Wabush — Angela Hardy lives and breathes art. She paints portraits that tell a story, both real and fantastic. Two of her paintings have been picked up by Howard Tullman who has the largest realistic figurative collection in the U.S. — an achievement that marked her as an up-and-coming artist.
She’s returning to her home in Wabush and is holding an exhibition of her artwork in Labrador City at the Labrador West Arts and Culture Centre, starting today and running through Saturday.
Adopted at an early age
The 36-year-old artist was born in Carbonear and adopted by Cheryl and Oscar Hardy when she was two months old. She was raised in Wabush with her brother Jeffrey.
When she was 19 years old she sought out her biological parents — her biological mother was trying to get in touch with her as well — and she reconnected with her extended family, including a number of siblings.
Her parents were very young when they gave her up for adoption, because raising her was just not feasible for them at the time.
She’s thankful for their decision because life with the Hardys turned out wonderful and to this day, they are indeed her mom and dad.
Art is in her family — both her biological and adopted fathers are carpenters, her biological mother is a homemaker who pays great attention to detail, and her adopted mother is a talented painter and member of the Labrador West Visual Arts Association.
Growing up in Wabush, with little access to the outside world, she spent much time drawing and painting.
“I grew up like most kids getting out there and enjoying winter,” Hardy said.
“Growing up I was always painting and drawing. I spent an awful lot of time in my mom’s sewing room with fabrics, playing dressup with my friends. I loved Labrador West. I always loved the fact it was a little more isolated and not so rushed and hurried, like the rest of the world.”
In high school she was constantly doing portraits for parents who paid for her work.
She remembered having a special art teacher, Ed Owen, who encouraged her and with her mother’s blessing, she decided to pursue art as a profession.
At 19, she left the little town and went off to study visual art at West Viking College in Stephenville.
“Leaving home and going to school was a little bit scary because everything was so big and a little overwhelming, but you learn to adapt,” Hardy said.
“As much as I’ve enjoyed being in the cities I lived in, I think there’s always that small-town northern girl, enjoying the solitude and friendly faces, knowing that your neighbours will always help you out when needed and friends are always close by.”
Meeting the love of her life
She met her husband of 10 years, Grant Hillier, at the college. He was in the same program and they both went on to get a bachelor of fine arts degree at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax.
Although Hillier went on to become a concept artist for video games, the couple received similar training, and they enjoy brainstorming and critiquing each other’s work.
Living in Labrador with little access to galleries, college exposed Hardy to a world of diversity. Learning photography helped her with composition, sculpture with the three dimensional form and art history introduced her to a variety of people.
“No matter how focused you want to be on something, you have to stop and make sure to take a look at everything else in order for your own personal drive to be as big as you want it to be,” Hardy said.
“You never know at what point in life you might choose to change directions and explore another avenue, having (diversity) in your repertoire in education will help you do that down the road.”
Defining her work
The materials she uses to paint are open acrylics; because they don’t emit as many fumes as oil paint, and she said the kind she uses allow her to blend the paint without the painting coming out too plastic-like.
Hardy calls the work she does: contemporary realistic figurative work. She likes projecting a well-rendered, realistic image with good composition, but which tells a story.
“I love the fact that even though it’s realistic, it will always end up making you feel like you’re somewhere else and trapped in your little story,” Hardy said.
“I don’t want people to take a look at my work and say: ‘Oh, it looks very realistic,’ I want them to say, ‘My God, look at the pattern and colour. I wonder where they were?’ and get caught up in the title or story that’s implied.”
Friends that inspire
She said she has a really good set of friends who pose for her or play dress-up and don’t ask for anything in return. Models can get expensive, she adds.
She has hundreds of pictures, some collected from Facebook, of people caught in candid moments or engaging poses, which she’s painting in an ongoing “Arms Length” series.
The newest series she’s working on is based on “Grimms Fairy Tales.”
She’s dressing up her friends to depict scenes from stories like “Cinderella,” “Hansel and Gretel” and “Snow Queen.”
The tales are something she heard growing up and the work allows her to reminisce about her childhood.
Around the world
One of the highlights of her career, she noted, is definitely having a couple of her paintings picked up by Tullman.
Things like these, she added, make an artist’s career and give recognition that they’ll go on to do some great things. In the last number of years, she has moved from Nova Scotia, Germany, Chicago, and she now lives in the historic part of Quebec City.
Living there really gets her imagination going, she described, especially the wild costumes of Cirque du Soleil performers and seeing people in 18th Century costumes on the bus because they’ve just been to a historic reenactment.
Doing what you love
She said, it’s very hard to make a living working as a painter, but she makes it work.
“One thing I’ve always realized is that, if I’m not doing what I truly love, which is painting my own work, then I’m just not happy,” she said.
“I really need to do what my passion is. My husband and my goal in life is to truly work and live our passion. Even in our day-to-day lives, art plays a huge role. We would rather plug away and do what we can in order to get where we want in our careers, than do anything else.”