Pearl Van Geest was working on the educational programming for an installation in Toronto several years ago by the internationally renowned and Windsor-based conceptual artist Iain Baxter& when the notion of doing a master’s in fine arts degree here first occurred to her.
“He was like, you have to come to Windsor, you’ll love it!” she said of Baxter&, who at the time was exhibiting an eco-art project for No. 9, an arts organization that uses art and design to bring awareness to environmental concerns.
Almost a year after enrolling, Van Geest is glad she took Baxter&’s advice.
“I love having constant access to studio and the freedom to be independent,” said Van Geest, who expects to defend her thesis next spring. “I’ve also really enjoyed the arts community here. There’s a great connection between the gallery, and the university and the community. It’s really interesting here.”
Fully devoting herself to her art marked a change in direction for Van Geest, who for much of her life, was a high school science teacher. Born in Peterborough, she earned a BSc at the University of Guelph in 1981 and then went to Nigeria to teach for two years.
“I always loved art,” she said. “I wanted to go to art school but was told ‘You’re a girl and you’re good at science, so you should go into that.’ I loved science and thought I wanted to work in a lab, but discovered I didn’t really like the repetitiveness with a lot of the experiments.”
After Nigeria, she came back to teach chemistry in Brampton for a couple of years and then went to Zimbabwe to teach at a rural boarding school. She eventually returned to Canada and went to the Ontario College of Art and Design University between 1992 and 1996.
“I’ve just been making art and teaching since then,” said Van Geest, who currently has works on display as part of a group exhibition called In a Word at the SB Contemporary Art gallery on Church Street.
Since coming to Windsor, she’s experimented with a variety of media. One project involved layering charcoal drawings on sheets of Mylar on a light box, taking photographs, and interpreting what came off by painting impressions of them. More recently she’s been mounting recycled water bottles on makeshift walls with canvas spread over them, mixing varieties of paints, and letting them run down through hoses attached to the bottles to form a variety of abstract impressions.
Most of her recent work, she said, is inspired by Virginia Woolf’s 1931 novel The Waves.
“It’s about our relationship with the natural world,” she said of the book, “and the narrative is about waves, the seashore and light, and the intersection between language, body and the exterior world. I’m interested in the notion of self as an instrument to interpret pictures through body and senses. That’s what so much of Woolf’s characters were about.”
Being in the artistic milieu at Windsor has helped her shape those concepts, she said.
“It’s really allowed me to refine my ideas and use the expertise of the faculty,” she said. “The art work is important but I really wanted to develop a theoretical context and get more critical input into my writing.”
Once she’s finished her degree here, Van Geest said she hopes to continue doing exhibition work and to find a university-level teaching job.