Willowdale award winner featured in Gales Gallery

Jessica Thalmann a fourth-year visual arts student, is the recipient of the 2009 Willowdale Group of Artists Painting Award. The award recognizes exceptional achievement in painting by an upper-level undergrad student who is continuing to study the medium. The beneficiary receives $1,250 and the opportunity to present a solo show in York University’s Gales Gallery.

Thalmann’s exhibition, that’s not the way she was at all, will be on view Feb. 8 to 12 in the Gales Gallery, 105 Accolade West Building. It features expanded painting, photography and installation exploring the nature of trauma and memory.

Right: Jessica Thalmann

“The title is a direct quote from Roland Barthes’ seminal essay Camera Lucida, which was a huge inspiration to me when I created the work,” says Thalmann. “In the essay he talks about how a photo can never fully capture a person or situation. He said: ‘I was struggling against images partially true, and therefore totally false,’ which totally resonated with me.”

Thalmann started creating the body of work in the show shortly after the death of her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. “I had a dozen photos of my grandmother, taken in Europe before and after World War II,” Thalmann says. “They really weren’t a sufficient way to remember her. Photography is inherently flawed in that way, especially when it comes to people we have loved and lost.”

Thalmann repeatedly expanded upon the photos with encaustic paint and utilizes them in numerous surprising installation applications, from suspended suitcase light-boxes to encaustic wax sculptures.

“On one hand I burn the photos, partially destroying them by fire, and on the other hand I coat and preserve them in wax with the encaustic painting,” she says. “In each installation, I also alternately hide and reveal the images. The heart of the show is somewhere within that balance.”

In addition to her work as an artist, Thalmann – who is currently president of the Creative Arts Student Association in the Faculty of Fine Arts – actively pursues curatorial projects and is deeply engaged with Toronto’s art community. She has been helped to envision and organize group shows downtown for her classmates (see YFile, July 13, 2009)  and participated in Toronto’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2009. 

Thalmann’s contribution to Nuit Blanche was a curated, collaborative project titled "Take Shelter", an installation dealing with issues of homelessness and poverty in urban spaces, see YFileSept. 28, 2009. Her other exhibition credits include the Whippersnapper Gallery, Keep 6 Contemporary, the Arts and Letters Club, the Bata Shoe Museum, Gallery 1313, the Art Gallery of York University, Sleeping Giant Gallery and Toronto’s Outdoor Art Exhibition.

The Willowdale Group of Artists is a community-based association dedicated to the art of painting. They have been supporting visual arts students at York since 2000. Members meet weekly and participate in regular workshops, life drawing sessions and demonstrations as well as annual group exhibitions. 

The Gales Gallery is open daily from 10am to 4:30pm. There will be a closing reception for Thalmann’s show on Thursday, Feb. 11 from 6 to 9pm. Admission is free.