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Creating art from ashes

February 13, 2017

Studio Art Professor Amy Gilles introduced a collection of art in a show entitled “Soul at White Heat,” which debuted in the Friesen Galleries September 2016. Named after Emily Dickinson’s poem “Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?” this stunning collection was the product of pain, confusion and, most importantly, hope. The power and beauty of each piece is amplified by the circumstances from which they arose.

In the summer of 2015, a fire destroyed Gilles’s apartment, possessions and artwork. To grapple with her loss, Gilles began to experiment with sections of damaged artwork that had been salvaged from the fire. Besides prodding confrontation of the loss, restoring the art pieces “was a way of acknowledging the idea that redemption and healing can emerge from burned and broken things in the same way the old, burned drawings were being transformed and given a second life,” explained Gilles.

Contrasting charred pieces with bright gold, she was able to visually represent honest hope in a dark and broken world. By showing both the broken and the new, Gilles acknowledged both aspects of this world and illustrated how “the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

This experience left more than just her artwork transformed. When asked how this experience has changed her view of art and herself, Gilles responded, “I used to approach art as something that I created to be whatever I had planned from the start... But, working with the materials left over from the fire, I realized that in reality we can all only work with what we’ve been given, whether that is in art or our lives.

“I had to choose what to do with what remained of the artwork I had so carefully planned and executed before the fire and, if left to me, I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to be in that situation. But what grew out of the decision to use those burned and damaged pieces was a realization that being in control of everything is actually overrated and the real beauty of the project came from using what I hadn’t chosen.”

The power and beauty of redemption is clearly conveyed through “Soul at White Heat.” Gilles’s art collection is a compelling illustration of what it looks like to find beauty in literal ashes, to let go of precious things but also transform them into something new.

@nwnazarene