Exploration crucial to M.E. Sparks in art and life

Amanda Jess
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NEW GLASGOW – As a child, M.E. Sparks knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. 

Although that idea changes for many, Sparks was unwavering in her dream.

She was going to be an artist.

“I remember making all of these fairy clothes out of objects I found in the woods and constructing little mini-outfits. No matter what, I had to be making something with my hands.”

As she got older, painting became her focus. Once high school hit, she knew that was the artistic path she wanted to pursue.

Although her medium became clear, it was only the beginning of her growth as an artist.

Sparks says her paintings as a teenager were chock-full of symbolism and told a story.

“You’re at the age where you just really need to get that out. A lot of work was pretty loaded with meaning and it’s fun to compare my work now with something I would make eight years ago. They’re almost polar opposite.”

The 22-year-old recent graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design used to do a lot of still-life pieces, paintings she describes as “tight” and “very representational.”

“I love doing that. I find it very meditative. It’s therapeutic for me – making things look like how they are in life.”

Although she still does realistic paintings from time to time, she’s now trying to explore different mark making and tools.

She says she wouldn’t describe her work as abstract, but it’s not realistic either.

Her latest series plays with repetitive images of warped chain link fences.

She’s been taking a step back from the paintbrush, and using whatever she has at her disposal – stencils, a paint roller, spray paint, and scraping tools.

Since moving to New Glasgow for the residency program between the town and NSCAD, it’s been a learning curve.

She had countless art professors and peers to turn to in Halifax, and deadlines to keep her on task.

Sparks says she had to seek out other artists, and learn how to schedule studio time.

“You’re here solely for the purpose of being in the studio and developing your practice. That’s why this is a really good opportunity for young artists because you’re immersed in it completely,” she said about the residency.

She approaches it as a full-time job, even when she’s not in the studio.

Her work is never far from her mind, whether she’s thinking about what she’s going to do next, scheduling a show, or filling out applications for schools.

One of her last applications was for the Emily Carr University of Art and Design for their masters program in applied arts, to which she was accepted.

“They have a very inter-disciplinary approach. I do want to continue painting, but I think being surrounded by artists that are all practising different types of art making will be good for me. They have a big research component… that includes internships – extending your practice outside of the school and finding places to apply it.”

From there, she hopes to continue painting and start teaching.

She’s already on her way.

Sparks and Morgan Salter, another NSCAD-New Glasgow community studio resident, will be teaching art classes at Eventide Art Hub, beginning the week of April 20.

They’ll be showing adults different painting and drawing techniques, and working with high school students to help them build their portfolios.

Although she’s busy with her studio time, art classes and upcoming shows at Corridor Gallery and The Bus Stop Theatre in Halifax, it’s necessary for her to find some down time.

She craves an outdoor lifestyle, having come from a small town by rivers and lakes in northwestern Ontario.

NSCAD’s international reputation was a factor in her decision to move from her hometown of Kenora, but the desire to live on the coast played a dominant role as well.

“I had never been to the East Coast before. I really wanted to experience living by the ocean, on the coast. It felt kind of exotic at the time.”

Within her first year of university, she had completed her goal of seeing most of the province, as well as some of Newfoundland.

She loves adventuring, pitching a tent and going off on a hike.

She tried to go camping near Caribou Island recently, with a new winter sleeping bag in tow, but it was too cold.

Sparks has plenty of trips planned for when it warms up though.

“I need that to continue my studio practice. Even if it’s not a direct influence, it’s part of who I am. In some way, it’s needed to continue making art.”

Locally, Sparks’s work can be viewed at the Margaret George Gallery in The Celtic Circle, Get Stuffed Healthy, Eventide Art Hub and her website mesparks.com.



On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda

Organizations: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Corridor Gallery and The Bus Stop Theatre

Geographic location: Halifax, New Glasgow, Northwestern Ontario Kenora East Coast Newfoundland Caribou Island The Celtic Circle

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