Student finds inspiration sitting all around her

Paul Mayne//Western News

Visual Arts student Brenda Fuhrman has brought the stories of London’s transit riders to life with the creation of comic strips, among the featured works of @SENDERS Practicum Class Exhibition, which begins March 23 at the Artlab Gallery in the Department of Visual Arts.

Brenda Fuhrman went to nursing school in her 20s and law school in her 40s, so it just made sense to her that in her 60s she should chisel out yet another career – this time as an artist.

“I’ve always drawn and done art, having done projects for various groups. Western is a great school, I live in the city, so I thought why not get a firm basis for art,” said the London family lawyer, who celebrates her 70th birthday this year.

“You can approach it as a hobby, but I was quite serious about it. So, I came here (to Western) six years ago, part-time, and I’m still working part-time as a legal aid children’s lawyer.”

Fuhrman feels at home with her much younger classmates, despite joking she’s “the age of their grandmothers.”

She has ‘done art’ for almost 60 years, but her formal studies in Visual Arts have given her a better understanding of the focus of her work and how to express her talent through a variety of mediums.

“It’s not really about teaching you the technical stuff, its more conceptual,” she said. “It’s the ideas behind ideas, it’s more complex thinking than just the technical aspect. It’s the free flow of ideas, being able to talk about art and how it’s a legitimate part of our society.”

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Comics, her latest artistic endeavour, are part of a showcase of the @SENDERS Practicum Class Exhibition, which brings together the work of the 16 graduating Bachelor of Fine Arts students.

Although she had always wanted to try her hand at comics, she struggled to find confidence in storytelling. A daily London Transit rider, she soon found her inspiration sitting all around her.

“When I’m on the bus, I’ll draw sometimes, and when you’re on the bus you see people you have never interacted with, all strata of society,” said Fuhrman She had found her stories. “You see someone dressed in a suit and someone who is perhaps down and out, but everyone is allowed on the bus. So I just did drawings on their own and then thought I’d talk about things that happened on the bus, and I liked what turned out.”

Each panel offers the viewer just enough information to imagine: the life of the older couple holding hands, the baby gazing at us from its mother’s sling, the young woman eye-rolling as her seatmate’s sleeping head lolls on her shoulder.

“London needs this (bus), and I’m one of them. Why is the car king and the bus second? I do this to make people feel better about riding the bus,” she said, noting she even spoke with London City councillor Jesse Helmer about potentially putting her comic strips inside the busses for passengers to see.

So does Fuhrman feel her art has grown, or it simply a matter of discovering her talents?

“Can you be taught to think? That’s what universities should be. Not so much ‘ABC and this is how you do it,’ but about opening your eyes to ideas and how people have taken those ideas and run with them,” she said. “You have the freedom to think outside the box and they welcome that here. It’s been fantastic. I can work with people that need legal assistance, then come here, and it’s a change. It enriches everything I do.”

The satisfaction of doing something with her hands, working through an idea, talking about art and putting it out to the public for their reaction is what keeps Fuhrman smiling as she approaches graduation.

Always being one of the older students, first in law and now in visual arts, she has learned do’s and don’ts of being a mature student.

“Make sure you ask what they (students) think. Just because I have life experience doesn’t mean I know everything,” she admits.

“I want to hear their stories and I’m always asking them questions about how to get my ideas out there. I’m so much older than them, but I want to keep engaged and feel this has been a great investment for me. It’s fun. I’ve never had so many Facebook friends under the age of 30.”

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@SENDERS Practicum Class Exhibition is an exhibit of works by 16 graduating BFA students from Western’s Visual Arts program. Featured artists include, Zoe Abbott, Alisha Ansems, Ethan Aquino-Chien, Brenda Fuhrman, Hannah Fuhrmann, Shelby Hayward, Brooke Hunter, Anosha Khan, TC Ling, Marissa Martin, Anna Miltenburg, Amy Ngo, Madeline Pearce, Katie Pickell, Anne Sporcic and Anna Wilson.

When: Exhibition runs March 23-April 10. Opening Reception 6-8 p.m. March 23

Where: The Artlab Gallery in the Department of Visual Arts