To Create Is to Start Over in a Foreign Country

Wanda_Koop_Winnipeg_Free_PressWinnipeg painter and activist Wanda Koop has been making art for nearly 40 years. She is regarded as one of Canada’s most inventive artists.

Koop’s mother, an oral historian, fled the Ukraine during the Russian Revolution. She and Wanda returned to the Ukraine together in 1997 in search of family roots, and Wanda captured their journey in her searingly beautiful documentary film, Wanda Koop: In Her Eyes. (If you’re in Canada, you might find a copy through your local library. It’s a National Film Board production.)

When I first viewed the film, well over ten years ago, I jotted this passage down. I keep coming back to it. Koop’s comparison of the art process to being a refugee stays with me:

When we come to a new place and when people are forced to start over, in many ways that is the art process … [I]n order to create a body of work, we have to be incredibly brave and we have to start from nothing, in a sense, and we have to go to a place that’s as foreign as a new country and we have to learn a whole new language.

How does this relate to all the facile advice on creativity that assures us we can make art without ever leaving the comforts of home?

Koop says it another way in this video clip:

When I’m actually painitng, I’m painting something I’m seeing in my head, not something that exists in the world. I paint it, and then I look at it.