Couple gives one another free hand

Shuswap artists Jen Dyck and Steve Mennie work separately and together, as will be seen in their joint exhibition at Headbones Gallery.

Salmon Arm’s Jen Dyck and Steve Mennie grasp hands for their joint exhibition opening at Headbones Gallery in Vernon Saturday.

Salmon Arm’s Jen Dyck and Steve Mennie grasp hands for their joint exhibition opening at Headbones Gallery in Vernon Saturday.

On the outskirts of Salmon Arm, in an adobe home with straw-bale-thick walls, a black and white jazz documentary is playing on the computer in the corner of the living room.

It is the home of Jen Dyck and Steve Mennie.

A jazz pianist and collage artist, Dyck is willowy and folds upon herself as she sits on the couch. Mennie is a printmaker, drawer, painter and jazz drummer with a wry wit. The couple is creativity personified.

Their respective studios are in an outbuilding, separate entrances, but they share a common wall. Both studios are chock full of work, an evidence of the fertile output of each.

A semi-circle of collaged pieces on the floor in Dyck’s space determine where it is that she is currently engaged on the latest collage.

Built on her dreams, the work depicts interior spaces constructed of snippets from National Geographic, Life, ladies journals and whatever magazine is worthy of her cull. The collaged scenarios are peopled with characters engaged in zany situations charged with the illogical inventions and happenstance of her remembered sleeping state.

“I dreamt of baking bread. Then a man rose from the stove… And that was the beginning,” explains Dyck of the collage under construction.

A mannequin with a rusty colouring is perched atop a fireplace, but what follows around the periphery of the central theme is harder to deconstruct.

Dyck’s collages celebrate human events that arise from the emotional states that make up the sociological fabric of our life and times. They depict contemporary affairs, not specific to place but to where we are at in out heads. Often containing a humorous jab at personal situations they act like the best comedies, employing wit, cynicism, criticism and sardonic strategy to bring the pathos of the human condition into play.

Despite the utterly contemporary components, many of the collages suggest other times or places such as the Dutch interiors of Vermeer, genre paintings, stage sets, filmic concept drawings or retro fittings. The palates have a designed, premeditated determination.

Mennie says his sons are coming to help him get firewood this weekend. He cuts it now, lets it dry over the summer and winter and then the next year runs a dry crackling blaze through the winter months.

Mennie’s yard is a labyrinth of river rock forming borders and walkways. There is an obsessive bent to his art work as well. Just as his gathering of wood or rock is carefully tuned through his particular process to result in a solid end, so each piece is worked, carefully.

Veering between finely crafted figurative work and painterly psychological abstracts – and now and again combining the two realms – each piece is both created and conceived, a product of nature and nurture.

Mennie has an able hand. His Hand Jobs, pastel and charcoal works that depict hands working at various tasks, is a testament to his own hand. The hands are far larger than life, some so large that each pore is seen. Then just as he could rest safe on his virtuosity, Mennie whirls like a dervish, about face, and the next painting is a convoluted abstract that weaves in upon itself in multiple layers of colour.

Dyck and Mennie add up to a portrait of two artists as a couple. They work separately, each oeuvre different from the other, but not at odds. It’s two for one where the one is art.

Both artists are showing their work in a joint exhibition at Headbones Gallery, 6700 Old Kamloops Rd. An opening reception takes place Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. The show continues to June 16. Hours are Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.

— Written by Julie Oakes, owner of Headbones Gallery in Vernon, B.C.