An Airdrie artist has wrapped up a year-long project to paint at least 52 grandmothers' portraits.
Veronica Funk began the 52-week series in January 2020, with the objective of painting at least one portrait of someone’s grandmother per week for the entirety of the year. After several hundred – if not thousands – of hours in her studio, Funk finished her 58th and final portrait of 2020 on Christmas Eve.
“I like to work in series and it’s always bittersweet to finish a project,” she said. “I was really grateful to have this project to keep me going.”
According to Funk, each painting was based on a photograph of the woman, accompanied by a short writing excerpt about them. She said her challenge with each painting was to “do the women justice.”
“This project has really made me emotional, because of the times, but I’m so grateful for all the people who shared their grandmothers with me,” she said. “It’s meant so much that they trusted me with this.”
Funk is no stranger to lengthy art projects, having completed five or six throughout her career. A few years ago, she said she painted weekly portraits of famous women throughout history who have inspired her.
Following the United States presidential election in 2016, she completed a 100-day initiative titled Nasty Women – a play on President Donald Trump’s insult of Hillary Clinton during the election campaign. Every day for 100 days, she painted a portrait of a friend, using acrylic paints on stretched canvas.
She said her most significant takeaway from the most recent series was to trust her artistic abilities.
“I’m 54 now, and it’s still hard,” she said. “It’s still a challenge and I still doubt myself regularly. But I think one of the best lessons I learned many years ago by another professional artist…was that I should always hang my work as I’m working on it. Not only to look at problems and figure out a way to solve them but also to recognize what I had accomplished.”
Now that the grandmother series is done, Funk said she is trying to find a venue to exhibit the paintings. She is also creating a book comprised of a print of each grandmother's painting, along with other photographs and the submitted writing. She added the book should be available through her website, veronicafunk.com, in the coming weeks.
Funk said the second half of the project took a heavier emotional toll than the first, in part due to the worsening state of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said one of her subjects even contracted the virus and spent many months in hospital.
“She made it through COVID, so we’re so grateful for that,” she said. “It’s time to recognize the importance of our elders.”
Despite the struggles the project presented throughout a turbulent year, she said working on it was important for her peace of mind.
“I felt like I was contributing something that was necessary,” she said. “So many people reached out to me and even if they weren’t a part of this project, they shared how important this project was to them.”
Funk said it’s hard to gauge how long the project took her in total, as she would work on multiple portraits at a time and occasionally revisit a particular painting weeks or months after it was completed. She estimated she spent anywhere from four to 20 hours on each piece, in addition to other necessary preparations before she started painting.
With the grandmothers project complete, Funk said she will take a short break before embarking on another series. She said her idea for 2021 is to paint portraits of extraordinary Canadian women who have helped shape the country’s history. Some of the subjects include actor and comedian Catherine O’Hara, singer/songwriter Jann Arden, Olympian Clara Hughes and writer Alice Munro.
“There are so many women, and while a lot of them are well known, I’d like to delve into…the part of them people aren’t publicly aware of,” Funk said.
For more information, visit veronicafunk.com or follow her on Facebook and Instagram.