Skip to content

Annie King & Michael Burtch transform Heliene into giant gallery

Duo exhibit art show brings a 'New York or L.A.' to the Sault

Local artist Annie King didn’t originally see art in her future when she was attending school.

She started university thinking she might want to go into medicine.

“Science and math were always my strong suit academically, but I took a painting course as an elective, and I loved it,” says King.

“I actually found it really challenging and I received the worst mark I have ever had.”

Despite the unsatisfactory grade, she was hooked.

“I switched majors and graduated with a BFA followed immediately by an MFA.”

King, who was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, studied locally with the exception of moving briefly to Edmonton to attend graduate school.

Her family and the beauty of the surrounding lakes kept her in the community.

It was here she met and made a connection with local artist Michael Burtch, who has called the Sault home for the last 40 years.

“Michael was first my professor in drawing and art history,” laughs King.

“He then quickly became a mentor. We kept in touch and became really great friends.”

As fate would have it, King wound up moving into Burtch’s neighbourhood.

“It’s pretty fantastic to have an art friend just down the road you can discuss your crazy art ideas or discuss art history with over a drink,” says King.  

Burtch’s sculptures are often based on the human figure as an integral part of nature.

He is known to be inspired by the cycles of decay and growth in our natural world.

King’s work is informed by concern for “environmental degradation, eco-anxiety, fragility and loss but also resilience and healing.”

She uses ideas of “destruction and rejuvenation through sculptural imagery often using fire, pigment and natural material on large wood panels.”

“We realized that although our works visually are so different, we have overlapping themes and ideas running through our work that lead well to collaboration.”

Before the duo began formally working together or collaborating on projects, they hosted an informal show and sale for friends and family in Burtch’s back garden after the lockdown ended.

This past year, both King and Burtch applied to be an “Artist in Residence” for Playsmelter Festival, a performance-based festival held yearly in Sudbury.

“We were successful,” says King.

“It allowed us to develop some ideas on in-progress work. It was a great opportunity. We performed a version of ‘Traces’ in at the Sudbury Theatre Centre. We then were able to take what we learned from that residency into our art performance in ‘The Stories Steeped in Stone Performance Series,’ a project by the Friends of the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site and Theatre in Motion.”

Although that ‘The Stories Steeped in Stone Performance Series” and performances of ‘Traces’ were held earlier this year, both will be aired on Shaw (Cable 10), in September.

Following the residency for Playsmelter Festival, King secured a “Virtual Art Residency” through Thrive Network.

“This allowed me to focus on completing the work that was displayed at ‘Black Water/ Sunken Cathedral,’” says King.

Black Water/Sunken Cathedral was an exhibition and live performance created by the duo in partnership with Fringe North.

In mid-August, King and Burtch held an art exhibition at Heliene, a local manufacturer of high-quality solar photovoltaic modules.  

The exhibit included a 60-foot landscape painting and sculptural art installations.

“Heliene generously donated a huge warehouse space to allow Michael and I to exhibit our extensive new body of work,” says King.

According to their artist statements at the exhibit, the work at Heliene was focused on:

“An experimental multimedia performance that explores the intersection of water, movement, and sound, considering the human connection between water and organic life … [and] the dual nature of water, which can be both life-giving and life-threatening. By framing bodies of water as circulatory systems akin to blood circulating through the body, the womb, and the biosphere, we provide a persistent and universal framework for our personal and social interactions”

“We really transformed the space,” says King.

“I could hear folks saying they felt like they were in New York or L.A. We each were able to bring in our own sets of work for a duo exhibition, as well as collaborate on a new performance art piece, that included sound, spoken word and interpretive movement.”

One of those in attendance at the event 

“Fire destroys things, but here it was creating things," says Dr. John Radke, Professor Emeritus College of Environmental Design, University of California Berkeley.

[A]t first I didn't realize it, but all the paintings, even the art [installations] were all from ashes, and they were incredibly beautiful, and to me, they were scenes of Northern Ontario ... The boats gave me a sense that this goes through time, there's a chronology here, and then she got into the water, and it was quiet and peaceful ... Water starts to exist, we have these millions and millions of lakes and out of the water we birth things.”

Art on a large scale is something that King had been involved in previously, although maybe not to the scale of their recent exhibit. 

“I have experience working on large or time-consuming projects however I can’t say I have ever created a 60-foot landscape before,” laughs King.

“I am always pushing the boundaries of what I can accomplish. I avoid limiting ideas so that I have the freedom to create.”

King says it’s a bit of a joke among her friends that she often says, ‘So I have a crazy idea’ and then promptly figures out how to make that idea a reality. 

“Then you find a friend like Michael who thinks the same,” she laughs.  

Both King and Burtch say they were exceptionally grateful for the support of Heliene Solar, Fringe North, The Ontario Arts Council, and their friends and family who all supported their vision.

The artists are currently in the process of filming a documentary about the “Black Water/Sunken Cathedral.” 

For more information on Michael Burtch visit his website or Instagram page.

For more information on Annie King, visit her Facebook or Instagram page.

What's next?

If you would like to apply to become a Verified reader Verified Commenter, please fill out this form.