ArtsTalk Blog - Book Review: Holding Up the Sky by Val Losell

This book presents 33 full page colour reproductions of watercolour and pastel pantings by Valerie Losell, paired with a poem written for each one. Holding Up the Sky collects the work of three small handmade books of poetry written for some of Valerie's art, created over a five year period as part of her recovery efforts from a life-changing sports accident.

Learning to live with serious cognitive, sensory and mobility deficits has been her dominant challenge for these last eleven years; as with many catastrophic events, positives can emerge. Valerie's necessary solitude has allowed imagination to awaken and previously untapped creative skills to emerge in the quiet space of her housebound life. These lyrical and narrative poems and vibrant paintings offer deeply considered observations on the world and are remarkably joyful and mostly up-lifting.

Both the poems and the paintings range widely in style and subject.The book opens and closes with poems about visual art itself. The North Wind describes the actual process of making colour on a page and the emotional journey it provokes. The closing poem, Abiding in the Light, observes how abstract art, by deliberately "drowning" the artist's own meaning, invites the viewer to see with their hearts.

Sprinkled among the work celebrating and affirming life are a number of works that make critical comment on our willfully blind destruction of the natural and built world and urge us to embrace our interdependence with all life as the only way forward to a livable future. In The Maiden and the Birch, Losell observes that we are literally part of

"energy and matter in repeating
patterns [that] pulse through time..."

and that

"the Maiden holds the birch tree
in her flesh and bone."

A number of works celebrate and affirm life; while the book’s fiercest poem, Sacred to our Mother, asserts that our future depends on our realizing:

"that First Peoples
have been holding up the sky
until we join them.."

With such a range of mood and subject to choose from, you will have trouble naming a favourite, and even then it might shift from one reading to the next. This is a book which can be picked up and savoured one painting and poem at a time or reread as a whole over and over.

If you are interested in reading more of Val's work her book of poems is available in paperback and hardcover at SSAC's shop FortyOne: Local Art Market.

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