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Manitoulin's Ann Beam and the Neon Raven Art Gallery
For Ann Beam, art is a lifelong passion, a process of removing limitations and letting her imagination free to explore and develop ideas into art. Taking down barriers also means working in any medium that sparks her interest, which has led to a 30-year career as a professional artist working in ceramics, watercolour, etching, concrete, canvas, ink on mulberry paper, and even corrugated cardboard.

Inspired by the wide open spaces of her home on Manitoulin, Ann opened an Island art gallery, the Neon Raven Art Gallery, which features artwork by her, her husband (Carl Beam), and daughter (Anong Migwans Beam).

Her work is regularly featured in exhibits across Canada and as far away as China, with an upcoming show, Express Wagon, at Gallerie Nouvel in Sudbury. Here, she uses varied and often overlooked materials to communicate ideas about our vehicle through life – the Earth.

Her “Continuously Arriving Present Moment” exhibit, with a strong focus on waterfall images, is displayed at Gallery Stratford from July until October.
Inspiration for Ann Beam’s work of art can come from just about anywhere. A line from a popular song, a book title, a graphic on packaging, or an image on a stamp can all be remembered and assembled in her subconscious to give hints at a larger truth. This subconscious awareness and listening, before an idea is fully revealed, is the “fun part” of the mystery of life that provides clues to understanding.

This concept was the impetus behind her Engine Room exhibit which was recently at the Tom Thomson Gallery in Owen Sound. The Engine Room is the belly of a submarine, filled with pipes, valves, and instructions that you can’t quite read properly. As we move through life, we see bits and pieces that indicate where we are and what we should do, but we need to feel our way through how these parts work together. The large mixed media pieces in the exhibit were created by taking “everyday materials and presenting them in epic proportions.” Here, everything from corrugated cardboard to found materials to birch bark finds its way into fine art.

“It’s a cheeky, audacious thing I do,” Ann says. “And I’ve found painting on marginalized materials to be exciting and revelatory.”
This exploration of atypical materials is clearly a deep rooted part of Ann’s artistic exploration, evident in the dozen Diamond Jubilee Works she created. Far from the expected and staid images of Queen Elizabeth II, Ann’s work utilized candle boxes, coins, photos on plexiglass, and “outrageous materials” to play with symbols and archetypes associated with royalty. Her exploration took her beyond the political or social power symbolized by the crown to the individual “higher energy” accessible to everyone through their crown (head) chakra.

Although she works with an amazing number of materials, Ann’s formal training was in sculpture while receiving her BA in Fine Art from State University of New York at Buffalo. Although born and raised in Brooklyn, Ann ended up teaching at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in the late 60s and early 70s. It was here she first saw the work of artist Carl Beam. The artistic connection came even before they met.

“When I saw his artwork for the first time, I turned to my colleague and said, ‘Who is that!’ There was an immediate power and recognition,” Ann says. “When I realized there was an exhibition of his work the next day, I realized I needed to take the day off!”

Ann and Carl did indeed meet at his exhibition and three months later they were married in New Mexico. Ultimately they decided to return to Carl’s hometown of M'chigeeng on Manitoulin Island. They were drawn to the peaceful lifestyle, local First Nations philosophy, and open space – perfect for their two horses. They put their combined artistic and hands-on skills to work as they built their own adobe house with an outdoor space for smoke-firing pottery.

“I’m really happy here. This is such an expansive and serene place. You can be by yourself in the outdoors, which makes it easier to have that dialogue with nature,” Ann explains.
Her surroundings are a constant source of new inspiration. And just as Ann sees new function and beauty in overlooked materials, she can also bring fresh eyes to places locals often overlook, such as the well-known Bridal Veil Falls.

“For a lot of people in the area, Bridal Veil Falls is kind of a tourist place. But one day I went there for a swim and I was just struck by how the falls mean the water is continuously refreshed. Moving water has a different component to it than still water that creates an amazing energy field. This was the inspiration for a group of works I did called Continuously Arriving Present Moment,” Ann says.

This collection is on display at Gallery Stratford until October 2014.

Ann also showcases her work at her own Neon Raven Art Gallery on Manitoulin. Here visitors can also find Carl’s art and painting and ceramics by her daughter, Manitoulin artist Anong Migwans Beam.

Ann continues to explore new materials and ideas, inspired by Albert Einstein’s indictive, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

For Ann, “Art development and inner development go hand in hand. You explore what you’re interested in and it fills in blanks and answers questions. There’s a continual process of refining that goes along with a lifelong process of unfolding development.”
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