Mountains of Wonder and Tangles of Truth: Kathy Hooper, a retrospective | Port Saint John and City Galleries | November 3 – December 20, 2023
Kathy Hooper’s remarkable career spans six decades of curiosity and creation, and demonstrates what it means to confront our fear and our delight in equal measure. Leading by example, she bravely honours the fullness of life, including the winding pathways where life’s joy and distress intermingle. Across her prolific multi-disciplinary art practice, social and environmental activism, and in her personal life, she approaches the world with an earnest integrity and wonder.
Hooper’s imprint on the New Brunswick arts ecosystem has been revolutionary. A highly acclaimed multidisciplinary artist, she has been awarded the province’s highest honours in the visual arts, and her work can be found in public and private collections around the world—she has eight works in the National Art Bank alone.
Likewise, the resonance of her advocacy work in the arts can be felt throughout the province, in both the vibrancy of the arts community and the infrastructure in place to support professional artists today. As a member of the Premier’s Advisory Committee for the Arts, from 1986-89, Hooper was a catalyst in the formation of The New Brunswick Arts Board, and remained an Art Representative after the board was formed. She also served on the Advisory Board of the Canada Council Art Bank and has participated in national and provincial juries.
Crucially, she achieved all of this amid the commitments and demands of raising family, as mother of four and wife to sculptor, John Hooper; while tending to a farm, planting and harvesting crops in a massive garden, and milking a cow each morning. Imagine this at a time when all meetings were in person, and the notion of invisible labour was only beginning to inch into feminist discourse.
Throughout, Hooper has devoted energy, creativity and time to a plethora of environmental and social justice advocacy work; including anti-apartheid activism in South Africa, where she spent her most formative years, and protesting the use of pesticides and fracking, here, in New Brunswick. In her community of Hampton, where she has lived since the early 1960s, Hooper is a recognized collaborator and leader in both arts and social justice.
Hooper’s collaborative spirit extends deeply into her creative projects, and is especially evident in the holistic partnership between she and her husband John. They worked together, and in support of one another, sharing knowledge, skills, and enjoying the banter of creative problem solving. She would select colours and contribute her painting prowess to many of his familiar wooden sculptures, which she continues to care for and revitalize today; and he was her guide and best critic.
In the late 1980’s Hooper received a Canada Council Creation Grant to work with a group of women in the Kennebecasis River Valley. Meeting regularly, they created a collection of embroideries which translated her paintings of the landscape into textiles. The twice removed nature of the process was Hooper’s way of drawing attention to the area’s changing landscape and climate. With each initiative she brings people together, wrapping critical discourse and shared experience gently into the many layers of her work.
In art and activism she meaningfully delves into often-overlapping explorations of identity, feminism, multi-species entanglements, socio-political structures, climate crisis and violence. Unbound by any one media, Hooper moves fluidly between painting, clay sculpture and functional ceramics, various forms of printmaking, wood carving, embroidery, poetry and prose. She lives art; nurturing her incredible gardens, and enlivening her domestic spaces.
Yet, it is her ritual of drawing which propels her creative process. Often beginning with just a line, her drawings are largely unplanned and spark with immediacy. She refers to the powerful moment the artwork takes over, as though she becomes a conduit for creativity, rather than its author.
In an artist statement for a 1969 solo exhibition which toured the Atlantic provinces, Kathy Hooper wrote:
“I want to say how infinitely beautiful, how ugly, how funny, and how exciting the world is. I want to stretch as far, and dig as deep as I can. I want to say that there is nothing I know for sure except that — there is nothing I know for sure.”
Hooper’s work effortlessly captivates with humour, warmth and the earnest marvel with which she explores the world around her. A skilled and playful storyteller, she is capable of unpacking complex layers of human behaviour with great insight, humour, and philosophical intricacy. Whether delving into explorations of fear, violence, or grief, her work is anchored with empathy. In awe of human experience and emotion, she traces the networks of relationships that tether us to ourselves, to one another, the more-than-human world, and the lands which holds us.
Her art practice, which she extends to all she does, is an inherent aspect of her unique outlook on life, her inner magic. As a result of her dynamic career, Hooper has simultaneously uplifted those around her while unflinchingly confronting difficult topics with honesty, determination, and fierce integrity. However tangled, however inhospitable, upsetting or ugly, Hooper has made a beautiful life of seeking truths.
Amy Ash, Curator
Kathy Hooper is an award-winning multidisciplinary visual artist, activist and community organizer based in Hampton, New Brunswick.
Born in Kenya and raised in South Africa, she studied at Rhodes University of Fine Art, in Cape Town, and Central School of Art, in London, before immigration to rural Atlantic Canada, where she’s lived since the early 1960’s.
In 1994, Kathy was the recipient the Sheila Hugh MacKay Foundation’s prestigious Strathbutler Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts & Craft in New Brunswick, and the first woman to be presented with this honour. She went on to receive the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, in 2007.
As a member of the Premier’s Advisory Committee for the Arts, from 1986-89, Kathy was a involved in the formation of The New Brunswick Arts Board, and continued on as an Art Representative after the board formed. She also served on the Advisory Board of the Canada Council Art Bank and has participated in national and provincial juries.
Kathy has been the recipient of numerous grants from The New Brunswick Arts Board and the Canada Council for the Arts, and has been commissioned by the Town of Hampton, the City of Saint John, The National Film Board, and The Dr V A Snow Centre, among others. She has exhibited across Canada, Europe, the US, and Mexico.
Her works can be found in public and private collections in Canada and beyond, including the collections of The Beaverbrook Art Gallery, The New Brunswick Museum, The UNB Art Centre, Memorial University, Collection Art NB and the National Art Bank.
Mountains of Wonder and Tangles of Truth: Kathy Hooper, a retrospective was made possible with support from:
The Saint John Arts Centre, The Andrew and Laura McCain Gallery, The Beaverbrook Art Gallery, NB Tourism Heritage and Culture, The New Brunswick Museum, CollectionArtNB, The National Film Board, The Hooper Family, Fred Harrison, Naomi Peters, Katie Buckley, Matt Brown.
Curator, Amy Ash, would like to acknowledge the support of The Canada Council for the Arts for preliminary research and documentation of Kathy Hooper’s work.
Documentary Filmmaker, Matt Brown, would like to acknowledge the support of artsnb in the making of his documentary film about Kathy.
Special thanks to our generous sponsors and donors:
Town of Hampton; Sir James Dunn Foundation; Kent; Tim Blackmore; Mario Brideau; Senator Joseph & Georgie Day; Peter & Beth Powning; Freeman Patterson
Photo credits: Naomi Peters