Artist Tanya Bub sits along the Dallas waterfront with her sculpture of a man called ' Arthur Heart' and one of a small dog. Don Denton photograph

Artist Tanya Bub creates fantastical driftwood creatures

Whimsical creations from Vancouver Island beaches

  • Aug. 20, 2021 8:30 a.m.

– Story by Sean McIntyre Photography by Don Denton

Life on Fairfield Road hasn’t been the same since “Arthur Heart” moved into the neighbourhood. Lurking betwixt an evergreen hedge and a backyard fence, Heart began by bewildering passersby with his curious look and outstretched hand pointing towards nothing in particular. There soon proved some method to his madness, however, when three ducks in a row emerged at the end of his gaze.

Then things got really wild: a cougar perched in a tree, a diva draped in seaweed stood along the sidewalk and all manner of critters and creatures large and small began to appear.

This proliferating menagerie grew from the playful imagination and skilled hand of Tanya Bub. Beginning in 2019, the Victoria resident stepped back from her day job as a computer programmer to start collecting stacks of driftwood, mounds of seashells and reams of kelp along the beaches of Dallas Road.

Equipped with a backpack, reusable shopping bags and a keen eye, Tanya regularly surveys the stony shoreline for raw materials she finds especially beautiful or interesting. Occasionally, she’ll discover a piece that will motivate her next work of art, a piece of wood that will serve as the cornerstone of a new creation; other fragments will be added to a growing stockpile at her home studio.

“Looking for driftwood feels like looking for treasure,” she says. “I’ll often accumulate little piles and feel perfectly safe leaving them unattended on the beach because they are really only treasures to me. Most people wouldn’t give them a second glance.”

Then, she adds, “I bring all these amazing objects crafted by nature, some of them masterpieces in their own right, to my home and have the pleasure of puzzling them out to make something entirely new.”

Once carefully counterbalanced, locked into place and reinforced with a good helping of wood glue, the pieces give Tanya’s creations a life of their own, much to the amusement and wonderment of anyone who has seen her art.

“I love this aspect of resurrection; something that was alive is brought to life again in the form of art,” she says.

Tanya studied oil painting and ceramics at Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art + Design and has a degree in the philosophy of science from McGill. She has also co-authored a pair of books, one on Einstein’s theory of relativity and another on quantum physics, with her dad, Jeffrey Bub, a retired philosophy professor.

As one might expect, Tanya gives her creations, her process and the very genesis of her materials much thought. She takes time to contemplate the history of each piece, where each length of wood took root and how it came to rest on the beach.

“When I’m on the beach, I fall a little bit in love with all the unique, individual, wonderful bits of wood, each of which carries its past in its twists, shapes and curves, much like we do.”

Making a sculpture, she says, requires a frame of mind akin to approaching science and, in particular, the study of physics. It’s always crucial to start with the most easily grasped concepts and keep an open mind to new possibilities.

“A 1,000-piece sculpture starts by figuring out how a single piece can be combined with another with the eventual goal of forming a unified, complex but cohesive whole,” she says.

The sculpture that launched Tanya’s artistic journey is one she didn’t even have to make. The single piece of wood, found during a casual stroll with her daughter along the beach, revealed itself to her in the shape of a breaching orca. From that initial discovery, Tanya began to assemble other materials into wooden masks, which eventually grew into busts and then the full-sized Arthur Heart statue. Her first animal was the life-sized cougar that still watches over the sidewalk outside her home.

“That piece triggers an instinctive ‘cougar in tree’ adrenaline reaction when people walking by first see it at a glance,” she says. “The shock translates into humour once they realize it’s a sculpture … I love that element of fun and surprise.”

Without using any armature or wire frame to hold everything in place, Tanya has much more freedom to work with her materials in this art form as compared to other mediums in which she has worked. Rather than filling in a pre-made template or frame, each piece of driftwood, every strand of kelp and all the unique shells and stones come together to give the final piece its distinctive look and character.

Driven and inspired to pursue her art, Tanya’s new pieces have appeared at The Bay Centre, Oak Bay Marina, Miniature World, Abkhazi Garden and the recently opened Malahat SkyWalk. Takaya, a seven-foot-tall, 150-pound wolf, created from driftwood to honour the memory of the lone wolf of Discovery Island, stood proudly in the Fairmont Empress Hotel last autumn prior to moving on to other notable venues across the city.

Tanya is currently working on pieces that will form part of a joint exhibition with Deborah Leigh in August called It’s a Mad, Mad World. Tanya’s contributions to this show reveal that she has taken her creative spark to new heights. There’s a crouching human figure with real antlers, a lion in a suit, a mod-squad owl with a handbag, and other quirky characters blending the mythological with natural elements, ultimately creating an array of hybridized human characters with animalistic features.

Tanya is also open to any and every request for custom projects and commissions. Having yet to turn down any proposal, she approaches each proposal as a new challenge to explore an ever-growing world of whimsical wonders she hopes will serve to inspire viewers.

“Most people have had the experience of feeling something—sadness, happiness, anger, shock—when looking at a work of art. The capacity of a physical object to trigger emotion pulls us out of ourselves and connects us deeply to the world,” she says. “If the art that triggers those feelings is made of natural materials, we can connect those emotions with nature. I find there is something utterly joyful about creating and appreciating art made of found objects exquisitely crafted by nature’s forces.”

It’s a Mad, Mad World runs August 10 to 29 downtown at the new Gage Gallery (19 Bastion Square). The artists will be in attendance on opening night, Saturday, August 14 from 6-9 pm. Bub can also be visited at her studio (1337 Fairfield Road) during the Fairfield Artist Studio Tour, September 11 and 12. Follow Tanya on Instagram @victoriadrifter to see her latest work or contact her via her website: tanyabub.myportfolio.com

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

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