My Story

From age seven until seventeen I lived in a musical town of twenty-two thousand human souls. At twelve I learned to paint watercolour landscapes at the Mary Schneider School of Art in Madoc with my Dad, and traded my little violin for a cello which I played at International Music Camp and in the local community orchestra. At seventeen I was living in Toronto and enrolled at York University as a fine art Studio Major- a choice made over studying performance cello at Laurier in Waterloo. I was also managing, writing music for and performing with an a cappella band that played throughout Southern Ontario and had a few stints in New York. After York U I worked in the advertising industry, the insurance industry and then the music touring industry – the latter a burn-out job with a little company that went bankrupt several times over. It was the ’80s. 

I recovered from that ’80s burnout by traveling for a year in my car. Landed after that in a little off-grid hut I built on my parent’s farm. Imagine a twenty-five acre field over which the sun rises in full splendour every morning and the stars & moon shine down every night, a field lined with cherry trees whose blossoms carpet the ground every spring. It was in this poem of a place where I first felt the spinning of the earth in my belly, the orbit of the moon and the orbit of our planet around the sun – a universal dance, a soar and spin in my bones. What a generous, healing time that was. We played a lot of music in those years too, and laughed a lot.

At the Sheridan College illustration program in the early 1990s we were trained in all media like little art factories – don’t think, just DO. Two years of joy that felt for me like the title for Henry Miller’s 1968 book, Too Paint is to Love again.  After I graduated I had a dream of an egg timer ticking down from one minute while an omnipresent voice that said: CHOOSE.  I chose Georgian Bay and moved back to the Hut, where my beautiful daughter was conceived. I was thirty-two. Thus began twenty five years of single but joint custody motherhood in a small but enriching music town.

Selfie Study, July 2021

Through the first decade I produced an exhibition every two years or so – in cafes, theatre lobbies, libraries and any venue I could think of. Each one had live music and a talk, each one resulted in sales but of course not enough to bring my income anywhere near the poverty line. I worked in cafes, as a graphic designer, wrote magazine articles, played classical music for weddings and events, taught cello and art and took on contract work for City Hall, as Cultural Capital Co-ordinator, and Festival of Northern Lights Co-ordinator. 

Exhausted by going it alone and yearning for secure and steady, I threw up my hands and got married in 2005. Not a good reason to marry, but marriage of any kind is lived experience and I have no regrets. Oftentimes getting lost is a good way to get found. We built a beautiful cordwood house together, but I stopped making art as the softness between my partner and I dissolved into trauma. By the sixth year there was no joy left in me, and by 2013 I’d moved out and into my factory studio, where paintings began to pop out of me like seeds that had been stuck in a straw.

Hand Tools, #Selfie and The Bells that Still Can Ring all flowed from that point. In this work and the work from 1998 to 2005 I explored layers of colour, texture and form, symbols and images in larger and larger formats, all on canvas. My practice, to work in series from a central conceptual anchor was a way to satisfy my love for research, but also to write about process as I work. I used my blog posts like scratch pads for process and development this way from 2010 until 2023.

A Master of Arts in Community Music (2019) expands my understanding and love for interactive community arts work. Could it be this desire for interaction and connection flows naturally from the long and largely unremarked practice of women painters who were not, after all, working for public recognition and glory, but for something more inter-relational? Just a theory. Interesting to see if it holds as I make my way through The Story of Art Without Men (Katy Hessel, 2022).

I live and work in Hamilton now, where I was born, and also at an off-grid cabin at the shores of Georgian Bay – another little place that sings like a poem.

Short Biography (190 words)

My practice is to make connective things from art, story, performance and improvised collaboration, I love to create interactive spaces in which participants can safely and easily stretch their awareness and engage in possibility. I’m fascinated by the traditional divisions between artist and audience, and love to get playful with it, as in IN PLACE (2021) where the audience performed the forest sounds of tree frogs; ‘Artist’ for #Selfie (2014) – a piece about creative blocks and breakthrough that engages the audience in dance and Seven Swans (2019) – where the audience makes the sound of wingbeats through a performed story. Curious to explore the places where art, language, sound, social media and performance can meet, my artistic practice holds empowering space for connection.

My visual work is a response to lived experience – The internal collective after-effects of isolation in “After Lockdown”(2022); an exploration of how we move through and in spaces in IN PLACE (2021); pandemic isolation in Conversation Pieces (2021), and a compassionate exploration of the ubiquitous Selfie phenomenon in #Selfie, (2014). My deep love for the land, lake and trees in the Great Lakes Basin are a constant source of fascination and joy. Work for sale, events, and blog are posted at;  @KeiraMcArthur;; insta: Keira Mcarthur