Rosemary Sloot, Artist Statement for the Exhibition, “Immigrant.”
Rosemary Sloot was born in Simcoe, Ontario two months after her parents emigrated from The Netherlands in 1952. Many Dutch families during the post-war era traveled to Canada on immigrant ships like the Waterman. The Sloot family and many other families started their journey on the Waterman in Rotterdam and arrived in Quebec City. Rosemary was the first Canadian born in her family and her more recent work centres on reconciling the relationship between nationhood and identity. Her main exhibitions and series are entitled Priority of Truth, Immigrant, and The Idea of Evolution. Most of her work is done in oil on canvas or pastel but she has worked in watercolour and graphite as well. She has also built boxes containing such things as marine flotsam and jetsam and had a replica traveling crate in Immigrant. Sloot’s layered and photo-realistic paintings capture ideas about personal history, identity, sacrifice, creation, faith and hope.
Rosemary obtained a diploma in painting in 1974 from Humber College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto. In 1973 she participated in an exchange program in the USSR where she studied contemporary and traditional Soviet Art. In 1976 she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1978, Sloot obtained a Master of Visual Arts in Painting from the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
During her studies, Sloot often felt pressured by instructors to pursue abstract expressionist styles, but she enjoyed the stratified effects in early paintings by old masters like Vermeer and developed her own aesthetic. Sloot’s photo-realist and layered technique can be observed in all three painting series, where she pulls images from slides to capture details and atmospheric light.
In 1980 Sloot received a B grant from the Canada Council for the Arts which enabled her to paint full time for a year. At the end of this productive time, Sloot had her first solo exhibition in a commercial gallery and sold 24 paintings which enabled her to spend six months in the South Pacific. While in Australia, Sloot painted the landscape and participated in an exhibition that supported the Australian Jesuit Mission in India. Sloot altered her minimal colour palette to capture the colours of Australia: vibrant blue skies, orange and red earth tones, and the yellow of grasses. Sloot was also inspired by Australian aboriginal symbols and imagery. In 1981 Rosemary returned to Ontario and accepted a job teaching painting at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. In 1984 she moved to London and began teaching non-credit painting and drawing courses for Fanshawe College, The London Regional Art Gallery and various local art groups. She continued to teach off campus intersession courses for Lakehead and started doing Artist’s In Education projects in schools in Northern and Southern Ontario.
Sloot’s most recent and significant exhibition is Immigrant, in which she pays homage to her family’s immigration from the Netherlands in 1952 and their search for identity and belonging in Canada. Immigrant is comprised of 21 artworks that evoke melancholia and the displacement immigrants experience who remain anchored in the past holding onto memories and cultural tradition while residing in the present, trapped between reality and a deep longing for familiarity. Immigrant was exhibited at numerous galleries across Ontario and Alberta. The response to the exhibition was tremendous. Many Dutch immigrants and their families attended the viewings of the Immigrant tour and were deeply moved as they saw their experiences visualized.
Biography by Fiona Walley
Bijoet, Tom. “ ‘Immigrant’ by Rosemary Sloot: Painting an intensely personal, yet universal story.” DUTCH, the magazine, May/June, 2012. https://maclarenart.com/sites/default/files/documents/dutch_the_magazine_rosemary_sloot_article.pdf.
Cherniak, Vince. “Look at This!: A Poignant Exploration of the Costs and Rewards of Immigration.” The London Yodeller, January 30, 2014.
Chisholm, Deirdre. “New Exhibition by Rosemary Sloot unmasks personal story of postwar emigration to Canada.” Norfolk County Media Releases, May 25, 2013. http://www.norfolkcounty.ca/media-releases/new-exhibition-by-rosemary-sloot-unmasks-personal-story-of-postwar-emigration-to-canada/.
MacDonald, Colin. A Dictionary of Canadian Artists. Ottawa: Canadian Paperbacks Publishing, 1997.
Thomas, Chris. “Exhibit highlights immigrant experience.” The Simcoe Reformer, May 14, 2013. http://www.simcoereformer.ca/2013/05/14/exhibit-highlights-immigrant-experience.
Wale, George. “Rosemary Sloot: Immigrant” MacLaren Art Centre Exhibitions, June 1, 2013-August 25, 2013. https://maclarenart.com/exhibitions/rosemary-sloot-immigrant.
Belanger, Joe. “On the Canvas: Immigrant, an exhibition of works by London artist Rosemary Sloot.” London Free Press, January 6, 2014.
Sloot, Rosemary. Artist Statement for the Exhibition, “Immigrant.” 2012.
Sloot, Rosemary. Curriculum vitae.
