When Ava P. Christl arrived at the Ranger Station Galley in the fall of 2019, she expected to get down to work on her large-scale paintings of the Skeena River. She didn’t expect to be facing a world-wide pandemic at the same time.
“Even when COVID hit I still had that work to propel me through,” Christl said about her Skeena paintings, which were in display in the Agassiz Library in the summer of 2020.
When she had finished that project, she said, “it was a little unsettling because I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know how long I would be here.”
“None of us knew how long COVID would be,” she added. “I didn’t really expect to be here for almost a whole other year.”
That year saw changes for Christl and her planned residency, with closures of the gallery and reduced interactions with the public.
In December of 2019, Christl held a solstice crown making workshop, and before March 2020, gallery openings offered Christl an opportunity to meet with the public. But during Greg Laxton-Ekberg’s gallery opening on March 5, people had heard about the virus that was making its way from Wuhan, China, and were already wondering what impact it would have for them.
When the pandemic was announced in B.C., it was the end of what Christl called the “fun bits” of her residency.
“Most artists, musicians, poets, painters, we all work in isolation,” Christl said. “So then when you have a show or a book reading or a performance of some kind, that’s the part where you test it out, where you get the feedback, where you see the reactions on people’s face, where you get juiced to carry on. And none of that could happen this year.”
“It’s been isolating, for sure, because I didn’t get to meet anybody,” she added.
COVID-19 did spur new ideas for Christl’s art, such as the “100 Days of Solitude” exhibit Christl set up in the Ranger Station Gallery for herself.
When COVID-19 hit British Columbia, Christl began a small sketch on 6×6 pieces of paper each day. Many of these took on the shape of the novel coronavirus, while others were in the shape of trees, leaves or abstract images.
“Sometimes I just look out the window for inspiration, and sometimes I just sit there and start doodling and it would turn into something,” Christl said. “They took sort of between five minutes and half an hour every day. It was like a little meditation, a little quiet time to think about what was going on in the world and reflect a little and make something.”
These drawings turned into something Christl called “100 Days of Solitude,” which she hung up in the closed Ranger Station Gallery for herself. The room fit exactly 99 sketches around its edge, with the 100 sketch set up next to the title page.
The sketches weren’t the only project Christl worked on at the Ranger Station Gallery. She also ventured out into Harrison to paint the streams, wetlands and forest floors to capture their images in oil pant on paper and smaller canvasses. Those paintings are currently on display in the Ranger Station Gallery for a three-day pop up exhibit: “100 Walks in the Woods.”
Between March 29 and March 31, Christl will be in the gallery working on her paintings between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. as she wraps up her residency. Paintings from the Miami River area will be on display, as well as work from her 30-paintings-in-30-days project.
When Christl leaves the gallery, she’ll be heading back up to the Yukon, where she developed as a professional artist in the 1980s and ’90s. She has international residencies set up overseas, but isn’t sure when those will be able to get underway.
But as she leaves, Christl hoping the community will come together to support their local artists.
“The show is really all we have because we don’t get to do the talks and the hosting of events,” she said. “We’re all really isolated.”