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A & E ART | The Artist Is In

Lisa Pijuan-Nomura can't stop creating and the city's arts scene is the better for it

By Tor Lukasik-Foss

I know Lisa Pijuan-Nomura is making art at the James North Studio, because she's posted her arrival on Facebook. She's also posted what she's working on, how it's different from what she was working on yesterday, and has kindly provided a ballpark estimation of her mood for the day. I have ambivalent feelings about social media, but from the standpoint of someone writing a profile on her, I love it. I haven't even left the house and yet I already feel mid-way through the interview.

When I arrive, Pijuan-Nomura is poised energetically at her worktable, set up in the middle of the gallery space. It's a busy looking table, equipped with a work lamp, a range of art supplies to support drawing, painting, collage, even needle work. Two orange suitcases are underneath the table, which I presume keep a trove of magazines, comics and other bits of mixed media.

There is also a gentleman standing nearby; maybe a little unhappy that I've arrived, because it seems that he and Pijuan-Nomura were in the midst of a good conversation. He hovers silently over the table, staring intently at a small collage — an amalgam of comic book images of a weeping redheaded girl, a work that Lisa has just finished.

"Has Ms. Redhead been sold?" he asks.

"The name of the work is 'The Lost One." And no, she hasn't been sold."

"Consider her sold," he says.

"Wait, let me check the time. Ninety-three minutes, 34 seconds. That's $93.34, darling," Pijuan-Nomura says with a smile.

At the time of my visit, Pijuan-Nomura was in the last week of a month-long experiment entitled The Artist Is In, wherein she has occupied the James North gallery space for at least four hours a day, inviting the public to witness and interact with her during her creative time, and marketing the resulting work by selling it in accordance with the exact amount of time it took to execute — hence $93.34 for a work that took 93 minutes and 34 seconds to complete. It has been, she tells me, more successful than she had imagined. Behind her work desk hangs a sequential array of completed work, much of it already sold. The works move from collage to ink drawings to watercolours and then back to collage, as if she were trying out different voices to see which ones she likes best. The last images in the chain are comic book collages.

"So this guy approaches me" — and here she slips into a Brooklyn accent — "and he says: 'hey miss, five dollars, hundred comics, all romance.' I couldn't refuse. They were all from the '60s and '70s and every one had the name 'Brenda Cole' written in marker on it. When I read them, I realized they told the same story: 'I had it all, but I lost it, I am miserable now and cry myself to sleep every night.' It sort of made sense to just cut out the images of women in tears and start working with them."

Pijuan-Nomura doesn't have a set rationale to explain these latest collages. They are intuitive works, investigations, as have been the other works generated throughout this project. Indeed, the intent behind The Artist Is In is to go public with a process of experimentation, both in an effort to demystify the creative process and as a means to invite people into that creative process as well. Pijuan-Nomura is happiest when the art has been influenced by some kind of social interaction. Her background is heavily rooted in improv theatre, dance, clowning and movement, disciplines that frequently require self-discovery and unpredictability to be part of the public performance. It makes sense for her to transfer this approach to her visual art.

"I've been very public in admitting 'I don't know what I'm doing,' because that's how I learn. And that's okay, because I don't think perfection serves an artist's work. One of the reasons we came to Hamilton is that there is a casual vibe here that takes the pretense out of making art; there is room for exploration. I don't feel stupid going into galleries here, like there is a big theory or educational requirement needed for me to participate. I can just go ahead and be part of it."

And be part of it, she certainly has. In little over a year since she and her husband and son relocated from Toronto, Pijuan-Nomura has established a series of performance showcases, a series of story telling events, taken on the role as James North Studio's gallery coordinator, taken on a job with Urban Arts Initiative — which provides art opportunities to street-involved youth — had multiple solo exhibitions on the James North strip and, if that weren't enough, is currently preparing a one-woman show for Theatre Aquarius next spring.

"I've always liked the word 'maker' more than artist. And there's a reason why my website is called 'Girl Can Create'. It's because I feel like I am creating all over the place; I do this thing and this thing and this thing."