Darlene Dautel has crafted a living from her hands. But while some chose to be artists, the Grand Forks painter says she never really had a choice.
“I’m driven to know how things are done and how things are produced,” Dautel said. “I’m fascinated that people, thousands of years ago, could produce potter better than what I produced today.” Three unglazed pots sit on her stark white table in her studio on Market Avenue in Grand Forks. Paintings made with encaustic (beeswax), watercolour and a variety of other media line the narrow room’s walls. Beside her in the window sits a small canvas of her grandson eating an ice cream cone, liquid vanilla looking as though it’s melting right off the canvas.
Dautel’s eye for vivid details was rewarded earlier this month, when she was recognized by the West Kootenay Chapter of the Federation of Canadian Artists (WKCFCA) for her talents.
The WKCFCA has included one of Dautel’s pieces, “Romeo,” in its latest show at the VISAC Gallery in Trail, which runs from now until Dec. 13.
Without knowing Romeo’s story, you might be worried about the man in the yellow shirt that takes up the bottom half of the painting. He sits in shorts, staring around a corner, his eyes begging the viewer to ask what’s beyond the canvas.
It’s a public shower at a Jamaican beach, Dautel confirmed.
It turns out that Romeo, a man who lived near where the Canadian artist was vacationing, would turn up to the shower every morning with his cooking pot and cups in order to clean himself, his teeth and his dishes in one go.
“I just loved him,” said Dautel. “He was making no apologies for it – it was just who he was.”
While Dautel admits that doing dishes at the public beach may not be cause for personal celebration at home, Romeo, she says, “was very much like, ‘Nah, things are good!’”
Dautel said that a lot of her works, like “Romeo,” look at people and their own narratives.
“I like things that tell a story,” Dautel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a little landscape. Usually, for me, it has a story.”
Like the Greek couple that sit immortalized in paint on Dautel’s studio wall.
“I passed them every day sitting there,” Dautel said, recalling a trip to Greece. “They just always seemed to be sitting there having a smoke and quietly chatting. I just love them – they had so much character.”
Knowing the stories can also inform a selection of favourites. “Romeo” was selected by a jury of three as one of the top works at the WKCFCA’s latest exhibition, but Dautel didn’t even plan on submitting him to the show. It was her daughter who convinced her at the last minute to swap the two-foot by four-foot canvas in for another.
“And then, here he is second place,” Dautel said, of the painting to which she refers as “he,” betraying some level of affection for a piece submitted to sale.
“I wouldn’t be heartbroken if it comes back to me,” the artist said, “that’s for sure.”