Spotlight on Artist Patricia Canelake

Ed Newman


Patricia Canelake, originally from Virginia, Minnesota, now lives in the historic fishing town of Knife River on the north shore of Lake Superior. Her residence is in the center of Knife River and her renovated studio is next door to a business shared with her sister, Great!Lakes Candy Kitchen. This past week I found myself energized by Canelake’s exhibition titled “Unleashed” at Lizzards Art Gallery here in Duluth. Her work is in permanent collections at the Duluth Technology Village, Hibbing Community College, the Tweed Museum, the National Department of the Interior, and at Duluth’s St. Mary and St. Luke’s hospitals.

EN: How did you first become interested in making paintings?  

PC: I have painted since I was very young. My parents were very encouraging about the arts, and my father would bring home artistic projects. He also loved designing his candy store and making signs. I have a creative sister and creative friends, and I have had a very good arts education in primary, secondary, and college settings. I had a pivotal year in the mid-eighties when two friends came to my house in the northern woods and set up studio spaces. Jane Fine was trained at the Boston Museum School and Harvard, and Heidi Marben was a talented friend from New York City.  She introduced me to the Provincetown, Massachusetts’s art scene, and as a result I painted there for many summers.  I have never questioned my identity as an artist.

EN: What do you like most about being an artist?

PC: Being alone in a room, left with my thoughts. I like to see intellectual and visual ideas come into fruition and to watch a studio wall visually fill up.

EN: How do you know when to call a painting “complete”?  

PC: I am very picky even though one might not guess this. The work has to satisfy me completely. I ask the following questions of myself: Does it have merit? Is it unique and interesting? Are the color, line, and subject matter executed in a way that pleases my eye? Lately I take much more time to make these kinds of decisions, and I cull out the “weak ones” much more than I have in the past. I know when a work is finished through experiences of making and looking at paintings. Sometimes I can fix a painting, but sometimes I ruin it. It always feels risky towards the end. Will I ruin it or put in the next perfect paint stroke?

EN: Where did the title of your current show come from?  

PC: After teaching media arts and film for 15 years in St. Paul, I returned to my main focus of painting and monotype printing. The title “Unleashed” reflects a new start. This year I was awarded an Arrowhead Regional Arts Award, which made it possible to return to the Fine Arts Center in Provincetown, where I spent many summers painting. This summer I  studied new printmaking techniques with artist Vicky Tomayko. The prints are part of the “Unleashed” show at Lizzards .

EN: How do you come up with ideas?  

PC: I have always been fascinated with the photographic image, both vintage and contemporary. I worked in a darkroom and taught media arts and documentary film, so there is a strong connection for me. I have many photographs that I take myself. I choose situation, and images that work with my ideas. Simple figurative and animal subjects, leashed and unleashed, are the subjects of my work. The push and pull, the holding and letting go, are iconic experiences of life. I often look for props, ropes, lines, connecting gestures, or repetitive images. I also look for a moment that will help the narrative. The paintings initiate to some extent my photographs’ images. I also am a big fan of immediate and real observation and using drawing skills.
I use models at times or wait for the chance happenings or influences in my everyday life. For this series, I started by visiting the farm of Andrea Sande and Don Harju and photographing their horses. Later my cousins invited me to see and photograph their farm animals, which included over 70 baby sheep and goats. Two of the most serendipitous moments occurred when I was getting a haircut at Adeline’s hair salon.  Adeline Wright, her daughter Gala, and coworker Kate Stephen all posed for me in a very natural and impromptu way. The resulting images intrigued me and I started to connect the figures and the animals. The premise for “Unleashed” is the idea of basic freedoms. Kate Stephen twirled freely and in an inspired manner. Adeline and Gala were wholeheartedly enjoying a long rope I had given them. When the animals were free on the farms, I noticed that the metaphor of leashed or unleashed applied to both animals and humans. When I juxtaposed them in the paintings, it seemed to work.
EN: Do you pre-conceive your paintings or watch them emerge?  What is your primary approach to painting?

PC: The ideas come as I work.  I have developed some themes that reappear many times, such as the single or duplicitous figure. My intent is to use paint as a lush and beautiful medium. I make sure the surface is varied and that the viewer notices the nature of the paint, as well as the subject matter and the idea behind the painting.