BEAR RIVER, N.S. – Justine Kerr’s artistic journey brought her across an ocean, and in more recent years, onto a more sacred path where spirit, paint and vision collide.
Kerr received her Bachelor of Fine Arts with a specialty in sculpture from Dundee University in Scotland in 1998, but her journey to Nova Scotia began as an exchange student back in 1994 when she attended the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design for two semesters.
“I was only meant to stay for one semester but I loved it so much, I stayed for two,” Kerr said.
She said the world was open to her when looking at exchange possibilities, however, her abilities in foreign languages were “extremely limited.
“I had already visited America but never Canada. Students were raving about NSCAD, and how friendly Nova Scotians were, so that inspired me to apply and I was accepted upon review of my portfolio,” Kerr said.
She describes her training at Dundee as “rigorous” with many late-nights completing projects.
“Projects had to be submitted frequently, but it was so exciting being surrounded by dedicated art students,” Kerr said.
Kerr also had the additional challenge of having two young children while she was completing her degree.
“That definitely challenged me in all areas of my life; if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger,” Kerr said. “For my degree show, I created work about being pregnant and I was so very proud of the stone carvings I created.”
While Kerr’s work has been exhibited provincially and nationally her favourite memory of showing of her work is her graduation show when she was still working in stone.
“I had made a very pregnant belly figure with a phallus coming out of the neck,” Kerr said. “I just happened to voyeuristically witness a woman, who was immensely pregnant stand right in front of my stone carving and she was transfixed by my sculpture.
“The two of them were in this magical love moment together and she didn’t know that I was watching. I felt so very honoured to see this magic as she fell in love with my work and bought the piece.”
Kerr's website describes her work as the interdependence of the human body melding with the land. “The images are inspired by personal experiences. These are animals, women and anthropomorphic forms such as flowers.”
While she’s now been creating for 26 years, in the last 16 of those, Kerr has also been delving into Shamanic, earth-based practice.
“Most recently for a couple of years, Native Spiritualty, learning and healing myself through sweat lodge, sacred fires with very specific prayers, connecting to the land, nature and animals,” Kerr said.
Kerr said many of her recent works have arrived through visions which she then paints.
“I painted a vision as a gift for the picturesque town I live in, Bear River. It’s an 8x8 foot mural entitled, Reaching for the Stars.”
That mural was showcased on the exterior wall of the Cherry Brook shop, but has now been taken down for the winter. In the spring, Kerr hopes it will find a new home.
After immigrating to Nova Scotia, Kerr began sharing her love and passion for art with “wayward youth” in Cape Breton 21 years ago. For the last 15 years, she has delivered several hundred to children and adult participants.
“I have been given a gift to share my artistic skills,” Kerr said. “I really enjoy it.”
While her degree specialty was sculpture, she now works and teaches primarily in acrylics, and sometimes with collage.
“I choose to work in paint because it is physically easier on my body and I can do it in my house,” Kerr said.
Since 2015, Kerr has made her home in Bear River. She’ll be sharing her time and talent in an upcoming painting workshop over two days at the Oakdene Centre in Bear River on Feb. 3 and 4, and it promises to be a rich, artistic experience, starting with a meditative practice.
“We start with a meditation to move us into that side of the brain that allows us to relax, moving into our hearts more for expansion of self, to allow us to relax into play, into the joy of making marks and colour,” Kerr’s workshop outline promises.
Kerr said she began using meditation for her own process and found it worked so well, she started to integrate it into her workshops.
“I did it initially for my own self, to relax and ground me into the space,” Kerr said. “It helped me so much I thought I’d experiment on my students. They all loved it from wee children to youth and adults so I continued on with it as part of my teaching process.”
No level of artistic experience is necessary to attend and the day also includes a lunch, partially created by Kerr’s husband, George Rizsanyi who she says makes “the most delicious bread”.
Participants will also leave with at least one finished piece at the end of the day. While Kerr says others may achieve more, her focus will be on the process.
“For me it’s about learning more about who we are, where are we from, what makes our hearts stir with delight, what we love, how we can love ourselves more deeply through this creative process one brush stroke at a time.”
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