watery reflections

A reflection of trees in water

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Untitled #2. Water soluble oil on wood panel, 14” X 14”. 2022
A painting of trees and water

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Untitled #4. Water soluble oil on wood panel, 14” X 14”. 2023

In January of 2019 I saw Katherine Mulherin post on Facebook, “What does it mean when you keep finding dimes?”  She found a cupful then a drawer full of them and then some just lying around the house in Toronto.  There were many clever retorts, and then more serious responses from those who see dimes as messages from spirit.  I quipped somewhere in between, “Hahaha, your mom. She hasn’t given up on getting through to you!” Because I saw her mother suddenly:  dark hair, striking, dressed stylishly in something from the 50’s. 

Katherine and I are not close but we went to art school together and she was one of the first art gallery dealers to exhibit my work. Feeling an urgency I sent a text right away: “I am serious about it being your mom. I hope you find some quiet time to connect with her. I feel like she just wants you to know that she is around and loving you. Hope you are well! Xx.”  Katherine messages back to agree.  She’s seeing crows everywhere that she attributes to her mother as well. 

Six months later I attend an artist residency on Earth-based spirituality at Artscape Gibraltar Point on Centre Island in Toronto.  There’s been massive flooding on Lake Ontario after record above-average rainfalls. The waters have finally receded enough to allow the use of the old converted school house for the summer season.  Still, pumps are going constantly on Centre Island, homes are barely out of the water, and many walkways are still submerged. My studio windows face the Island Water Treatment Plant with the waters of Lighthouse Pond now reaching up to that building and mine.  

On my first day at Artscape, to the shock of close friends, family, and the arts community in Toronto and beyond, Katherine’s oldest son, Jasper, posted that his mother had taken her life.  I couldn’t sleep that night.  I drank too much wine, wandered the empty halls of the old schoolhouse and ended up in my studio where I danced in the dark looking at those watery reflections outside my window.  The shimmering lights of the Plant and the CN tower in that post-apocalyptic landscape eerily reflected the uneasiness growing in me.  I took bad photos, smoked a few cigarettes on the back stoop amongst the drowned debris of sandbags, barriers and orange cones, and felt the world was just way smaller than before Katherine left us.  Memories of her kept flooding in.  

A warm and gentle-hearted soul with a quirky sense of humour, Katherine had been a risk-taker and a name-maker.  In the late 90’s she opened up the very rough West Queen Street to the Toronto gallery scene for emerging artists like me, living in not much more than a closet with her young son to make space in her home for our art.  That Katherine may have felt forgotten on her return to a different Toronto neighborhood than the now upscale art scene she’d helped create on Queen Street played on many of our hearts, my own included. 

I finally fell asleep but lightly.  At 3 am I awoke to Katherine appearing in my mind’s eye, regretful of what she’d done, bereft and wailing and wanting to return to her sons. I held her tightly, and I don’t know how I knew to do this but I told her that she couldn’t return, that she would become a haunting.  I told her that she had to transition to watch over her boys from the other side. I saw her mother waiting for her with love and I walked Katherine over to her. I witnessed some of her anxiety fall away as they embraced.  When they were gone, I fell asleep, this time deeply. 

During the rest of my residency, I created a series of small paintings from the blurry photos I’d taken of the watery world outside my studio that night, laying the acrylic paint down and wiping it off quickly to mostly erase what hadn’t set, and to leave just a stain behind. Like the traumas of life, the marks that go down first remain the strongest. Even doing our best, we can’t always manage to heal the pain that we carry for ourselves or others.

Every few months since Katherine’s death over four years ago another loss has come along to submerge me in grief.  Each time close family, biological and more-than-human, has left this earth behind, I go back to working with those watery nightscape images, layering another glaze on a painting until it’s impossible not to see myself in this new reflection, attempting to capture the dark mystery in those murky waters slowly, with care, so I can find my way through.

A reflection of trees in water

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Untitled #5. Water soluble oil on wood panel, 14” X 14”. 2023

About the Author

Rebecca Anweiler is a visual artist who completed her MFA at Concordia University, Canada in 2000. Her interest in critically investigating the cultural representations underlying gender, sexuality and the natural world as constructed through norms produced by educational and scientific systems informs much of her earlier series of paintings. Her background in biology and education supported these various lines of inquiry. Over the last 10 years, intuitive relationships with animals and other elements of the natural world, along with life experiences of both trauma and the mystical, has led to seeking new ways to explore the magical and the mysterious in her artwork and her life.

Anweiler has exhibited extensively in Canada, in numerous solo and group exhibitions. Their paintings are in many private collections, as well as the public collections of the City of Toronto, the University of Lethbridge, Alberta and the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, Ontario. They have been teaching in the Queen’s University Fine Art (Visual Art) Program for 20 years.

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