“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” -Albert Einstein
For local artist Destanne Norris, who has a solo exhibition entitled Stellar on display at the Vernon Public Art Gallery, Einstein’s quote rings true. The Armstrong-born painter has been involved in the arts her entire life, but it wasn’t until the summer of 1995 when her then 19-month-old daughter Leah drowned that Norris realized art was her future.
“That was the instigation to say, ‘I’m supposed to paint. This is my destiny,’” Norris said. “I nursed Leah the longest and felt an urge to keep Leah close to me. I had this sense something was coming, even that day.”
One of Norris’s first large-scale paintings in art school was of a young child dancing on the shoreline in shallow water.
“There was an unnerving edge to this painting — an ominous fiery shape pierced the darkened sky and pointed towards the unsuspecting toddler. I entitled this mysterious painting Electrogenesis,” Norris said.
Norris crafted other paintings prior to Leah’s birth that referenced water, a toddler, a nursing mother, and the physical location of Leah’s death.
“On the dreadful day she left us, in my screeching horror, I thought I created it,” Norris said. “But these paintings came flooding back to me.”
The collection of eight paintings, plus four more painted afterwards, were presented in an exhibition entitled Leah’s Gift in commemoration of her life on the first anniversary of her passing at Sunrise Galleries in Jasper, Alta.
With Leah’s Gift, Norris focused on the past, present, and future as it related to Leah’s story. Destined to move forward, Norris shifted her focus towards the future with paintings of landscapes, and eventually attended the University of Tasmania in Australia to polish her craft.
“I applied and got in and that changed my life,” Norris said. “I kind of honed in on the water — I think it was evoking back to losing Leah.”
As she delved further into the world of landscape art, Norris experimented with layering unique representations and imagery not often found in traditional landscape work.
After returning from Australia, Norris moved to Silver Star, where she drew inspiration from the view atop the mountain, and pursued a Fresh! AiR residency with the Caetani Cultural Centre and Allan Brooks Nature Centre.
“Through the project, a friend had passed,” Norris said. “As it happened, my project changed. I took the view from outer space.”
With the project, Norris’s ever-evolving style transitioned from her unique landscape perspectives to the galactic and existential work of Stellar.
“I thought I needed to go deeper into space,” Norris said. “It’s kind of the deeper thrust of my work.”
Using Hubble Telescope images and her own interpretation of imagery and ideas from scientific books, Norris’s departure into the cosmos depicts distant stars and nebula.
“It’s been really fun, this body of work,” Norris said.
But as Norris’s work transforms, the narrative-driven message of the body remains the same.
“I like to make connections with people using my art as a platform to share my story.”
Norris’s exhibition Stellar is on display at the Vernon Public Art Gallery until Nov. 1, with an opening reception July 27 from 6 to 8 p.m.