NS reviews

Reviews of theatre and art in Nova Scotia and beyond

LEAF and PAHLKE: Two Lifelong Creative Spirits exhibit in Halifax and Cape Breton

Artist Edith Pahlke exhibits her graphic and text prints at Hermes Gallery through Nov. 13 in North End Halifax. (Photo: Ariella Pahlke)

Popping into Hermes Gallery one recent Sunday I was happily met by the artist herself.

“Can I give you a tour?”said Edith Pahlke, generously taking me through her exquisitely-rendered, precisely-detailed linocuts of words and letters transformed into pictorial images.

Pahlke’s daughter, award-winning Nova Scotia documentary filmmaker and artist Ariella Pahlke, has co-curated Dust of the Sun: A 50-year overview of the graphic and text print work by Edith Pahlke, with Peter Dykhuis, a Halifax artist and former director of the Dalhousie Art Gallery. It runs at Hermes Gallery, 5682 North St. (near Agricola), to Nov. 13, Saturdays and Sundays, 12 to 6 p.m. (To make an appointment for different hours email hermeshfx@gmail.com.)

A native of Germany, Edith speaks several languages and read out loud to me the poems and haikus in her works in the languages of Icelandic, German, French and English.

Pahlke lives in Northwood Manor, a stone’s throw from the cooperatively-run Hermes Gallery and this show was her daughter’s idea.

“My mum has always been a traveller and an artist – and fiercely independent. She brought me up on her own, and never married or lived with a partner. She grew up in Germany, lived in Iceland for a few years and then spent over 40 years in Ottawa before moving to Halifax five years ago.

“She’s very social, so decreased mobility and other challenges related to getting older, as well as the social isolation caused by Covid, have been hard on her. Organizing this show is an attempt to reconnect her with the world, with art and with community – in a way, to make her world a bit bigger again.”

Drawn to photos Ariella showed him of her mother’s work, Dykhuis visited the artist’s apartment to go through her portfolios and select pieces for this exhibit. The whole process will be part of a documentary, Yesterday’s Troubles, by Ariella.

These Icelandic fishing boats catch a net of words. (Photo: Ariella Pahlke)

Edith Pahlke started working with text because she loves letters, language, art and reading. The letters became an art expression starting with three sheets, which are in this exhibit. They are full of one-colour, repeated, written texts in orderly lines and go back to her art college days at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg, Germany. She formally trained in graphic arts and printmaking during the 1950s and 1960s.

From these sheets of uniform letters, she expanded into imagery with letters and words in many different styles and colours. Some patterns supporting the poems are abstract, others are images connected directly to the writing. The fishing boats linked to an Icelandic poem relate to her experience working in the Icelandic herring fishery for three summers.

Letters squeeze through an hourglass; a snake wraps itself around an old Icelandic text; words within a circle are repeatedly encircled.

Pahlke’s complex and precise patterns, apart from the meaning of the words, are amazing and beautiful.

The beauty of the letters as objects recalls Andrew Steeves’ woodblock letterpress prints in Andrew Steeves: Wood Type exhibited in 2021 at the Acadia University Art Gallery and most recently at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. (Steeves is co-founder of Gaspereau Press.)

Edith’s process of linocut, however, doesn’t involved a press. She carefully cuts into a block of linoleum to make prints on paper in a portable, chemical-free DIY print technique. As Peter Dykhuis says, “Edith’s scale is very domestic and ‘kitchen-table-top’ rather than reliant on industrial print shops.”

Dust of the Sun awakes thoughts of words themselves; how they can be used to divide or unite people. Even in an age when people perceive words as quickly consumed, digitally-transferred information, they still hold immense power and deeply personal meanings.

Edith Pahlke with her work in her Northwood Manor apartment, just a stone’s throw from Hermes Gallery. (Photo: Ariella Pahlke)

The power of poetry to connect to the human spirit is evident when Edith reads the poems she has selected. They are often philosophical and about the nature of life (and death) and very moving.

The exhibit also includes audio-visual excerpts of readings, translations, conversations and work-in-progress, which Ariella is recording for her documentary. Both mother and daughter love to create and tell stories.

According to Ariella’s press release: “The acts of creating (art) and curation/storytelling are essential elements of both Edith and Ariella’s lives. What do we choose to share/remember, and what do we leave behind? Each decision is in essence a direction for moving forward, but Edith’s artwork and choice of texts reflect ambivalence. With great precision, the work both articulates and obscures at the same time, undermining commitment to a static place, time, or beliefs. It floats in the present moment without landing – as dust of the sun, an expression taken from her translation of a Jacques Prévert poem in her work.”

