Your roots – how and where you are raised – play a major role in your life. They set the parameters of your formative years. And that can run deep. But for Irma Soltonovich, it also runs wide.
Raised on a farm in Saskatchewan, Soltonovich was influenced by her surroundings, which gave her a sense of where she stood in the world. The vastness of the prairies left an impression. But it was the ethic that came with growing up on a farm that gave her an appreciation for hard work and honesty.
These forces came into play for her as an artist. But to simply say they inspire her painting would be a cliché that mischaracterizes her work. No, for Soltonovich, her roots are her work. For her, it’s all about where things meet.
“I would say I am an abstract landscape painter,” she says. “It means you can certainly tell what my paintings are. I am known for my landscapes. They’re long and narrow and always have a horizontal line.”
Soltonovich, who lived in Alberta after leaving Saskatchewan, now lives in Victoria. “I like to live where sky meets ocean, or where sky meets land. It grounds me. It also somehow grounds me back to my childhood. It gives you a sense of place in the world – that you’re not the most important thing. The land – the terroir – is who I am.”
The horizon is at the centre of almost all of her works. “You are always reminded when you live in the Prairies that nature is really in command,” she says.
Soltonovich grew up in Nipawin, a small rural town in central Saskatchewan, east of Prince Albert. “I grew up in a very rural existence,” she says. The family did not have a lot, she adds, but there was always something to eat. “We always had steak.”
She left the farm as a teenager and attended what was then known as teachers’ college. From there she obtained a master’s degree. “I didn’t really paint till I got my master’s in fine art,” she says, explaining that she had always enjoyed drawing and had taken a few art classes while completing her undergraduate degree.
After completing her master’s, she went to the University of Oregon for a doctorate, but never completed it. “I quit my Phd. I was very disillusioned with the world of art education. I didn’t paint again – or draw, or do any art – from 1968 till 2001 – almost 35 years. I collected art. I hung out with artists. I taught art,” she says. But she did not paint.
Soltonovich decided to go back to teaching, but not in the school system. She spent her days working with both youths and adults in the criminal justice system. She specialized in working with clients suffering from mental health issues, addiction and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. It was a career choice that her family, especially her father, did not understand. Coming from a long line of teachers and farmers, she explains, “no one ever broke the law.”
The work satisfied her creative need, however.
But Soltonovich would later return to her roots as she embraced her art in the launch of a second career. She returned to where the sky meets the land, where the horizon provides a sense of centre. “My capturing the landscape comes from seeing underlying structure and simplicity and from my drawing background. I am driven to do art from a different place than most artists,” she says. “I paint in spurts. I don’t paint every day.”
Images of barren rocks, prairie fields and the line that defines the edge of the sky. These elements help Soltonovich share her sense of place. They run deep. And they run wide.
Irma Soltonovich is represented by The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm in Saanich; the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; and The Emporium Dragon Alley in Victoria. Her website is: www.soltonovich.com