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Bernice Vincent (1934-2016)

- March 28th, 2016


Bernice Vincent Mike Hensen

London artist Bernice Vincent has a show at The Art Exchange on Wortley Road (c. 2008 — JBNBlog)  using found grasses, weeds and other plant material painted onto canvases, representing the loss of 14 engineering students killed in the Montreal massacre. (A 2008 Postmedia News file image by LFP colleague Mike Hensen.)

My thoughts & prayers are with the family & friends of Bernice Vincent. The great London artist died Friday.

LFP colleague Mike Hensen’s 2008  photograph here gives a much finer sense of Bernice Vincent as a person & artist than any words available to me just now. So does colleague Sandra Coulson’s story from 1999.

Here is a little on Bernice Vincent quoted here to celebrate her 80th birthday in March, 2014 . . . it was found then at her website . . .

Bernice Vincent, born in Woodstock, Ontario, is a widely recognized London-based artist. Vincent has depicted the London area in her paintings from multiple perspectives including numerous picturesque series of skylines and intimate views of her own daily circumstances. Her work often captures time as though frozen. These representations draw attention to the heavy temporality of seemingly insignificant moments, and the compelling richness of fleeting experiences. [from the Museum London Collections web page]

Here is the obituary via  . . .

VINCENT, Bernice – It is with great sadness that we announce that our lovely mom and artist, Mary “Bernice” Vincent (nee Goodsell), passed away last March 25, 2016 just before 11pm, at the age of 82. We are grieving, of course, but also immensely relieved, and we suspect, so is she. Her passing was graceful, calm and comfortable. The people she loved most were by her side throughout. She will be sadly missed by her daughter Esther Vincent (Michael Fazackerley), son Charles Vincent (Andrea Thompson), and Bernice’s partner Don Muller, who were all there with her. It is sad, but it was also beautiful. And now she is on to her next adventure, no longer trapped in the world of dementia. Bernice was predeceased by her husband Donald Vincent in 1993. Visitation will be held in the NEEDHAM FUNERAL HOME on Tuesday March 29th from 7-9 pm. The funeral service will be held in the same location on Wednesday March 30, 2016 at 1 pm. Interment to follow at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. In memory of Bernice donations to the Alzheimer’s Society or the Canadian Wildlife Federation would be appreciated. Tributes may be made at www.needhamfuneralhome.com13040598

Here is a story by LFP colleague Sandra Coulson from 1999 …  it is about exhibition in Bernice Vincent’s hometown, Woodstock

Bernice Vincent takes perennial plants to a new level.
Each autumn, the London artist collects dried plants from her garden and from the undeveloped lands near her suburban home and incorporates the bits into paintings that reflect on death in the midst of life.
Viewed from across a room in the Woodstock Art Gallery where Vincent has an exhibit, the works look as if they’re made of thick paint.
But a closer inspection reveals hundreds of tiny flowers, thistles, stems and other dried-up materials placed on the surface of the paintings.
“It’s rather tedious getting it all stuck down,” admits Vincent.
But the message is about that precise moment when we realize what is gone — “the moment you draw in your breath” in realization, Vincent says.
The theme shows up not only in Vincent’s use of dried plants but also in her subjects, which include her late artist-husband Don Vincent (Man in Winter, Woman in Autumn), the women shot at the engineering school in Montreal (Fourteen Women) and the disappearing natural lands in suburbia (Winter Solstice in the Ravine by the Variety Store).
Vincent paints her canvases a base coat of green, attaches the plants and then hand-paints other colours over top — leaving a hint of the original green leaching through.
“I’ve always done it with green,” she says. “I do paintings of landscape of Southwestern Ontario and this is very green.
“This is all about us existing in the landscape. We tend to forget we’re part of the landscape.”
And just as people come and go from our lives, the landscape also changes.
“Because I’m on the edge of the city, quite often the landscapes I paint disappear,” Vincent says. “They get built over.”
During her 20 years as an artist, Vincent has produced many works that record slow daily or monthly changes in scenes around her, often portraying her Glen Cairn Woods neighbourhood.
But once in a while, she launches into something beyond her realm, as with Tell Me Where the Lions Are. That image jumped into her mind many years ago when her husband came in from his drive home from work all excited about a new song he had heard, Bruce Cockburn’s Wondering Where the Lions Are.
Vincent’s image is of a young man urgently approaching a woman who is walking a lion. The overcoats of paint are in bright primary colours, a departure from other works in the show that display a more subdued palette.
“It’s open to all kinds of interpretations,” Vincent says, indicating she isn’t sure of all of them herself.
“I find myself surprised at painting a lion,” she says. “What do I know about a lion? I didn’t even know how big a lion would be standing beside a human being.”
Still, most of Vincent’s works are firmly rooted in southeast London.
Her earliest works with dried plants are a series of abstracts she started to do to represent each month of a year near her home. She began in September 1993 and continued until November.
But in late December, Don Vincent died and his wife could do no painting that month.
“I got myself gathered together enough to do one for January. Then I got bogged down too much,” she says. The four pieces of the truncated series are in the Woodstock show.
Eventually, Vincent turned her energy to the 1.2- by 4.8-metre (four by 16-foot) mural, Man in Winter, Woman in Autumn, which depicts her husband passing out of her life. “Don is in winter; I’m left behind in autumn,” she says wistfully.
An even longer mural on the same theme is Fourteen Women, which measures 1.2 by 8.4 metres (four by 28 feet). The work is so large that, until it was mounted in the Woodstock gallery, Vincent had not seen the whole work together.
Vincent says as she did the painstaking work of attaching dried plants and painting the scenes, she reached one of those mind-boggling moments when she said to herself, “Look at how many people I’m painting. It must have been” — and here her voice drops to a whisper — “a bloodbath. What a horrible site.”
The work depicts fourteen female figures engaged in engineering studies, often making use of the basic geometric shapes. Around the edge of the work are broken engineers’ rings, a symbol of the women’s unfulfilled plans.
Vincent’s commemorative art evokes a moment of stillness. But it doesn’t necessarily offer peace of mind either to the viewer or to Vincent.
“Some people might think of it as a kind of therapy,” Vincent says. “It’s not therapy for me. Art is what I do.”

