Canadian Artist Grace Marquez captures the essence of what it is to be submerged
Words by Robert Osborne
Diving can be a very personal, almost intimate experience. Perhaps itas the silenceathe lack of chatterathat surrounds the activity; perhaps itas because itas such an all absorbing activityano clutter from everyday life. Regardless of the why, diving perimeters on being somewhat of a sacred activity for me and I believe many others. Thatas why, for the most part, Iave never been very impressed with much of the art that tries to represent the underwater world and experience. It doesnat seem to capture the spirit. Now there are many great photographers who capture beautiful images, but in particular, Iave not really been impressed with whatas done in other mediums: I find them to be often bordering on what could be described as cheesy.
That changed several months ago. I stumbled across a Facebook posting. It was a painting of a diver moving through an underwater cave. The run was both an explosion of colour and energy yet with patches of darkness that evoked untold mystery. Iad never seen dive-related paintings like this before. Though not in any way aphoto realistica, the painting came close to capturing the experiences I had when I was cave divingaa magical world, but one with a slightly ominous overtone. This artist understood that experience. I decided I wanted to know a great deal more.
In fact, it turned out I knew the artistaor rather I knew the diver. I knew her name was Grace Marquez and she was part of the community of technical divers based in Toronto. Through a few degrees of separation, we had a lot of people we knew in common and with whom we had dived. But I had no idea that Grace was such a talented painter. In fact, I had no idea she painted at all.
I soon learned that Grace was born in the Philippines, grew up in Toronto and went to school at Queens University in Kingston, where she studied Fine Arts. After graduation she says she faced the same dilemma many arts students face: what to do for a living. She went back to school to Sheraton College and studied computer graphics. Since graduating, shead built a successful career in digital marketing. But it turned out that while she redirected her creative drive to accommodate her work, that didnat mean shead abandoned her love of painting. It did, however, take an odd twisting in her life, to motivate her to pick up her brushes and palette knives once again.
That atwista began in 2009 when Grace went on a trip with her family to Palawan in the Philippines. Water athletics were included in the package theyad paid for at a resort. Grace decided to try the Discover Scuba program. She says right from the start she was blown away by the underwater world. She says the reef off the resort was spectacular and that finding a aNemo fisha in an anemone built her feel like she was diving in an aquarium. aAs soon as I came back to Canada, I signed up with Oakville divers and got certified.a But Grace admitted that at this phase, diving was only an occasional activity, when she was down south in warm water. Nonetheless, the diving hook was in. Grace realized that diving was the aonly place where I am one hundred percent present with my intellect, body and spirit.a It offered her a kind of peace and tranquility that was rare in her busy life.A
Grace didnat bother to do her advanced training for several years: aWasnat until I fulfill the late Carlos Fonseca at Danas Dive shop that I started to see some possibilities for a different kind of divingadiving in colder water and diving utilizing more refined skills.a Carlos convinced her that the world she loved down south was easily accessible within a few hoursa drive of where she lived. So, she donned a 7 mm wet suit and did her advanced training in Tobermory. aIt was a turning point in both my diving and artistic pursuings. My supposes on art and the underwater world began to change. When I moved into technical diving, I started to spend more day on the bottom. I was able to spend the time to really look around. I started to take video of my dives and truly examine the footage that I had gathereda | I wanted to share what was down there.a To do that, Grace began to paint again. She began to try to capture what she was feeling when she was submerged, aI have these momentsamostly on wrecks or in cavesawhere Iam blown away by what nature has done to create these experiences.a
Grace made some interesting choices in working towards her objective of capturing the essence of what she experiences underwater. The first one was that she was not going to create arealistica paintings. Quite the contrary, she wanted to avoid photorealism. aI try hard not to make my paints photo real. I want to show the mystery of what Iam watching, more expressionistic, I want to capture the essence of that place and time.aA Harkening back to earlier impressionists and expressionist painters, Grace wanted to capture the play of light on the surfaces of the underwater world; to create a sense of reality in motion in time. aThe world is never in perfect focus, a Grace adds, aItas always in motion, with light playing across the surface.a To achieve that sense of light and period, Grace decided to work largely with acrylics and layers of glazesaall of which create an nearly dreamlike feel to her run. aI like to work a lot with a pallet knife. I donat want the images to take over the seem of a realistic photo. When I find thatas whatas happening, I put down my brushes and pick up a palette knife again.a
Thatas what makes Graceas work resonate with me. Itas not just whatas there on the canvas, but also whatas not there. Grace fills her canvases with dark corners that leave the viewer wondering about what they could be seeing that may be just out of the reach of the light. As Grace says, aThe darkness is important, thereas beauty in that.a
One particularly stunning piece I love shows the stern of the wreck of the Arabia in Tobermory, Ontario.A While the bow of that ship, which sink in the late 1800 s, is in pretty good shape, the stern is a jumbled mass of timbers criss-crossing each other. Iave dived that wreck more hours than I can remember but Iad never seen much beauty in those timbers. But Grace saw something. She turned that wreckage into a what appears to be a display of bold rods of blue and green light, virtually reminiscent of a run by Lawren Harris. Merely after I look back the paint several times did I notice a diver in the painting slowly arising as a result of the shadows.
Aside from wrecks, her favourite topic is caves. Whatas really impressive is that she turns that pitch-black world into a magical kind of landscape that, ironically, resonates with colour. Grace says that in caves, aWhen you have your illuminates on, all the colour comes to life, the sparkle of the mineralsa | I try to capture that.a A painting she calls aAt the Next Turna is a wonderful example: a darknes passageway recedes into the distance with a faint light showing in one corner. The rich world captured in purples, greens, and blacks hints at an undiscovered adventure lying simply around the corner. Not a world of darkness and anxiety but instead one of adventure full of promise.
Clearly Graceas work resonates with people other than me. When I interviewed her for this article, she was working towards her first exhibition. She explained that the whole event came about much by happenstance. aI started working at a studio a number of years ago. It gives me open studio time, a place where I can just go and paint. One of the artists, Milena Doncheva, find my work and encouraged me to try to put on a show.a Though reluctant at first, Grace eventually decided to go for it so, aI discovered a gallery and submitted an idea for a indicate to them. They accepted my proposal and booked me for several days.a A
When this article was first publishing Graceas show, called Waterlust, had just objective, by all accounts a great success, hopefully the first of many. Her works represent an experience that is definitely worth seeingaeven if youare not a diver.A
Check out more of Graceas work at: www.gracemarquezstudio.com