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Sheila Norgate

Sheila Norgate was born in 1950 in the heart of downtown Toronto in the back seat of her uncle's late model Buick. Like most girls of her vintage, she was herded towards all things domestic, and save for an incident in grade eleven when she convinced authorities to allow her to drop home economics in favour of commercial design, she displayed no particular aptitude towards the arts. After high school Norgate drifted with the rest of her grad class flotsam into University where she learned how to smoke a pipe and protest social injustice. Two years later and still not actually qualified to do anything, she assumed an entry level position with a major bank and before you could say "accidental and bland career" one such thing yawned open before her. She soon crossed the country by train and settled on the West Coast.

By 1983 the unlived life was nipping at her heels like a badly behaved poodle and Norgate was forced to take a leave from banking to recover from major abdominal surgery. While recuperating she bought herself a set of cheap watercolors and embarked on a course of serious dabbling. In those small hard tablets of pigment, she began to locate a voice, her voice. She enrolled in a local art school but dropped out after only a brief stint, convinced that she needed to find her own way. Since then she has done just that.

Artist Statement

"I had no intention of becoming an artist. There was no childhood dream, no revelationary moment, no intuitive flash, and no channeling of Emily Carr. It was more that the specter of art-making appeared before me as an inflatable raft to a drowning woman and I hauled myself onto it as a way to save my life. I needed to see myself and know myself. Not surprisingly, I am virtually self-taught.

I work primarily in acrylic paint on canvas. I love this medium. I love how it forgives and forgets, how it lets me put it wherever I want, how it dries fast when I am impatient to move on. I work fairly energetically, not wanting to prune back any impulse that arises. I spend a lot of time getting out of my own way. This is not as easy as you’d think.

The text that always appears in my work is vitally important to me. Painting without text would be like Ginger Rogers dancing without Fred Astaire. It would be show and tell without the tell. They just go together. I can’t seem to help myself. Maybe there’s a 12 step group for that.

Over the years there have been what you would call recurring motifs appearing in my work. Hearts and birds have pretty much been there all along, but the dogs are a more recent addition. I’d love to be able to attribute this to some more exotic phenomena, but truth be told, it is a simple case of art imitating life. My partner and I adopted a small maltese-poodle cross in 2001 and life has never been the same. An even more recent interest is horses. So far only one has ventured into a painting of mine, but I feel them standing around the edges of my peripheral vision. Snorting and waiting.

I would describe the practice of making art as requiring a mix of rapt dedication and raw conviction. It is one of the purest acts of faith I know about. World events of recent years have made it difficult at times for me to sustain such self-directed and singular focus and yet in my heart I believe that it is through this re-visiting of ourselves over and over again in the creative process, that we make a small stitch in the weave of our shared humanity. I try to remember that birds begin their song each day in darkness, gently spreading a tapestry of faith across the land.

Sheila Norgate

Canada House Gallery
201 Bear Street
po box 1570
Banff AB
T1L 1B5