The Torch – Be Yours to Hold it High is both a line from the poem “In Flanders Fields” and the name of an art exhibit honouring heroes, currently showing at Red Art Gallery.
Victoria-based artist Elizabeth Litton painted 14 portraits of war veterans and conceptual pieces on the effects of war on those left behind. However, this focus on war veterans was not what Litton originally set out to do.
“It started with a call I put out on Facebook for a heroes portrait project,” she said. “What seemed to come in from everybody were (military) men in uniform.”
Litton recently spent a year in England, where she noticed a lot of cenotaphs and war memorials. She and her son also spent time there with her grandmother, who opened up about living through the Second World War.
“That generation is almost gone; she’s 90,” Litton said. “My son’s generation will be the last generation to touch someone directly who experienced that war.”
With the online photo submissions and her experience in England, the exhibit became focused on war veterans. There is also a painting of one woman working in a factory during the war and another woman who was part of the suffrage movement.
Litton hails from South Africa and moved to Victoria in 2000. She has been an artist for 30 years and also teaches it. She has had international solo shows, but this is her first solo effort in five years.
More recent exhibits have been group projects, but she has also been busy as a guerrilla artist, focusing on “art drops.”
“My art has been in the Guggenheim, National Gallery and London’s Tate Modern,” she said, laughing.
Guerrilla art, also known as “street art,” is the practice of artists leaving their art anonymously in public places. Litton leaves her contact information on the back of her dropped-off-art and has made a lot of art pen pals in the process.
Some well-known guerrilla artists include graffiti artist Banksy, and Slinkachu, who is known for leaving his created miniature figurines in public places.
Litton has stuck around after “art-dropping” to see how people behave. The art is free for anyone to take, and says so on the back, but when it’s placed a museum or gallery, people have been hesitant to take it away, she said. Litton has even received negative feedback for doing this.
“One time I art-dropped (in a gallery) in New York and they phoned and were very cross with me,” Litton said, adding the caller cited “terrorists threats and 9/11” for their annoyance.
“It’s a piece of art. If I wanted to be naughty, I would paint a bomb and place it somewhere. I am not out to create that kind of reaction. I want people to come away with positive feelings.”
The Torch runs to Nov. 13. At the the opening reception tomorrow (Nov. 7) from 6 to 8 p.m., a local veteran will be honoured and donations accepted for a veterans’ charity. There will also be a draw for a free picture-to-portrait painting by Litton. Red Art Gallery is located at 2033 Oak Bay Ave. Hours are noon to 4 p.m.