Growing up in Calgary, drawing was my refuge. Never a particularly academic student, I found art class was at once a way to boost both my grades and self esteem, as my ability to draw seemed to make me a slightly bigger fish in the small pond of grade school. I never once considered pursuing a career outside of art, and so the Alberta College of Art (as it was called then) seemed like a logical place to study, and four years later I had a diploma in Visual Communications. Twenty years of freelance illustrating for various studios and agencies around North America followed, during which time my family and I moved to Crowsnest Pass, 50 minutes east of Fernie.
Shortly after relocating, I began to realize a desire to find my artistic voice through the exploration of my own imagery, and I found within the Pass a vibrant and supportive art community, which I accessed through the wonderful CNP Public Art Gallery.
It was here that I participated in my first group show called The Art of Motherhood. For the first time, I considered imagery that was mine alone, and not intended for any client giving me direction. It was a liberating, joyful experience and the response to my work was appreciative, warm and heartfelt.
From my earliest drawings as a young girl, I’ve loved the female form, and believe that female beauty lies in our strength, wisdom, resilience and grace – qualities that transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. I am fascinated by the threads of experience that weave their way through each of us, connecting us in a kind of sisterhood as we share our stories of joy and woe. With these stories I continue to explore my own imagery and have participated in several exhibitions in public and private art galleries in Alberta and BC.
In 2011, I became a member of the Fernie Arts Co-op. Through this fantastic organization and its wonderful artists, I discovered a vibrant community that celebrates and supports its artists and the arts in all its forms. Surrounded by so much natural beauty, Fernie is endlessly inspiring, and one of my favourite places anywhere is the Old Growth Cedar Trail. As often as I can, I try to seek, with intention, moments of stillness that inevitably fill me with a sense of connection to something greater than what the world seems to offer with its distractions, politics, noise and so on. This trail is the perfect place to find that sense of stillness and connection, which are recurring themes in my work.
Bears have always occupied a place in my consciousness, having grown up with recurring nightmares in which they played a passive but threatening role. A few years ago I started playing with colour, composing loose studies of bear faces, perhaps coming face to face and making peace with what had frightened me for so long many years ago. The Co-op was the perfect venue to display my new imagery, and I soon discovered that I wasn’t the only one who had a fascination with and respect for bears. What started out in one shop in Fernie, has grown into a line of Wild Things imagery on cards, reproductions, and T-shirts, which are now sold in more than 70 shops and galleries across Canada. It has been one of the greatest lessons for me as an artist: pay attention to the inspiration that is knocking at your creative door, and follow it to see where it will lead. Pursuing imagery to which you feel a connection will create an audience of people who respond to that authentic voice and will in turn share their stories. More than any commercial success, this has been by far the most gratifying part of my art career to date.
I will always feel a sense of wonder and gratitude when I think of the role that Fernie has played in my artistic journey and look forward to seeing what unfolds in the future.
You can find my work on my website (karilehrart.com), Facebook (Kari Lehr Art) and Instagram (@karilehrart).