Dykhuis is developing and promoting a policy affiliated with the provincial Status of the Artist Legislation to recognize and support senior and elder artists like Edith Pahlke, who is 86. Lunenburg’s Nevermore Press is launching a new imprint in the coming months to include a focus on visual arts and is interested in celebrating Edith’s work.

Ariella says the experience has been a positive one. “Creating art and being part of a vibrant cultural community has been at the heart of my mother’s life ever since I can remember. I grew up going to openings, concerts, shows, and always being encouraged to be creative.

“My mum is flourishing – giving tours and talking about her work when the gallery is open. It’s wonderful to see her in her element.

“I’m very grateful to Peter for putting an extraordinary amount of time and skill into this exhibition,and to Hermes for hosting us. I think it’s so important to celebrate our elders while they are still with us, and able to participate in – and enjoy – some recognition of their lives and work. For me, art is about community, dialogue and connection, and this show really brings all of that together.”


The legendary June Leaf, now in her 90s, is exhibiting previously unseen works at the Inverness Centre for the Arts to Nov. 10. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

The exhibit, June Leaf in Mabou Since 1969, curated by artist Emily Falencki who lives and works in North End Halifax and Cape Breton, includes Leaf’s far-out assemblage sculpture, her mythical and mechanical imagery and her amazing, affectionate, realistic portraits of people in Cape Breton.

Leaf is a big figure in American art but this show is intimate and joyful in terms of its wide range of artistic expression and personal subject matter. It pulses with the sense of a vivid, inventive mind seriously examining (and cherishing) humanity and human experience from a woman’s struggles to the love of a husband bringing in wood.

Leaf, who lives in Mabou and New York, moved to Cape Breton in 1969 with her late partner Robert Frank (famous for the revolutionary 1959 photobook The Americans). Together they lived in Mabou Mines, a wild landscape of cascading hills with sharp cliffs, an expanse of glittering sea and a tiny curve of beach.

June Leaf’s sculpture Charge; behind it is a Mabou Mines landscape.

One view in particular, likely from the couple’s house, is repeated in several images of Leaf’s in this intimate art show that also includes a painting of the interior of an artist’s studio, presumably hers. It is cluttered, messy, wonderful.

Falencki helped Leaf select works from her storage files with a focus on the Cape Breton portraits the artist started after the tragic death of Andrea, Robert’s daughter, in a plane crash in Guatemala in 1974 at the age of 20.

Leaf wanted to draw the people who had known Andrea but over the years she has expanded this project to include the many people in Cape Breton who have become friends. (Over 200 people attended the opening reception for the show including German publisher Gerhard Steidl, who has printed books on Leaf and Frank.)

The show is light on information with titles but no other information; this is sometimes frustrating but also good in the way that viewers can make discoveries on their own.

For example, the fascinating, feminist iron sculpture Charge (1980) is mounted not far from a drawing that shows it drawn in different ways including as a miniature sculpture poised on the artist’s finger. Within this drawing is a large, partly mechanized woman with a nail going right into her heel; that puts a whole new twist on the idea of spike high heels.

Leaf is clearly always at work, turning scraps of metal into giant angels or constantly drawing. Her use of line is incredible – expressive, suggestive of unseen space and details, or furiously busy and sketchy. It does whatever she wants it to do, just as Ashley MacIsaac does with the fiddle.

Her Cape Breton portraits are set in domestic spaces, often kitchens. Fond of Vermeer, she includes hallways and doors as backgrounds to some of her figures.

Detail from one of June Leaf’s Cape Breton portraits.

“June has been incredibly generous in opening her home and her work in preparation for this exhibition,” says Falencki, the founder and director of 2482 Maynard and The Blue Building Gallery in Halifax. “She has a deep desire to show what Cape Breton has meant to her very prolific and influential career for over fifty years.”

The show includes the first piece Leaf made in Mabou, First Water Faucet, an early Mabou Mines landscape that often appears in Leaf’s work, a version of Robert Entered the Room, one of which was shown at her solo 2016 show at The Whitney Museum of American Art and the primary study drawings for her well known Glasses sculpture.

Still at work, Leaf just wrapped up a show at Frieze Masters, London, England, in October and this month exhibits in June Leaf: New Work at Ortuzar Projects, NYC. One of her honourary degrees is from NSCAD University where she guest taught over the years. She exhibited in Halifax at the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery in Cape Breton Modern: June Leaf in 2001. For an interesting interview with Leaf go to: https://hyperallergic.com/293089/beer-with-a-painter-june-leaf/

Below are June Leaf’s Angel sculpture and a studio painting that shows a busy creative mind at work.

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