Article by Liam McLean
Pictures by Syed Mustafa
The bright path to Nori Braig’s backyard gallery foreshadowed her artistic passion. Walking off the street, I passed colourful paintings that decorated the fences, the exterior walls, and the backyard gate, as well as a small sculpture that sat just inside a window. As I approached her art show titled “My Sandcastles”, I got the strong impression that Nori is a person whose life is dedicated to art. Standing in the small courtyard between home and gallery, I could see the art spill out from the surrounding buildings and overrun the well-kept garden. Bright colours and shapes pushed against the property boundaries, threatening to overlap into the neighbouring backyards, while soft wind chimes played on the spring air. The preponderance of vivid art and sound in the garden was a great introduction to the brilliant images and themes that Nori had on display that day.
Stepping over the gallery threshold brought me to a setting that perfectly encapsulated the artwork within it. A large window and open doors invited the spring breeze into the white-walled room while the expansive skylight above illuminated the artwork. Although I was inside, her gallery felt like a continuation of the backyard and not a closed off room. This interaction between nature and art seemed to be a key theme of Nori’s show and appeared to give the artwork a type of energy. Alongside her work, the walls were adorned with abstract paintings by Nori’s friend and Vancouver-based artist Suzan Marczak, her work a composition of red, blue, purple, and green, an interplay of colours found throughout forests and the countryside. By cultivating a natural theme and atmosphere with such detail and attentiveness, the gallery setting presented the artwork as an experience instead of just a simple place of viewing. The visitor was invited to witness an interaction and connection between nature and art.
It is Nori’s artwork that perfectly demonstrated this natural connection and artistic experience. Her work was painted on two sheets of Mylar and attached facing away from each other using plexiglass. Each piece is double-sided and transparent, hanging in complementary groupings of colour from the ceiling. As the sun lights up the room, its rays penetrate through the surface of the Mylar, the colours from both sides of the abstract artwork intersecting and radiating in unique ways. Like walking among colourful leaves in a forest, Nori’s artwork offered an experience beyond visual appreciation, encouraging the viewer to interact with how they see the artwork. By walking to a different space in the room, the new viewing perspective caused the images to change subtly and for their colour to combine in different ways.
It should be mentioned at this point that what makes Nori’s artwork even more astonishing and inspirational is the fact that she was diagnosed years ago with multiple sclerosis. Although her motor control has been weakened over time and she needs the assistance of a wheelchair, her illness is not a barrier for her artwork. Interspersed among the paintings on the walls are intricate and detailed sketches of people’s faces. The visages are unmistakable and the slight wavering of the dark lines gave the forms a feeling of motion. It is an energy that the sketches share with the natural light and colour in Nori’s Mylar pieces, an energy that demonstrates that her illness does not impede her artistic skill or her ability to invest a recognizable emotion in her artwork.
I was able to have a brief conversation with Nori to ask her about her artwork and what motivates her. “A lifetime inspires me to paint. A lifetime,” said Nori. “That’s it. All the experience I have in life is all there.” For Nori, there is no message in her artwork or end goal, it simply “clicks” together when she intuitively recognizes an emotional connection within her to the piece she has completed. She paints for the pure pleasure of painting itself. “Everything. The colour,” said Nori when asked what she enjoys the most. “Everything. When I put my pen or pencil in my hand and I make a mark. It’s lovely.” She tells me that her artwork is not a form of escape, but that she is constantly present in the creation of all her pieces. She is always living and experiencing art, a fact supported by the harmony Nori achieves between the spaces she lives in and the artwork that weaves through every layer of her property. It is a type of harmony that she achieved from a lifetime of artistic passion.
Before I left the gallery, Nori told me about how she enjoys drawing people in Renzo’s Café on Commercial Drive. In fact, the sketches of the people on the walls all came from her visits to the café. Nori even tells me that she is frequently recognized at Renzo’s Café and that she sometimes has shows there or they display her art. Curious, Keiko Honda and I decided to follow in Nori’s path to Renzo’s Café and observe the kind of atmosphere that she enjoys drawing in.
Similar to Nori’s house, Renzo’s Café is saturated with artwork and colour. One side of the exterior wall is covered with a massive and bright painting, while inside a widescreen monitor played a looping slideshow of artwork. The owner was friendly and spoke to us about his support for the arts and his close friendship with Nori. According to him, she is a little bit of a celebrity around the café area. Outside, there was a constant bustle of street artists and people moving up and down Commercial Drive. Across the street was the nature and public gardens of Grandview Park, and in the far distance we could see the mountains. With all the energy, colour, and the close proximity to nature, it was easy to see why Nori enjoys drawing in Renzo’s Café. As we sat and drank coffee, we discussed our mutual observations on the settings Nori is drawn to and that she cultivates around her. Through her actions and vivid atmosphere, Nori transcends her physical limitations.
I was inspired by Nori’s commitment to her passions and her drive to surround herself with life. Although MS limits her own mobility, the colourful environment around her and the skill and passion present in her paintings and drawings makes it hard to believe that her illness is any impediment at all. Beyond her artwork, Nori has nurtured many close and deep friendships with the people in her community, such as Susan and the owner of Renzo’s Café. During my short time at her gallery, I witnessed many of her friends enter to visit and support her, with Nori taking the time to greet and have a private word with each visitor. It is amazing to see how loved Nori is among her community and how she expresses and reciprocates this love through her bright paintings and sketches. She treats life like an artistic experience, one that resonates within her work. Nori has achieved a beautiful and inspirational harmony between her artwork and lifestyle, a healthy balance that everyone should aspire to attain.