BEV TOSH, DIPLOMA, 1985, PAINTING
ALUMNI DISCOVERY INITIATIVE INTERVIEW BY VANESSA NELSON
From top left to bottom right: Tear Bottles, Mixed media, 2005 – ongoing
Photo of Bev Tosh by Vanessa Nelson, Tug of War (The Military Museums, 2015)
Passage, 2014, O/C
Photo of Bev Tosh by Vanessa Nelson, Shoulder-to-Shoulder (The Military Museums, 2015)
Portraits in Sepia, Stories in Silk, Canada House, London, 2016
VANESSA NELSON: When did you graduate from ACAD? (And what was it called then?) What was your major? Do you continue to work in this area or did you change areas of interest?
BEV TOSH: I graduated in 1985 from Painting from the Alberta College of Art. There was no “and Design,” so it was ACA at the time. I continued to work in painting, which was my major, and have done so in the decades since. I started as a mature student, my children were in school at that point.
NELSON: A lot of graduates use the ACAD degree as a creative stepping stone. So, what did you do? And how did your education at ACAD direct your career?
TOSH: My reason for going to ACAD in the first place was to learn composition. I didn’t plan to do a four year program, however, I soon realized that I was in the right place. It felt like being centered on a potter’s wheel. ACAD allowed me to touch base with myself on many levels. Until that time there was a sense of incompletion. I already had a BA from the University of Saskatchewan with a double major in Psychology and Fine Art. But when I followed through at the Art College and graduated it was as though I had found where I was meant to be. I continue to paint and teach and for that I’m very grateful.
NELSON: Were there any particular classes or instructors that were instrumental for you?
TOSH: There was a teacher who was profoundly important to me, Frank Vervoort, I certainly shared his vision. He used to read aloud to the class from the philosophy book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Initially, I would shake my head at times, trying to understand the point of this book and even him – he had a thick Belgian accent. Once I started to draw and paint, I got it. I had an almost immediate understanding of his teachings.
The last communication I had with him before he was killed has stayed in my mind over the years, and I believe it is one of the reasons teaching is so important to me. I was in 4th year when we passed in the stairwell and he said, “I saw your painting in the studio.” He raised his hands, and he said, “it makes me want to paint!” This is my teacher saying this to a student – those were the last words he said to me. This painting was the only painting I’ve ever done where I fully lost myself, it was as if the painting painted itself. And he recognized that in the painting. I’ve never quite experienced that again.
So after considering this and other experiences at ACAD, I feel strongly that communication through art and mentoring are part of the role of the visual artist – or at least are my expectations of myself as a visual artist.
NELSON: What would you like to be recognized for?
TOSH: That seems like a big question. I’d like to be able to touch the lives of individuals. For example, the people visiting the exhibition just now (Dutch War Brides at the Founders’ Gallery, the Military Museums, Calgary). I’d like to leave some trace with students, hence the mentoring. I think there is a lack of women’s voice in history, that voice can be articulated both visually and through story. Story is so important. It can help people discover something in themselves. I’d like to be known for inspiring communication across generations – through art and mentoring. As a teacher I always strive, not so much to teach content but to trigger something inside the student. I think the ultimate goal of the teacher is to make oneself redundant – to inspire a search that is student led.
NELSON: Given your experiences, what advice would you give a student when it comes to establishing a creative business?
TOSH: I would caution students about the transition or difficulties in the first year after graduation. How each graduate negotiates that year is incredibly important. There is a huge atrophy of art making once a student graduates. Others may care that you are happy or fulfilled through the practice of your art, however once you’re out of the nurturing environment, it’s rather like being a hot house plant suddenly faced with a severe climatic change – that of being in a situation that doesn’t necessarily foster the arts.
I graduated with my Master’s in 1987, a year after that I was offered sessional teaching at the University of Calgary and ACAD. That year in between graduating and being offered teaching was difficult and isolating. It was challenging to be self-driven after 6 years of formal art education. It’s a lot to put on anyone, psychologically, financially, and emotionally – to find your voice artistically while dealing with the realities of daily life. So for me, finding employment through teaching helped me have creative freedom in my work. I was lucky to find a studio that was a private working space, in the Burns Visual Art Society (it’s now the oldest continuously running artist studio cooperative in Canada). It doesn’t really matter where you work though, it could be as small as a closet, but it has to be a dedicated space. I believe there’s a psychology to that. And regarding early exhibitions, the venue is less important than the fact that you are exhibiting – anything that helps you continue making your work.
NELSON: What insights did your four years at ACAD give you when looking at things?
TOSH: So many personal insights. ACAD helped me mature as a person and as an artist. My experience taught me about who I was and what I needed as a human being. It wasn’t the diploma that was important but a journey into myself.
I also give credit to the Art College for those day-long classes, for the immersion in the arts. I could live and breathe art. I can’t imagine not finding ACAD.
NELSON: After graduation, what obstacles did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
TOSH: The isolation, definitely. However, an artist, whether in a group or not, works in isolation, because you have to be accessing something in yourself to create. It’s less important to others whether and how you continue making work. So the impetus was on me to express myself visually, to find my voice and evolve with it.
I supported myself after the first year through teaching. I could teach, engage with students, and then have freedom in the studio to work as I chose. I taught courses like drawing and anatomy, which some find dry but I loved those classes. With teaching I had a sense of freedom in my work, I made quirky work and collaborated with a poet. I felt free to do that, to see where my work would lead. I loved teaching, and was grateful to not have to rely on the sales of my work. Teaching gave me freedom in the studio.
NELSON: What do you feel is the role of ACAD and our alumni in shaping our cultural and economic prosperity?
TOSH: To further increase the visibility of ACAD as a destination for education – and mostly importantly – art.
With the number of art graduates that are coming into the city every year we should have a profoundly creative city. It’s not that every graduate will continue to make work – that’s unrealistic. Those artists who don’t continue to make artwork foster the arts in other ways. And, bring a more artistic experience to those around them. They, too, have the potential to make the city a more vibrant destination.
NELSON: Where does art fit into your future?
TOSH: I can’t say where it will go, that’s the hardest question – where tomorrow will lead. Looking back, I can’t see my life developing in the way it did without ACAD. And I can’t see a future without art.
NELSON: Who are you influenced by, contemporary or not?
TOSH: Ron Spickett, a lay Buddhist priest, and in my day, an artist. I admire and seek out his work. I look at artists like Peter von Tiesenhausen, his art and life truly inspire me. He embraces art more completely in his life. Those would be two that come to mind.