Billie Rae Busby’s
Billie Rae Busby’s
If you look in the air above our Creative PlaySpace, you will see a series of colourful banners flapping in the wind. Intersections is a collaboration led by Calgary landscape artist Billie Rae Busby. It includes work from the residents of The Edward next door to us, and the Maria Montessori Education Centre children here at cSPACE.
These vibrant additions to the PlaySpace capture the spirit of our creative placemaking commitment. By making a beautiful place to live, work and play, residents are invited to take ownership of their community. Lifelong learning through the arts merges with concepts of play, and environmental responsibility.
cSPACE engaged artist Billie Rae to work with the residents next door, and the students of the Montessori school, during the fall of 2021. The participants had the rare chance to explore landscape painting with a professional working artist. For Billie Rae, working on this collaboration offered an opportunity to connect with a whole spectrum of learners. To introduce young minds (whether in young or older bodies) to the joy of expression through the arts. For many of the residents at The Edward, some of whom are art collectors, this was the first time they had picked up a brush to make their own mark. At least one resident was grateful because in having the opportunity to create art themselves, they were given a greater appreciation of their own art collection. One of Billie Rae’s landscape paintings even made it into the collection of one of her students.
In late October, we sat down and asked Billie Rae about her process in creating Intersections.
Different age groups with different needs
Billie Rae took different approaches to get her artists to harness their creativity. With the Montessori kids (ages 3-6) she discussed how she chooses colour for her abstract landscape paintings to depict seasons or time of day. Each of the 23 students spent time in small groups with Billie Rae to create their own colourful painting. The main challenge was harnessing all that excitement.
“Working with the young kids, it’s just their energy. They don’t want to leave the art table, they can’t wait for their turn, and they just go. They just want to get colour down, marking down, they don’t really think about it, it’s just their instincts… So I really enjoy that. I think that energy is really really fun.”
Billie Rae introduced her style of hard-edge landscape painting to the seniors at the Edward slowly. She started with basics like colour theory, and showed how imagination and abstraction played in her own work. For all except one, this was their first time painting. During in-person group sessions, the eleven seniors used images of Billie Rae’s geometric and linear paintings as inspiration. From these, they were able to create their own whimsical landscapes.
“With the seniors, I just enjoy that… they are willing, and they are listening, and they are attempting, Even though they are the opposite of the little kids. …[T]he seniors I have to encourage them to just put that paint down and not really worry about the end result… I work with them on having a little more courage… [W]e can always get more paint. And we can always get another canvas.”
Making it all come together
Once all the pieces were finished, Billie curated 60 of them for their colour and composition, planning them in an aesthetically pleasing order. They were then digitally reproduced into foot wide banners and finally suspended on wires above the new Creative PlaySpace area.
Billie Rae calls the piece, Intersections because it represents the physical location (between the two buildings) and also characterizes the other overlaps – age groups, themes, and colours – that occur. Lastly, the title evokes her painting technique which features layers of geometric and linear shapes.
“It has been a delight to spend creative time with the young students and to have engaging art conversations with the seniors.”
Sustainability is part of the beauty of it
Not only is the Creative PlaySpace beautiful, and meaningful, it is also sustainable. In the first place, the soft, decorative ground cover is made from over 200 recycled passenger tires. We thank Kal’s Replay Fund (a community program of KalTire) for giving kids a soft place to land when they play here.
Secondly, the banners will eventually be recycled too. Despite being made of durable vinyl, long term exposure to changes in the weather mean that the sturdy banners will need to be replaced one day. When that time comes, the banners will finally become something else beautiful and useful. Billie Rae has plans to cut them into strips for colourful bookmarks, coasters, or placemats. Nothing goes to waste.
One Intersection leads to another
With the the community project complete, both Billie Rae and the residents at The Edward knew they wanted to keep working together. So she became an Artist-in-Residence teaching weekly art classes all through November. Residents learned the basics of art production and colour mixing and more. The main goal was to get them to feel comfortable with paint. Stressing process over product helped them become more expressive. They worked on abstract landscapes, and a Northern Lights project. The experience was eye opening for both of them.
“I don’t know if many of them are going to be doing this as a full time hobby, but there is the camaraderie in the class, and just learning new things. I’m really pleased with how they’re open to experimenting with new ideas that are not normally something they grew up with, or even something they’ve been exposed to before… It reminds me that I need to get some new things in my life that maybe is a bit of an adventure, or learning to fail or be surprised. It’s okay to be a beginner.”
For Billie Rae, the experience has deepened her sense of community.
“Being an artist can be very solitary, and I’ve enjoyed this. [O]ne of the jokes I said to the seniors… I told them I hope you know that I don’t really go anywhere, between my studio practice and Covid. So you’re kind of my friends now. It’s been really great to be around other people and to share some things in common. But also learn from each other.”
Billie Rae spends the majority of her time as a full time artist doing solo studio work. This is where she’ll spend most of the spring and summer. Her focus right now is preparing for a fall exhibition at the Leighton Art Centre. Even so, she hopes to find time for other interesting projects, including some possible murals.
“It’s an honour to always do anything with cSPACE. I was involved with a small project – the hard hat project – back when you were just doing the groundbreaking. I had two hard hats I had created [that were worn by the VIPs and sponsors]. And I had a show here, my first show, I Am Western, I was a part of that. I’ve just been a fan of this space for a long time. So it’s been wonderful to be able to be part of this project.”
If you’d like to see more of Billie Rae’s work, please visit her website or follow on her social channels below.