Inspired North Island artist-in-residence pays it forward: Painter Sylvia Ringer

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Published in the North Island Eagle, May 2017

By Trish Weatherall

“There is something magical about this area,” says artist-in-residence Sylvie Ringer. “It’s very wild and untouched. Nature has such a strong presence here. It seems to attract very special people.”

Born in Kamloops, Ringer was raised in Germany, where she achieved a MA in Visual Art and Communication Design at Hochschule fur Angewandte Wissenschaften in Hamburg, and St. Luc Academy in Brussels. She went through an in-depth application and project proposal process to receive a 6-month travel grant from DAAD (a German Academic Exchange Service) to Canada, and secured an artist-in-residency with the Sointula Art Shed on Malcolm Island in 2015 for one month. (Residency programs fund artists to give them an opportunity to work on their art in a new environment, immerse in a new culture, and contribute to the community through their passion for art.)

She returned to Malcolm Island last Fall, after spending nine months back in Germany working on a Syrian refugee integration course to teach refugees basic knowledge of German language, culture, and navigating the social system.

Her connection to North Vancouver Island has changed her lifestyle and her art.

“In the city, I was in an industrial area,” said Ringer of her 10 years in Hamburg, Germany. “My drawings were of fantasy nature landscapes. Being off the grid changes your work. My art changed. The natural beauty is grounding and inspiring.”

Ringer now has “a very simple but healthy life” that includes a daily noon-hour hike. She lives on a secluded property in the centre of Malcolm Island with her partner, in a wood-stove heated home, with a generator to supply electricity, and a rain water collection system. Here, in serene surroundings with fewer distractions she creates her paintings and drawings. (See her work online at www.sylvieringer.de or originals and prints at The Nest in Port Hardy.)

As inspired as she is by the raw beauty of the North Island, Ringer is also inspiring North Islanders to express and heal through art. She balances the solitude of her home studio by bringing art classes to North Island communities.

“Art is really beneficial to people,” said Ringer. “Once you get in the flow of the process of art making, without judgement, it creates similar sensations as when we meditate.”

Since October she has been teaching weekly adult drawing and painting classes at North Island College in Port Hardy.

“She has proven very popular with her students and her courses have been filling to capacity with a diverse crew of students, from beginners to skilled artists,” said Caitlin Hartnett, Campus Community Coordinator at the Mount Waddington North Island College. “Sylvie’s approach for each student is to tap into their creativity and let their art take any form.”

Ringer’s background includes numerous illustrations in published books and magazines, exhibitions and shows in Germany and Canada, and teaching classes and workshops.

Her advanced class art students will have work showing at the North Vancouver Island Art Society art show this Mother’s Day weekend at the Port McNeill community hall.

North Island College also offered a Spring Break art camp with Ringer in March for children 8-14, with a student art show on the last day.

“The class was 50 per cent exercises and 50 per cent free art,” said Ringer. “I think it’s important to support what they are interested in. That’s where the joy comes from.”

“We feel very lucky to have Sylvie working with us and are excited to offer a plein air (drawing/painting outdoors) course with her this summer,” said Hartnett. A beginner landscape painting and drawing class will also be available in Port McNeill.

In March and this May, Ringer hosts a free open art studio Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at North Island Building Blocks in Port Hardy. The program was Ringer’s concept, working with NIC to use tuition from the college courses to fund a series of free art courses, open to all ages and artistic ability levels. Ringer’s says every participant is encouraged to work on their own ideas, but they can also seek advice on a specific technique, finding inspiration in general, or art therapy exercises that help release anxiety or simply empty our minds for awhile.

“I’m exciting about the Building Blocks art program. I wanted to create a space for people to experiment and get in touch with art,” said Ringer. “And to make it as accessible as possible. I want people to play, to enjoy themselves and to experiment. It’s a great activity for children and parents to do together.”

Future plans may include a long-term program at Building Blocks and a summer art camp.

Ringer is also paying it forward to people like her who are longing for a magical place to immerse themselves in their work, without modern distractions, with an invitation to artists or researcher to use the off-grid living space in a converted school bus on the property.