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  1. Maureen Riley says:

    Bernice Vincent with be missed by family and friends of course, but she also leaves a space in the art community-the exact shape of herself with the beautiful energy and individuality of her work. She was a generous artist and humble despite the considerable talent she shared with us. Farewell Bernice, your work remains to remind us of all of your colours. Great blog James Reaney.

  2. James Reaney says:

    Thanks, Maureen … you speak truth. We are lucky to live in a city with so many beautiful artists, you included@

  3. Mary Ann Colihan says:

    Thanks you so much James for this write-up about Bernice. I met her on many occasions at Studio 105 – home of the creative duo Eric Stach and Catherine Morissey. We bought one of her paintings on exhibit at Studio 105. I was attracted to the theme of disappearing farm land. She told me she had gathered corn stover from some nearby fields off of Highbury. These she sowed into straight rows on her canvas within a blue-green landscape that points to a lovely infinity where I imagine she now dwells, at peace. She enjoyed improvisational jazz and her partner Don Muller was just so tender with her as she navigated the twisted path of dementia. He always encouraged her to talk about her art. It kept her grounded. Thanks to Gibson Gallery too for sending out a heads up about the passing of Bernice.

  4. Ben Benedict says:

    What’s missing from this obituary, as several friends had commented at the funeral, was Bernice’s impact on the London arts scene. For me personally, her work, thoughts, passion, and intimate approach to the wonders of the world have been a major influence. Combining hard edge abstraction (minimalist colour field) with landscape (recognized after the Group of Seven as Canada’s format) and imbued it with a London Regionalist methodologies including assemblage, mixed media and always a bit of tongue in cheek metaphors.
    I remember the bold statements and quiet moments. I first met Bernice and ‘the Forest City Gang” when I moved to London to attend Western in 1988. Bernice was and remains a permanent fixture in my mind of this time and it has only been in the past few years where I have reflected back on my own efforts and successes to see the echo left by Bernice and London’s Regionalism.
    This week, I and many London artists lost not only a friend, but a hero of our industry and community. Art is not about wealth, power, influence but about seeing the nuances in between those shallow things than many covet and allows you to see the world anew in those moments that Bernice created for us all, those moments where we pause to ‘catch our breath’ from the wonder that rain socked grass or sunlight peeking through the clouds can bring.
    That was my Bernice, my memory not only of the diminutive person who was always larger than life when she needed to be heard. Bernice is the history of the London art scene – in spite of its credit often being shared or credited to others – quiet toiling, singularly focused, and happy to be in a community with good and supportive friends which in itself, inspires success.
    Thank you Bernice, I had the opportunity to say this to Bernice directly while she lived, today I am happy to share my impressions with each of you so that Bernice’s art and life can continue to inspire. So again, my friend Bernice Vincent – till we meet again, good journey.

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