Miya Turnbull is a multi-disciplinary artist, working in a variety of media including mask making, painting, printmaking, felting and animation. She grew up on a third generation family farm in Alberta but has lived in Halifax since 2002. She completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Lethbridge in 1999 and lived in Montreal for 2 years before finally settling down in Nova Scotia. She has exhibited her artwork in solo and group exhibits here in Halifax and also across Canada. She has facilitated youth oriented visual art workshops through schools and arts organizations in Nova Scotia since 2003. She has received three grants from the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage which has allowed her to continue to develop and present her work. She cannot count the number of times she has donated a painting for a non-profit organization’s silent auction.
exploring the theme of identity
I have been exploring the theme of identity through mask making, dolls, video work, collage and projections. This has fostered a continuing examination of my cultural identity and individuality throughout my work. Ranging from representational to distorted, I challenge common perceptions and stereotypes by revealing, concealing and manipulating my own image. My PhotoMasks combine contemporary mask making techniques with current technology and photo-realism to slightly alter a traditional art form to produce unique creations. These masks can be seen as three dimensional Self-Portraits which can be worn or displayed. I utilize both the exterior and interior (concave) space of the mask to represent both our ego and our subconsciousness. I also create animations with the masks which I then project back onto white masks in order to make the animations three dimensional or holograph-like.
The masks came from a place where I was questioning who I was, as almost every day I would encounter people who were so curious as to ‘Where I was from?’ or ‘Where was I born?’ or ‘What nationality am I?’ I am born of a mixed race (Caucasian and Japanese) so people didn’t simply want to know that I was born in Alberta or I was from Canada. They wanted to know why I looked the way I did, why my eyes looked Asian but not quite. They needed to label or categorize me so as to understand where I fit in. This is not so much of a problem anymore as mixed races are more common, but it shaped the way I grew up. When I make self portrait masks, I can alter my face and physically see a response; if my eyes were completely slanted up and down sideways, I could then see what effect that would have. If my nose was as big as the ones on a Commedia dell’arte mask or painted like a Japanese Noh theatre mask, I can show people that even though the outer features change, the underlying ‘Self’ underneath remains a constant.
simplicity and beauty
My paintings, photographs and felted work embody the simplicity and beauty of nature, organic form and spirituality and are a study of colour, shape and movement. My “Ki” series of paintings are acrylic or watercolour on canvas or paper, overlaid with ink blowing and pen work. Ki, in Japanese, translates to Universal life force (also known as Chi or Prana), and these paintings are symbolic of this energy which permeates all living things.
The paintings for me are more like a meditation in practise. Blowing the ink across the canvas and literally seeing the breath shape my work is extremely calming and beautiful to work with. I can shape it to some degree but there’s also a letting go as it seems to have a mind of its own and each time it’s different. The rest is detailed pen work and it’s just following the lines that are already implied somehow invisibly. It’s revealing a shape that somehow is already underneath just not uncovered yet.
a great resource
I’ve been a member of VANS for over 10 years now and have found them to be a great resource. I’ve used their space to exhibit my masks in the early stages of development. I’ve been a part of their Mentorship program and exhibit and have taken workshops that have helped me with the writing about my art and the business of art, which has always been a constant struggle. I’ve presented my work and given an artist talk to fellow peers which was great practise for me. I have been involved in their PAINTS program, where they help connect professional artists to different schools and get paid a decent wage to teach art to kids in workshop format.
lost in the art world
The most challenging thing about keeping up with my practise is the lack of time and head space since I’ve started my family and feeling lost in the art world. I find it extremely hard to market my work and maintain a presence to any audience and all the business aspects are overwhelming. I’m now finding a few pockets of time and ways to create art of any kind at home in the midst of ‘life’. I volunteer art making at a local school, not just with my daughter’s class for fun but with the entire elementary school to help them make projects for fundraising. I want to help supplement as much art as possible since it’s not a priority within the school curriculum.
documenting my daughters life
My more recent works have been flip book making, felting and silkscreening. I’ve been documenting my daughter’s life so far in way too many photos, but also more interestingly, in short videos that I make into little flip books and since then taking my own stop motion animations and making flip books of those. I also got into needle felting so I could make her little toys and then that developed into learning wet felting and creating ‘paintings’ with fleece that are strongly influenced by my ‘Ki’ paintings. I’ve also learned how to silkscreen and have been taking my designs and printing them onto handmade bags and paper as well as clothing. My latest work has been silkscreening select designs from my paintings directly onto feathers and framing within a shadow box. My husband has always collected crow feathers so I have lots to work on but also the craft stores carry beautifully dyed feathers which work well too.
an old friend
At this point, I’m not sure where to go with my art practise but am trying to work when I can. I would really love to get back into mask making and experimenting with projections and start exhibiting again. For now, I’ll continue making art with kids and try to pass on that spark and joy and healing benefits of art. I am constantly inspired by recent travels and events, the landscape surrounding me and all the limitless beauty and energy of people around me. It’s cliché but Art, to me, is like an old friend, that I sometimes lose touch with but whenever I can, I love to visit and can pick up where I left off and for that, I am grateful. But more and more these days, I feel the need to start digging in deep again and see what comes next.