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nomorepotlucks » Power Centre–Backbone as Metaphor-Mary Elizabeth Luka & Lee Cripps

Power Centre–Backbone as Metaphor-Mary Elizabeth Luka & Lee Cripps

Languish-Lee-Cripps, Charcoal, Oil and enamel on canvas, 36" x 60"

ME Luka: You have been active as a visual artist and creative worker for several years now, including when I first knew you as a video editor at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). You’ve since gone on to (re)establish your own practice, and to work as a curator in a community gallery. It seems like you have a strong connection to place, including very particularly to nature. How does this relate to the theme of “power” for you?

Lee Cripps: Power is such an expansive theme and probably has very different meanings to anyone you might ask. To me, it has everything to do with connection. Being an introvert, I have become very aware of the energy exchanges in everyday relationships, brief or long-term and find power struggles – big and small – in each. I, myself, feel most powerful outside, connecting with the environment. Nature asks for nothing and allows me to gather my thoughts and regroup and explore new thoughts without interruption. It really is like a meditation of the whole being – body, mind and spirit. It’s from this place that I am inspired and powerful within those first fires.



MEL: The marking of process and, in a way, time passing on your works is evident: your photographs use filters and effects, paintings and drawings foreground mark-making, erasures, and changes. Why is this important to you? Is there an equivalent in your curatorial work? In other things that you do?

LC: I want to convey a tension between reality, the viewer’s reality and my own reality. When I photograph, I am not only recreating an image which existed as-is, I am recreating a moment experienced with my imagination and my whole being. Similarly when I paint (figures) I am painting the model and I am painting an exchange of energy between myself and the model. I would say the energy of the experience is as important in art as the subject itself. The energy and tension is what makes artwork so powerful, and successfully portraying this tension is my motivation.

The same can be said of curating, it is very important to maintain a tension between a grouping of work. It’s the differences – especially within a solo exhibition – that can make each piece stand on its own and create an evocative showing. Perhaps it’s this powerful tension that I’m drawn to that keeps me single! (haha)


MEL: You’ve mentioned powerlessness as a, well, powerful counterpoint to the notion of power. In what ways does “powerlessness” motivate your own work or the decisions you make in order to do the work?

LC: I tend to work very intuitively and ask questions later. I draw themes and threads from my day-to-day sketch work, which leads to series. Social power has always interested me in many aspects. As a child, as a woman, an employee, co-worker, partner there have always been times I felt powerless and continue to recognize daily struggles in even the most fleeting connections. Within myself I would say there are times of struggle – as an artist, a parent, and again as a woman. What sort of power am I seeking exactly? I feel most powerful when I am outside, in the elements, and alone, this is when inspiration strikes and I am able give my thoughts time and space to run. It’s the claustrophobia of daily life that leaves me feeling powerless: schedules and meetings and priorities and responsibilities. Finding the balance is difficult, I’m guessing for most people, but the ebb and flow often allows the creative to percolate. Perhaps there would be no power without the struggle? Again it’s that tension that drives me in my themes and the way I express them.


MEL: I’m really drawn to the image “Backbone.” Could you talk about that a bit?

LC: “Backbone” is an interesting piece for me. It started as a literal exploration of the theme of power, in that the backbone or spine is a metaphor for courage and strength of character: something most of us aim for but it can be difficult. It’s also the base of everything in our body – it holds our weight and is our centre, it connects our brain to our body through nerves, and it’s also one of the first things to develop in a foetus, it’s really very complex and fascinating.

Generally I find the female form a very powerful subject. Women can be empowered by our bodies and use our physical form to our benefit, but we can also be completely enslaved by our bodies and the struggle against societal pressures. When I created this piece of the woman with her back turned, I wanted to focus on her spine. The whole imagery of her turning away seemed powerful to me, and the spine needed to be an important focal part of that experience. It has spurred more exploration of that within my more recent work and a series.

The piece “Insight” was very important in my figure series work. The model had great, strong presence and energy. I painted her later with only one eye, as a comment on my own longing for strength of presence in my life. Some of the time I am wholly existing and other times I coast, half-blind.



MEL: Are there others that really speak to the idea of “power” that you’re interested in conveying?

LC: Three of the photographs I’ve included, “Flight”, “Wisdom Teeth” and “Taught,” all speak directly to the theme. It’s difficult to narrow it down. I love the image of Flight – that could speak directly to the theme without explanation – as well as “Wisdom Teeth”, which comments on me losing parts of my physical self as I get older but gaining power in experience and growing comfortable in my skin.



“Taught” stands on its own as an image and directly expresses a sadness for my younger self. What we are taught as children is everything and shapes us for life. Unfortunately it is the attitudes, actions, and energies that surround us as youth that can be so stifling in our later years – they become taut like rope, binding us to less than we might feel we are. The image is also a detail from an installation which was featured in a group exhibit in 2014.

MEL: The way that you title your works seems to express that tension you talk about in relation to daily life. Are you asserting the possibility for various intentions that each individual artwork could hold, or is there something else going on? Are there ways in which you’re aiming to be a little bit directive perhaps to proclaim your own power in these processes? 🙂

LC: When I title my work, I see it as an opportunity to add another dimension to the story I’m expressing to the viewer. Something I’ve noticed in managing a gallery is that as much as the artist would like the audience to glean their own meaning from what they see, the patrons often long to know what the artist’s intention was. They want to speak to the artist and connect further; the title is an opportunity to reach out and give supplemental clues to my own intentions. Even one word can change the meaning of an image all together. Perhaps that is a bit directive, but in calling a photograph of a pear “Sex,” the viewer then knows my intention was not to photograph my afternoon snack but create a subtext with manipulated imagery.


Lee Cripps is a professional artist and arts administrator living and working in Halifax, NS. After a decade-long career in television, Lee made a conscious return to her fine arts roots upon the birth of her daughter in 2007. Becoming a mother solidified for her the importance of living life with intention and truth. Since coming out as a lesbian in 2008, she uses her art practice as an ongoing investigation of spirituality, sexuality and feminism and feminine power. 
The process of photographing has been an outlet for documenting her life and growth as an artist and individual within a community – and the beauty of that community. Her work is landscape, portraiture, journalism and expression. She is motivated by evocative inspirations brought to surface purely by daily observations and is interested in art as expression in the purest form. As a painter she explores large-scale expressionism. Her portraits and figures represent her political views of the female position within family, community and nation. Her motivation is not only the lack of place and people she often felt as an adolescent, but also the energy and beauty she observes in all bodies, faces and people. For more: Instagram @thecriptyklee | http://leecripps.weebly.com/

Mary Elizabeth Luka is NMP’s east coast connection, based in Halifax. She’s also a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at Sensorium in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, and at the Schulich School of Business, both at York University, and a Visiting Scholar at Ryerson University. Her creative work and research investigates how artistic, civic and business sectors are networked in the digital age, including her current comparison of sites of cultural collaboration in Canada, the U.S.A, the U.K. and Australia, and ongoing research about recent Canadian media and broadcast policy, such as the Let’s Talk TV campaign at the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). She aims to improve understanding about how creative workers shape their careers and lives, how employers cultivate inspiring work environments, and how governments and universities generate civic and innovative commitments in the digital era. She also likes to make stuff, especially digital media. She is a member of the public art group, Narratives in Space + Time Society, which intervenes at specific sites to engage others in art practices and storytelling, and is an award-winning digital media and television producer-director. Besides her work with NMP & as a Banting Fellow, Dr. Luka is current Board Chair for Arts Nova Scotia, and a member of the NSCAD University Board of Governors and the Cultural Human Resources Council PATAC. For more: http://moreartculturemediaplease.com/