this spring, she was named a Signature Member of the FCA. And in June, Verge was chosen from amongst many B.C. artists to create the original artwork for the 2008 Canadian Cancer Society’s annual greeting card. Her painting, illustrating a theme of spring flowers, rebirth and growth, will be put on display in the Society’s corporate offices in Toronto later this year.
Verge says she believes her artistry is all about "uplifting and building consciousness.” In our conversation, I asked her to explain.
Verge: As I am being more conscious, that goes into the painting. The people see it. They don’t know that they’re seeing it, maybe. But a lot of people will tell me, "Your paintings are so full of light.” And they inspire them. I had a woman last week say she had such an emotional connection with one of my paintings, she had to have it. I said, well, I’m glad you said that, because that’s why I do this. After painting for so long, I now understand that every painting has its purpose for someone.
JH: So your art is a reflection of you, as you are, but also a connection between people?
Verge: I wrote a little piece, because I’m now a Signature Member of the FCA, and I had to write 100 words to publish in their next magazine. I wrote that in my progression, Art is my profession but it is also my passion, and what I’ve done all my life. And I thanked them for their support, and I thought, we are one. Then, I thought, shall I send that? It’s a bit woo-woo…we are one. But in my mind, it means, I’ve been judged by my peers, but, we are one. The people in this world who are the artists, that reflect a civilization through art, we’re reflecting a time where there’s a lot of rising consciousness right now. We’re reflecting that in our paintings, if we choose to be connected to that.
JH: As an artist, do you feel you must be a representative?
Verge: To me, there’s a sense of responsibility. It’s as if everybody has roles in society, and they’re all very clear on what kind of role that is. When you say you’re a lawyer, or a doctor, people have a good idea, they say, oh, okay, I know what you do. But as an artist, people don’t know what to think. Ohhhh, she’s a starving artist. Nope. A thriving artist! I’m in a category of my own as an artist, and I really like that. In French we say: a master key, a passe-partout, in a category of its own. So the presence you have with people is the only thing they’ve got.
JH: That’s true. I was reading about that recently and listening to Oprah’s teleclass with Eckhart Tolle. He explained that when you create an identity, it’s the ego that wants a label put on things. It’s not just a yellow flower, it’s a Pansy. Then we have a label with expectations and parameters. He’s saying, throw it off, don’t consciously label anything or anyone.
Verge: Exactly. That’s such a great analogy, because that’s what it is. Being an artist is being in that space where you have to fill in the dots because they don’t know. And that’s a nice thing about being an artist – it’s the painting that counts.
JH: Did you always know that you were going to be a "thriving artist?”
Verge: Ten years ago, I felt, well, I can’t be an artist, really. How am I going to make a living? I can’t be an artist, I’d starve. I had to consider the fact that artists are starving because they hate marketing. And you talk to any artist, they hate marketing. I decided I’d love it. My background is in Graphic Design, so I had to learn. And so I love marketing. I just did a show in Vancouver. That is marketing myself. I paid big money to be in that show. People come and see me and they look at the paintings, and they say, "My, they are beautiful.” Well, is marketing that bad if people love what you do?
JH: You’re helping them get that painting into their home, so they can appreciate and feel the beauty…
Verge: Yes. If paintings don’t go out, why do it? They have to go. They have to be. Part of it is that every painting you sell fuels the next one. Because when you sell a painting, and people are so happy, and they send you an email telling you how much they love it, it could fuel your ego, but it also fuels YOU. It gives you a recognition of what you’re doing, and being part of a bigger plan. And the money coming in keeps things going so you can produce more paintings. So, if you’re not selling the paintings, it stops.
JH: Then it’s just a hobby!
Verge: Yes. And you’re not renewing yourself, because for every painting that goes, in your mind there’s a painting even better coming up, and that’s exciting. Sometimes, I look at the canvas and ask, what am I going to do now?
JH: And do you get any answer?
Verge: Yes. Well, for example, yesterday, that big painting that I’m working on, I looked at it and I wondered where am I going with this? This is not working. So I took my little composition book out and I started doing thumbnails, maybe 2 inches by 3 inches. So I redo the painting that’s there, erasing and changing until I have a composition that I like, and that inspires me. Then I close the book, and, yes, I know where I’m going.
JH: The inspiration just comes?
Verge: I look at all the aspects, and once I know, there’s a feeling. I listen to music when I paint, and at home, I dance. I just dance and let the music guide my brush. It’s so much fun, and the brushstrokes that I do when I’m doing that are so clean, and they know where to go, and I’m very free. I can see myself painting and being the artist in a symphony. Totally closing off everybody who’s looking, and just being with the music. I could do that. I even like it. In Parksville, there are demonstrations where they invite artists and you’re painting and they have a big mirror. The audience sees everything you’re doing. It’s performance.
JH: And you love that!
Verge: I’m really nervous, and I’m going there and don’t know what I’m going to do. I prepare something, and I’m still not knowing what I’m going to do! But once I’m in there, I play. I laugh the whole time!
JH: I think it’s like soaking it all up, the energy from all the people around you.
Verge: You’re taking in and giving out, and it’s circular, a universal circle. I like lots of light in my paintings. It’s an expression of spirit when there’s light in the paintings, and sometimes I add it consciously. White light, and brightness and inspiration, it all goes together. It’s felt. I think that’s where people say, wow, your paintings make me feel so good. And, it could also be because of the reds, because they’re so strong. It exudes passion, and puts them in touch with their own passion.
JH: I really resonate with all your florals. There’s light in every one of them.
Verge: One of the reasons I paint flowers is, when I was just a little girl we had a big property, and my mom would plant flowers everywhere. It was such a paradise she’d create. And so when I became an adult and had my own place, I’d plant gardens, and every year I’d open up another little garden and another little space with different flowers that would come at different times. And then I’d take my girls and say, come and see what happened today! LOOK at this peony, isn’t that gorgeous? And I’d get very, very excited about this miracle of flowers. I mean: the reds, in the sunlight. There’s nothing like it. The yellows, the brights and whites spilling onto the flowers, every morning. There’s nothing like it for me.
JH: What would you like to do next?
Verge: You know when you go into a big building, and there’s a large painting, and people stop, and they look at it? They get nourished by it. Or, they don’t stop, but it comes into them anyway. I’d like to do really large works for public places. Places like airports and waiting rooms in hospitals, where it would make a difference in shifting people’s attitudes and consciousness. Even shopping places, retreat centres, or co-housing communities in their common areas. That can have a lot of impact. Yes, I would love to do that.
To see more of Kristeen Verge’s art visit: www.kristeenverge.com