Guest post by visual artist Jonathan Sutton

“I’m always looking to merge my loves of painting and theatre and blur boundaries between art forms and disciplines in general.”

Left: Moya O’Connell as Coriolanus, Jonathan Sutton, Oil on Canvas, 24 x 20 inches (2019) | Right: Daughter, Jonathan Sutton, Oil on Canvas, 7 x 6 inches (2019)

The paintings I was invited to contribute to Bard on the Beach’s 2019 Season were intended as a love letter to a community that I love. I’ve interpreted the offer of a blog post as a chance to write another.

Bard has meant much to me since I first attended in 1990. Over the years I’ve been inspired with new insights, possibilities and questions about works I already found sustaining. The most striking revelations coming from plays I thought I was the most familiar with.

Director Dean Paul Gibson affects me with impact and elevation. His productions reveal a greater beauty than I’d known before in the writing at hand, and the best performances I’ve seen by actors I’ve long admired. I’ve been lucky to collaborate with Dean, both as a fellow actor and under his direction. Above cleverness he applies understanding. Above power he applies love. Above imposition he applies belief.

Dean is generous and confident with his collaborative community while unflinching in his personal vision. I’ve seen his work over many years and never once come away unmarked by his gifts. In person he prompts affection and excellence in equal parts. And he is reliably wickedly funny.

And now Moya O’Connell. Art in Canada, especially on the West Coast, bears criticism – often just – of a lack of guts. Moya is a living rebuttal.

Collaborative art is a difficult balance of maintaining harmony to the group’s voice and integrity to one’s own. I asked Moya about this problem during preparations for the paintings, as I’ve always admired her handling of it. Her answers affirmed something taken as evident – her sense of responsibility to her own courage. Yet they revealed another layer – her responsibility to ours. I became more aware of a host who, through her own dauntless reckoning with the real matter of drama, would pave our own. Our following the cue to penetrate what we hide from ourselves and emerge more full.

Moya is as worthy of this role as the company is of this production. My recent visit during rehearsal, to unveil these pieces among friends and esteemed peers old and new, was moving to tears.

Which brings us to a person central to such occasions…

Christopher Gaze has given example and assurance throughout my adult life. He reflects the potential of dedicated intent towards our best hearts and minds. The national creative centre that Bard on the Beach is, offers answer to the challenges of artistic engagement within Vancouver’s diverse offerings. Christopher has sustained belief that we may all thrive in the depths of imagination and humanity that Shakespeare, and art, inspire. He does so himself, and so many theatre professionals and audience members do as well, every year. That Christopher is such a huge presence, and a most thoughtful and supportive friend, is a wonder.

I’m always looking to merge my loves of painting and theatre and blur boundaries between art forms and disciplines in general. Leave it to these illustrious characters to afford that wish.

Check out more from visual artist Jonathan Sutton: