Artist explores her own ‘Journey to Remembrance’

Article / November 3, 2017 / Project number: 17-0096

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Longview, Alberta — In childhood, the closest Alberta-based artist Deanna Lavoie ever got to the military was watching her brothers play soldier. She stopped taking history classes in Grade 11, the year they were no longer mandatory. By doing that, she missed out on studying the World Wars.

“I didn’t have any military in my family,” she recalled. “I marked Remembrance Day, I wore my poppy. I did the right things, but without really, truly understanding it.”

The Alberta College of Art and Design graduate would later address this perceived shortcoming in a big way with a work called The Journey to Remembrance, but only after a fateful journey of her own.

As Ms. Lavoie entered young adulthood, a meeting with a stranger would foreshadow the emergence of military themes in her work.

“I went backpacking through Europe and visited the Dachau concentration camp. That was quite an experience for a 19-year-old. We bumped into an Australian girl who said she really wanted to go to Gallipoli. Some of her ancestors had fought there and I just had never heard of the place, and I couldn’t understand why you’d want to visit a battlefield at that age.”

The Gallipoli campaign, a defining moment of the First World War for Australians and New Zealanders, pitted their forces (along with British troops) against those of the Ottoman Empire in an attempt to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul) via Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula.

That campaign had great significance for Murray Sinton, a retired Royal New Zealand Navy officer Ms. Lavoie would later meet and marry.

“The first movie we watched together is Gallipoli,” she said, referring to the 1981 dramatization that stars Mel Gibson. “Murray’s grandfather, James Sinton, had fought at Gallipoli. He spent four years at war and lived to 101. And not only was my husband a veteran but also his dad and six of his uncles.”

The couple lived in Australia from 2010 to 2013 and it was during this time that Ms. Lavoie created A Minute Silence. Selected as a finalist for Australia’s 2013 Gallipoli Art Prize, it consists of multiple folding panels in the shape of tombstones. The acrylic on canvas work includes portraits of James Sinton as a young man and near the end of his life.

“You’ve got the young man,” Ms. Lavoie explained. “He’s excited, he’s off to war, probably not even thinking about war – he’s off on an adventure. And then you’ve got the man who’s 101, wearing his medals. We’re all like that to a certain extent. We don’t have a clue when we’re young and then we understand when we get older.”

She has powerful memories of being part of Anzac Day, a shared day of remembrance for Australia and New Zealand held annually on April 25.

“Being immersed in people who do have a military history, and understand their military history, I was just astounded,” Ms. Lavoie said.

After returning to Canada with her husband in 2013, Ms. Lavoie felt an undeniable need to similarly commemorate the sacrifices of her fellow Canadians. In 2015 she began work on what would become The Journey to Remembrance.

Currently on loan to the Military Museums in Calgary, the life-size painting (which stands six feet by five and took nearly a year to complete) depicts a trio of ghostly soldiers walking through a vast poppy field that stretches to the horizon.

Warrant Officer Susan Endean, with the Canadian Armed Forces Joint Meteorological Centre in Oromocto, New Brunswick and a longtime friend of Ms. Lavoie’s, said the painting has a powerful effect.

“It had a remarkably profound effect on me, even after 20 years of service,” she said. “The care and the detail of this painting that took 10 months to complete takes my breath away. It speaks volumes on the sacrifices made, but manages to also convey a sense of peace and acceptance. I have never been moved in such a way by any piece of art before.”

There are clouds in the sky, suggestive of the tragic elements of conflict, but sunlight breaks through.

“When I first started it actually, I had a completely different sky,” said Ms. Lavoie. “It was very dark, there was no sun. It needed to have that sense of hope. For every awful thing, there needs to be something good that’s gained.”

Ms. Lavoie’s other work, which includes gentler depictions of children and nature, might at first glance seem to be in stark contrast to her sober studies of conflict, but she sees a clear connection.

“These men and women, they were fighting for these kids. Ultimately the sacrifice is made to make sure that this is what continues to happen: these children are growing up and living the lives that children should live. When I think about it, that’s how I connect them together.”

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