To make her final piece of art as a student at OCAD University, Emily Jayne Williamson hand-wove placemats, napkins and table linen, then dyed them with colours she made using sumac, wild grapevine and crabapple branches among others, all plants native to her family’s farm in Elgin County, Ont.
Her installation, a simply set kitchen table called Home, is part of what has been an annual coming-out party for graduating students that this year is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
“The homestead has been in my family for 200 years. Looking at a textile like a breadbasket linen napkin, which has always been there at our meals, has memories for me,” Ms. Williamson said.
Memories, families and places are a recurring theme in many of the pieces on show across several buildings at the downtown Toronto campus. Whether in sculpture, photography, drawing or installations, the students examine where they came from and where they are now. A nine-photograph work intimately details the breakdown of a long marriage, that of the student’s aunt and uncle in Hong Kong; another work imagines a rejuvenated area mixing light industry, residences and green barns around the Rogers Centre.
These are not surprising preoccupations given that the artists are on the cusp of launching into adulthood. (An overheard conversation: “So, you know, I’m getting out of the basement.” “That’s amazing for you, that’s a really big step.”)
For art collectors and gallery-goers, the grad exhibition is a spring event that in the past could have yielded early pieces from cartoonist Seth, sculptor and multimedia artist Shary Boyle or children’s illustrator and author Barbara Reid.
Ms. Reid, who graduated in 1980, has since gone on to author dozens of children’s books, including award-winners Fox Walked Alone and The Subway Mouse. She illustrates the books with plasticine scenes she crafts herself.
It’s a technique she had started to experiment with in art school and remembers that she sold one of her first pieces at that year’s graduating show. “I had to make a second one because I still needed the piece for my portfolio,” she said. “It was The Birth of Venus, made out of plasticine.”
With 900 students showing their work, a similar treasure could await this weekend.
GradEx runs through to Sunday 5 p.m. at several buildings on McCaul Street, including the Sharp Centre at 100 McCaul St. ocadu.ca