Q&A with Visual Artist Louise Markus

Visual artist Louise Markus at the unveiling of the Health Sciences Centre’s #ComePlayWithMe piano.

If you’ve visited the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s recently, you might’ve spotted (and heard) a new addition to the atrium foyer on the main floor. On Thursday, May 24, Business & Arts NL proudly unveiled its latest #ComePlayWithMeNL public piano, sponsored by Judy Sparkes-Giannou of Comfort Inn Airport. The piano was beautifully painted by local artist Louise Markus, who paid homage to a familiar sight on many clotheslines in Newfoundland and Labrador (a traditional quilt), while invoking feelings of cosiness, comfort and warmth.

Louise recently took some time to chat with Business & Arts NL about her process.

Business & Arts NL: Your work has a whimsical quality and each piece tells a story about people and place. With regards to the Health Sciences Centre piano, is there a particular story or sentiment that you were
trying to convey?

The piano before its transformation.

Louise Markus: In their #ComePlayWithMe call for proposal, Business & Arts NL was seeking a design that conveyed a sense of comfort for those visiting or staying at the hospital and so chose the theme of “quilt” for the piano. This theme resonated with my work in that like a quilter, I use patterned shapes to create a design. While plotting out the piano, I couldn’t help but think of the suffering that goes on in a hospital and how the memory of our roots can sustain us in such times. Over the years I’ve created a library of Newfoundland iconography, reducing the natural and human environment, birch bark, cod, ocean waves, moose, spruce, lupins, etc. to a colourful graphic design and pattern. I borrowed from this library to create a pattern that would work for the piano. The resulting patchwork design not only calms and comforts as does a quilt, but the iconography – for example, the cabbage field or the large moose antlers — also activates fond memories.

Business & Arts NL: The first thing people will likely notice about the piano are its bright colours – it really is a lovely representation of a traditional Newfoundland quilt. Can you tell us a bit about your process for conceiving of and implementing the design, and what research went into it?

LM: I use the above-mentioned Newfoundland iconography in my canvas work and this was a great resource for painting the piano. For instance, I printed a pattern of cabbage heads using a stamp previously made for another project. I created templates of each pattern in the patchwork on Photoshop and the printed pages were used to copy the design onto the surface of the piano. I chose the colour palette, teal blue and orange to convey a mood of healing. I believe there is a mind-body connection and that colours, because they affect temperament, can heal the body.

Business & Arts NL: How much artistic freedom were you given with the piano design and how does the end result compare with your initial vision?

LM: In my image submission, consisting mostly of paintings, I included a sofa painted with Newfoundland iconography, similar in many ways to the finished piano. I think seeing a painted 3D functional object helped the committee decide in my favour. They were then confident enough to give me full artistic freedom. The challenge in projects of this nature is to make a great product and also craft a treatment that can be applied within a limited time frame. Some of the timing problems were solved during design development and the pre-made stamps helped speed up the process of repetition that is fundamental to pattern. Since I was using a computer program to design, I had a decent idea of what the end product would be. Of course things change along the way and the artist has to go with the flow.

Business & Arts NL: Have you ever participated in a project like this before and how did the process compare with other projects/pieces you’ve worked on?

LM: That this refurbished piano has a home at the Health Sciences Centre is very significant for me as it was a chance to give back to the community and that’s what made this project so special. It’s also wonderful having support from organizations like Business & Arts NL who facilitate so many art projects in the province and the project’s sponsor, Judy Sparkes-Giannou of Comfort Inn Airport. The staff at the hospital, Rick Snow and Susan were very helpful. It’s amazing what can happen when people work together – good feelings all around.