Organization of Kingston Women Artists
visual artists

Media Reviews

Opening Night at our 2014 Anniversary exhibition:

"A Difference of Opinions"

 Delvalle and Jane Derby show one of the works for discussion.

By Peter Hendra, Kingston Whig-Standard,  Friday, January 31, 2014 

What makes for a good piece of art and what makes for a bad one?

How contemporary art is judged will be the topic of a panel debate at this year’s exhibition put on by The Organization of Kingston Women Artists next weekend.  Organizer Jane Derby wanted to do something different for this year’s show, which marks the local group’s quarter-century of existence.

“I think it’s particularly pertinent in this day and age because I think the art-going public, and the artists themselves, is so diverse, and there are so many things going on, that people don’t really have any idea about how to talk about art anymore,” explained  Derby.

Writer Melanie Dugan, art consultant and Whig-Standard columnist Kamille Parkinson, and artist Daniel Hughes comprise the panel that will debate the merits of the three pieces they have each chosen.

“The idea of one juror picking is controversial because there’s always disagreement, and it always precipitated discussion,” Derby noted.   “So I thought it would be a good idea to have three different people pick. Normally, when three jurors pick … they get together and choose their top three. So it appears to be a unanimous process, when in fact it isn’t.”

Ideally, Derby hopes the discussion — which takes place next Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Wilson Room of the downtown branch of the public library — will make art more approachable.  “I hope it’s an honest and frank discussion and … looks behind the scenes at what experts actually disagree about what they consider good,” said Derby, who will play the role of moderator.

As an artist, Hughes has both been a judge and been judged. What constitutes good art has been a common discussion for as long as he can remember. In his current role as a part-time art instructor at St. Lawrence College, he regularly critiques his students’ work.

Hughes, a figurative artist, has his own criteria based on the saying that a good painting comes from the head, the hands and the heart.  “It has to be a good idea, it has to be well-constructed and thought through,” he explained.  “It has to touch you. And it has to be well-crafted. I think those three things will make a good piece of art. I tend not to like art that doesn’t have all three of those elements on some level.”

Being an artist can pose a problem when judging other artists’ work of his genre, Hughes admitted.  “In a way, it’s harder for me, if I’m looking at a figurative piece, I’m going to be looking at the skill very quickly because that’s where I’m coming from, right?” he offered.  “So, in a way, it might be even harder for me to pick something that’s figurative. Who knows?”

While the panel debate isn’t until next weekend, the general public — which will be able to ask questions of the panellists — can go take a look for themselves at this year’s exhibition, which opened Friday, in the meantime.

Roughly 50 juried artists currently belong to OKWA, which formed shortly after the anonymous Guerilla Girls movement in 1985 that sought greater representation for women in the art world.

The group’s first project was a date book illustrated with photos of its artwork. OKWA is undertaking a similar, but grander, project this year: with some funding from the city, it is producing an art book containing members’ paintings to celebrate its 25 years. The book will arrive in June.

Still, Derby is looking forward to next Saturday’s event and isn’t sure what to expect as the panel weighs the “formal” qualities of the art compared to its conceptual merit and originality.   “I think it’s going to be really interesting to see which jurors come down on which sides of those issues,” Derby said. “Whether the formal thing is more important than the idea, or whether the idea is more important than the formal thing, or it’s a combination, I don’t know. I’m curious myself.”


Queens' U. Journal article on our 2015 Exhibition:

Winter Exhibition 2015

"Venue makes Kingston art show more intimate"

  "Swirl" by JT Winik

By Kamille Parkinson, Kingston Whig-Standard, Tuesday, February 10, 2015 

It has been another year, unbelievably, since the last Organization of Kingston Women Artists (OKWA) annual show. Last year I had the pleasure of taking part in a panel discussion at the opening, so I was interested in going to have a look at this year’s exhibition. From now until March 1 the show will be available for viewing at the Window Art Gallery (at Victoria and Princess streets).

The usual venue for the OKWA annual exhibition has heretofore been the large gallery space in the Wilson Room of the main branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library. However, at the beginning of this year and continuing through 2016 the gallery space and other areas of the library will be undergoing renovations, requiring closure of the building at certain times, so the library is at least temporarily out of the art business. This is unfortunate, because the Wilson Room and the adjacent Foyer Gallery were large, accessible spaces with reasonable lighting and hanging hardware, though they surely had some limitations as well.

The brand-spanking-new Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning has a few Community Exhibition galleries, which (not yet having seen them) seem like good possible options for large, modern gallery exhibition space. The posted rental rates might be prohibitive for many groups and individuals seeking venues to display their art for any length of time, however.

The Window Art Gallery is a non-profit, volunteer-run gallery, with operating costs defrayed in part by artist exhibition fees, though these fees do not appear to be published. Whatever they might be, the Window Art Gallery is a bright, light-filled space with some movable walls that allow for reconfiguration of the exhibition space. Happily, since last year’s notorious conflagration directly across the street from the gallery, the Window Art Gallery and its parent organization the Kingston School of Art have been undergoing renovations, with all of the fire-cracked window glass replaced in the gallery. The expansion of some of the studio space in the school has, unfortunately, eroded some of the square footage of the gallery, but it is still a nice exhibition venue.

While the foregoing may seem like something of a digression, it is actually relevant to this year’s OKWA show. In the expansive space previously available at the library, the annual OKWA show was a large, juried exhibition, with work submitted by a significant percentage of the OKWA’s membership (with membership itself being a vetted process). I have in the past had issues with the one-person “jury” usually enlisted for the annual show, but it did provide at least some critical evaluation of submitted work, even if the judge’s choices of best-in-show might leave one slightly perplexed. Regardless, it was a format that doubtless benefited OKWA members and additionally enlivened the viewer experience.

With the change to the smaller venue the OKWA exhibition is this year dubbed a “Group Show,” presumably un-juried, and is a fraction of the size of previous shows. This has both positive and negative side effects. On the down side, one doesn’t see the range — the depth and breadth — of the artistic talent within the membership of the OKWA because a smaller percentage of members are exhibiting work. As well, there is overall less variety, simply because there are far fewer artworks on display.

On the plus side, this year’s OKWA show is much more intimate in scale, with a very manageable number of works to view (where previously one might have felt slightly overwhelmed). A viewer can spend more time with individual works, and can make closer comparisons between pieces without the dual distraction of distance and intervening art.

There is still variety to be had, too, with works running the gamut between high realism and complete non-representation, with an equal mixture of subjects. There is a fair representation of media as well, with paintings, sculptural works, prints, photography, collage and encaustic offerings. In particular, without a preponderance of two-dimensional art, the smaller exhibition space allows the sculptural forms to stand out and shine this year. Of note are Jane Derby’s reclaimed metal “Rock Cut” and Linda Williams’ slab construction sculpture “Disco,” two very different and intriguing pieces.

Though the annual OKWA exhibition is in a much smaller venue this year, it is worthwhile stopping by to view this more intimate show. It’s the perfect size to incorporate an art break into your day.

Kamille Parkinson is the owner of Upper Canada Art Consulting (UCAC), specializing in Appraisal of Fine Art, Art Writing, and Art Consulting. She has a PhD in Art History from Queen’s University and is an International Society of Appraisers Accredited Member in Fine Art.


February 2012 Exhibition

"Will the real jury please stand up"

 Still Life... by Margaret Hughes

By Kamille Parkinson, Kingston Whig-Standard,     Wednesday, February 15, 2012 

The Organization of Kingston Women Artists (OKWA) is entering its 23rd year of existence, and its annual juried exhibition and sale is now up on the walls at the main branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library until Feb. 24.

With the stated aim of "increasing awareness and appreciation of women's art," the show aptly illustrates the depth and breadth of talent among female artists in this city. While only a percentage of the artists who are members of OKWA are represented in this show, there are a large variety of subjects, approaches and mediums to consider.

