Marla Panko

Story by the artist.

I settled in Hamilton in 1982 after graduating from the MFA program at the University of Windsor. My first studio here was located at Hughson and King William St. which I rented for $50 a month. It was a corner room with incredible light that was up four flights of stairs and overlooked the downtown core. There were a number of artists who had workspaces in the same building which also included the Hamilton Art School and a Tai Chi studio. Artist Alfred Joyce worked down the hall and painted geometric rooftop views from his window. It was a great spot where I could paint all morning and then pop across the road to the retro lunch counter in Kresge’s for coffee.

'Earth and Heaven' exhibition featuring work by Marla Panko, Art Gallery of Hamilton, 1990.

Since I was downtown, I would often visit the Art Gallery of Hamilton to explore the exhibitions and soon found the Hamilton Artists’ Inc. with its bright yellow storefront. Being new to town, I remember feeling very welcomed by the folks at the Inc. and it was wonderful to discover like minded artists. The AGH, Inc. and my studio were all within a short walking distance from one another so I could toggle quite easily between the three and began to feel connected to the Arts community.

The following spring, I was hired as an Education and Curatorial Intern at the Art Gallery of Hamilton when Glen Cumming was the Director. One of my first tasks was to research and catalogue a list of artists with links to Hamilton for then Curator Andrew Oko. It was a great way to learn about the Arts Community and the legacy of all those artists that had gone before. I also worked in the Education Department under Sheila Greenspan who helped shape my ideas about visual literacy and informed my approach to teaching. While working for Sheila, I gave tours of the exhibitions and catalogued images in the AGH slide library which gave me a genuine appreciation for their wonderful permanent collection.

Marla Panko. "Mountain of Salt". 1983. 3’x4’, acrylic on wood. Courtesy of the artist.

By 1984, I started teaching Children’s Classes for the Dundas Valley School of Art and joined the Board of the Inc. At that time, ‘Climbing the Cold White Peaks’ was being written, and the ‘Now’ show was still in its inception. I continued working part-time at the AGH in the Education Department and painting in the studio. That year I had my first solo show in Hamilton at Gallery 252 on James St. N. which was run by the marvelous Isabel Houston. She was an absolute cheerleader for artists. That was the same year I received First Prize in the Hamilton and Region Arts Council’s annual ‘ExhibitArt’ held at the AGH. My work at the time was large scale, very intuitive based and unencumbered—personal reflections that were more about drawing with paint than painting itself.

Hamilton Spectator article on Marla Panko, 1984.

When our children were born in 1985 and 1987, time management became especially important in order to allow for enough studio time. We purchased our first home in 1986 in the North End close to Dundurn Castle and I moved my studio into one of the bedrooms. I could walk to the AGH from there and spent a summer as their office receptionist while my husband looked after our daughter and helped renovate the house. That was the same summer John Schlesinger was directing a movie shoot at the gallery and set designers transformed the main space into a penthouse apartment. We would watch the filming on our lunch hour. By 1988, I started teaching at The Burlington Art Centre, and that fall was hired as an instructor in the Visual Arts Department of Brock University where I stayed for six years teaching Foundation Studies and Painting. During these busy years, I had my first solo shows at the Carnegie Gallery(1985), the Inc. (1987), and the Burlington Art Centre (1989).

Marla Panko. "Magpie". 1990. 2’x2’, mixed media on wood. Courtesy of the artist.

In 1990, I had a solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. By then, Glen Cumming had left as Director and the Gallery was going through a lot of changes. I was teaching at the University, picking up classes at DVSA and BAC , raising two small children, and preparing for a major show. Looking back, it all seems a bit of a blur. That exhibition was called ‘Earth and Heaven’, and the work was very brooding with lots of sensual surfaces and metaphysical imagery.

In 1994, I was in a two-person show in Adrian, Michigan with an artist friend from grad school. For this exhibition, I created three installations dealing with the passage of time and personal psychology. Because we had both used unconventional materials, bringing the work across the border was a real challenge at the security check. The border patrol was suspicious that we were making art we didn’t expect to sell and thoroughly searched our vehicle. I reworked some of the pieces from that show and exhibited them at the Carnegie Gallery later that same year.

Marla Panko. "Earth". 1993/4. 8’h x 4’w x 4”d, table, latex gloves, tubing, clay, tin bowl, honey, soil. Klemm Gallery, Sienna Heights College, Adrian, Michigan.

By 1995, my work started to shift away from subjective reflection and became more outward looking and optimistic. The colour palette lightened and I began to work primarily in acrylic and collage. Improvisation informed a large part of the process and I started exploring themes related to classical mythology. My last solo show of that decade was in 2000 at the Carnegie called ‘myth.o.logy’.

Marla Panko. "Suite for Ophelia" (detail). 1999. 4”x6”ea (set of 8), acrylic & collage on illustration board. Courtesy of the artist.
Marla Panko. myth.o.logy, 2000. Exhibition invite, Carnegie Gallery.

During this period of nearly twenty years, I was fortunate to meet and work with a number of talented and committed people in the greater Hamilton Arts Community – artists, writers, art advocates, educators, gallery directors, curators, arts administrators, volunteers and students – many who became friends. I am very grateful for their willing support, collaboration and camaraderie which continue to the present day.

Archive of Artist Works:

Credits and further reading

Official Website: Marla Panko