Artist Statement for the Exhibition, Immigrant
My remarkably strong, pragmatic mother had a year to assess her life before she passed away in 2003. Just prior to her death she quietly told us she had only one regret and that was immigrating to Canada. The defining experience of their lives had simply been too difficult and far too much had been given up. This information so shocked and saddened me that it was as though a bomb had been dropped. I responded immediately with a number of reasons why she was wrong, not being Canadian was inconceivable to me, but she remained steadfast in her declaration.
Then an unexpected feeling of abandonment in a foreign land overwhelmed me, all the more surprising because I was born in Canada. When my mother and her brother passed away it ended the era of adult post-war immigrants in our family. Canada is the place where my parents brought us and left us. Why were we here when most of our extended family was in The Netherlands?
Perhaps the bomb was a gift as these two incidents changed the trajectory of my work and put me on an intensely personal and compelling journey to explore the facts; to record, at least in some small part, my family’s immigration story, to better understand what took place and be at peace with it.
As part of my research I collected published stories of post-war Dutch immigrants who came to Canada. Some of these individuals managed to tell their stories late in life; in many cases it is the children, now in mid-life, who feel the need to delve into what transpired, as an homage, an exegesis, or an exploration to understand why their parents emigrated, what that departure meant for them and for my generation who continue to straddle two cultures. It is my hope that this body of work will make at least a small contribution to the social and historical documentation that continues to accumulate about this most pivotal point in Canada’s migration story. Kierkegaard wrote, “Life must be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.” I am painting the past in order to understand the present.
My efforts as artist chronicler have resulted in a series of intimate works that are narrative by intent and reveal themselves readily while they recover personal history and speak to common universal themes of loss, uprootedness, family and individual identity, sacrifice, persistence, hope and faith.
I relied heavily on black and white photographs taken by my parents in The Netherlands and during their first few years in Canada. In essence they are telling their own story, which seemed fitting. Photographs by their very nature are both nostalgic and historically invaluable as they are the only visual record of lives lived at a specific time and serve as a source of documentation, reality, memory, and thought.
The various texts employed in the final layers of the paintings have been culled from the few fragments of documentation that survived such as the ship’s passenger list booklet, the Waterman and immigration identification cards. In From Holland With Love the only remaining letter from my grandparents is superimposed on an aerial view of their homes and fine vegetable farms in The Netherlands, which adjoined each other. My grandmother comments on the swift passage of the first eight years and asks, my fifteen-year-old sister, if she would like to return to Holland. In addition I have quoted Dutch Canadian authors as well as my parents. In the case of the crate installation (De Kist) the words stand alone to tell a story oft repeated by my mother. The text adds an intellectual component that gives insight into the works as well as physically and conceptually connecting disparate imagery. The words employed are intended to encourage a less passive and more engaged participation of the viewer.
The still-life objects represent some of the painfully meager bits and pieces of household articles that were so carefully chosen for the new life. I have painted them in their current condition.
Texel and What Was Given Up, What Was Gained both show glimpses, wholly or in part, into a life left behind in The Netherlands. In the former an image of my mother vacationing on the island of Texel in 1938 is woven together with a white freesia, a popular Dutch flower, commenting on a carefree youth in pre-war times. In the latter my mother is depicted, stylishly dressed, in busy Amsterdam in the late 1940’s as Europe was beginning to recover from the devastation of WWII. A commercial photographer snapped her picture. Layered on top of this image is the comfortless farmhouse with no plumbing, bathroom or kitchen that awaited them in Canada. In the final layer a detail of the ships passenger list bridges the other two images.
In Halfweg, Sept. 18, 1940 an image of my parents on their wedding day is intertwined with the surface of dark water, the latter a metaphor for migration, the ocean they would cross because of the horrific war they were enduring.
In a number of the paintings subjects are out of focus or obscured. Blurring and softening is intended to push the images back in time as well as making individuals look more generic and less identifiable as portraits. Disparate images are used to move beyond a single representation and create a referential range that will give additional information.
Final Farewell and To Emigrate deal with that unimaginable day when goodbyes forever were said and they walked away from their lives, boarded the Waterman in the port of Rotterdam, and set forth into the unknown. The former is layered with young Canadian maples on a winter’s day alluding to their destination, while in the latter the signatures and official stamps concretize the finality of their decision. In these two canvases I have created iconic images of departure that have been burned into the collective memory of all those who emigrated from Europe after WWII.
This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of my courageous parents, who dared to dream and gave up things unimaginable to give us Canada.
Artist’s Statement Courtesy of Rosemary Sloot
CV Courtesy of Rosemary Sloot
Biography Profile Photo: Courtesy of Rosemary Sloot
A Driving Force interview conducted by Jen Bate
M.A. Public History Program, Western University
Eric Simard, Videographer
Click here for information about works by Rosemary Sloot
in McIntosh Gallery’s collection.
A Driving Force Interview: Rosemary Sloot