If still life is your cup of tea, there are several examples of this genre in the current show, most notably the large pastel works of Margaret Hughes. Many people were disappointed when Hughes stopped making pottery, but they should be pleased to note that she has transferred her discerning eye for colour and composition to two-dimensional works. Not overtly detailed transcriptions, Hughes' pastel paintings are slightly abstracted celebrations of form and pattern that often feature her own and others' pottery intermingled with other everyday items.

Figural works are also represented: by Teri Wing's oil paintings (moody, introspective works); by Katharine Christensen's encaustic work; and by Diane Black's whimsical ceramic forms. Of the latter's work, Black has a unique way of representing humanity - there is a certain amusing grotesquerie in her work that strikes unerringly at the human condition - and though it may not appeal to everyone's taste, one can hardly help a certain fascination with her characters.

At the OKWA show, there is landscape in abundance, loosely defined in the sense that here it is both representational and abstract. Margaret Lock exhibits her love of wilderness hiking with two pastel works featuring local autumn scenery. These are luminous images that deftly capture those warm fall days we experienced last year, with bursts of colour against the foil of blue water. In contrast, Sally Milne's ice-themed watercolour is a striking abstraction by virtue of extreme proximity to its subject matter. Sometimes referred to as fragmented, this type of view is a realistic representation that becomes distorted or abstracted because contextual referents are lost. Jane Derby also enters the landscape theme with her mixed-media work "Tinscape," a sparkling, spiny field of cut aluminum with a low horizon line that does evoke a kind of prairie esthetic.

There are also a few examples of non-representational art here, as well as prints, fibre art and other mixed-media works. The range is impressive and interesting to view, there is no question about that. As I did last year with this show, I do, however, have reservations about some of the choices made by the one-person jury regarding the winning entries.

Let me be clear - the works chosen, and the rest of the works in the show, are fine works of art and their quality is not in doubt, nor do I intend to impugn the juror's judgment. I do, however, wonder if the general public will fully appreciate the reasoning behind the selections. They might be forgiven for walking away with the feeling (as I did) that in order to be awarded a ribbon, a work had to have the No. 2 in the title (which, as it happens, was not a failsafe way to be in the winner's circle, so it couldn't have been that). And I humbly submit that I have a fairly reasonable grasp of art and its merits.

No, the problem is that this annual show is usually judged by a one-person jury - a person who, like last year, is a recognized professional artist in her own right. (This isn't a personal criticism of this year's juror, Natalka Husar, by the way.) I recognize that OKWA and its members want to have their work evaluated and judged by someone who has herself received critical acclaim, because it validates their own artistic practice. I also understand that (if an honorarium is involved) having a single juror makes good financial sense. I get all that. But a working contemporary artist will likely evaluate others' work on an entirely different level than your average art appreciator.

In her remarks at the opening of this year's OKWA show, Husar did freely state: "What I choose and what any juror or anybody in the art world would choose . is only a matter of opinion for that particular event. What I reject, someone else in another situation will embrace. That is very important to keep in mind."  Well said, and very true. However, the key point here is "anybody in the art world."  Populated by a healthy dose of immigrants to the land of artspeak, conceptual art, and academics posturing for academics, the "art world" can be rather insular, with a tendency to write for like-minded people - not for people who want to know why what they are looking at received an award and not be flummoxed by impenetrable language and ideas.

For example (and again it's nothing personal), why was Erica Olsen's still life selected as a winner over one of Margaret Hughes' works? Popular opinion might put it the other way around, and I'd like it if someone could provide a satisfactory explanation that the majority of people can understand (though it's not necessary that they agree with it). If you'd like to read Husar's comments on each of the works she chose, go online to and look at the posts for February. Helpful, but not thoroughly enlightening.

Maybe the organizers of the annual show could consider having a People's Choice Award in addition to the decisions of the juror. While an artist first and foremost creates art for him/herself, and only secondarily for the public, it might be instructive to have this kind of feedback on their work. After all, isn't the jury process also supposed to be about what the (buying) public will want to acquire - because they like it, and not because they have this vague sense that the-critics-like-it-so-it-must-be-OK.