White Rock artist ‘never stopped painting’

White Rock artist ‘never stopped painting’

Memories of painter/muralist Judy Jordison linger in her hillside home

Painter/muralist Judy Jordison’s home on White Rock’s hillside is a house full of art and memories.

Tuesday, visiting with the late artist’s daughter, Michelle Johnson, and partner Gary Chase, the only thing missing from the picture – familiar to many who visited over the years to talk art, buy a canvas or have tea and cookies during the yearly White Rock Studio Art Tour – was Jordison herself.

The much-valued member of the White Rock arts community passed away last Friday afternoon in White Rock Hospice, at the age of 75, following a 2½-year battle with cancer.

Now, where so often she sat at her flower-ringed window overlooking Semiahmoo Bay, working diligently at her easel on colour-drenched florals and dreamy, summery landscapes and vibrant still lifes (in her canvases a simple bowl of plums possessed a uniquely sensual, tactile quality), there is a marked emptiness.

A table with a modest display of family photographs, and her framed certificate of recognition from White Rock council as ‘outstanding citizen of the Peninsula,’ stands in silent tribute in the place where the cats and dogs she and Chase owned would come and go, and she would sip tea and engage in conversation marked by a distinctively soft, even manner of speaking, and her gentle chuckle.

“Among my happiest memories are watching her passion for painting,” said Chase, who was with her for 25 years. “I’d watch her for many hours – she’d go all day, stopping only for meals and that was about it.”

“She never gave up, never stopped painting,” said Johnson, pointing to two self-portraits of the artist that now sit on her easel.

“She was monkeying around with those until recently – she said she couldn’t get one of them right. She was very tough on herself (as a subject) – she put a lot of hard lines on her face.”

Later, Johnson turned through dozens of Jordison’s canvases meticulously stored on racks in the basement, wondering at the evocative landscapes and bright sunflowers suddenly revealed as she drew a canvas from a shelf.

“It’s like a whole autobiography in painting,” she said, agreeing that there is more than enough material available for a gallery that wanted to stage a retrospective of Jordison’s work.

Jordison’s bold, yet sensitive, approach to colour, form and texture, and fondness for large-scale work also turned into a sideline career producing commissioned mural assignments.

Her last work was on an eight- by 40-foot mural, a panoramic farmyard scene painted with Toni Williams at the B.C. Farm Museum in Fort Langley, Johnson added.

“She was there at that opening, on June 17, although we didn’t think she would make it – she wasn’t doing well.”

Her most recent local show, highlighted in the Peace Arch News on March 5, 2015, was an exhibit at South Surrey Recreation and Arts Centre’s Turnbull Gallery of another large-scale panoramic painting – a view of England’s Lake District, in tribute to the favourite painting territory of her great-grandfather, artist Harold Moss.

The Vancouver-born artist had studied at Vancouver Art School and Douglas College before coming to White Rock 38 years ago.

In the 1980s and 1990s she served as a curator and taught art classes at the former Station Arts Centre through the White Rock and District Community Arts Council (now Semiahmoo Arts).

As well as being highlighted in dozens of gallery exhibits,

She was also active in promoting the arts in the community in ways both formal and informal:

With the late Kathy Macdonald, she was a co-organizer and leading light of the White Rock Studio Art Tour for some 20 years. She also helped establish the Tuesday Larger Than Life drawing group, and she had also been one of the ad-hoc group of ‘guerilla’ artists who added life to the uptown area for more than a decade by regularly painting an ever-evolving mural on the wooden fence that formerly surrounded the former gas station site next to the Coast Capital Playhouse.

She also delighted in going on painting trips on Vancouver Island with long-time friend and fellow artist Dan Gray.

“He was pretty devastated to hear about (Jordison’s decline),” Johnson said, adding that he has since sent a photograph of her working plein air, a picture that perfectly captures Jordison’s joy in painting.

“She didn’t tell many people about her illness,” Johnson said, adding that it had started as lung cancer, but had spread to other organs.

“She was diagnosed in January of 2015, on her birthday.

“The doctor told her that she only had about 10 months to live. It was brutal. But she lived for 2½ years after that – she fought it.”

In addition to Chase and Johnson, Jordison is survived by daughter Kathie Floesser and Scott Jordison and their families, including seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Johnson said she has happy memories of her own daughter Brittany, now 13, painting with her grandmother and quietly absorbing the artistic atmosphere, more by osmosis than direct instruction.

“She’s picked up some of that talent – I know she’ll be going on with art,” she said.

Johnson said she’s sure she knows how her mother wants to be remembered.

“She just wanted people to appreciate her art – and the arts in general. She always encouraged us to do art when we were children, to paint or whatever. She didn’t care if the floor got dirty, she just wanted us to create.

“She wanted to express herself on canvas and tell a story – she wanted you to feel like she felt when she painted it. If you did, that made her happy.”

A celebration of life is planned for Saturday, Sept. 9, 9 a.m. to noon, at Kwomais Point Park.