From people to animals and back again
Gloria Ho is a watercolourist who grew up in Edmonton, Alberta where she currently resides. As a child of Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong, she grew up speaking both English and Cantonese at home. Gloria started painting when she was in elementary school. In her high school International Baccalaureate (IB)1 art classes, she learned to find a balance between creating aesthetically pleasing work and pieces with conceptual meaning. How this interest in art would turn out, she didn’t know at the time. What happened next was a journey of painting about people and fashion, which then took a turn to animals, which led her to merge the two to create her own concept.
When Gloria moved to Toronto to study fashion at the Toronto Metropolitan University (which at the time was called Ryerson University), she fell in love with watercolour painting. For her capstone project2, she made a series of portraits depicting her extended family members in an effort to learn about how she was shaped by her family history. The portrait of Gloria’s maternal grandmother was especially significant. Gloria’s grandmother looked after her as a youngster and holds a special place in her heart. In making this portrait, Gloria felt as though she had reconnected with her and learned more about herself.
After graduating in 2011, Gloria wanted adventure, so she decided to teach English abroad in South Korea. Gloria’s name sounded like “gorilla” to some of her elementary students, and they began calling her “Gorilla Teacher”. Even though she wasn’t expecting to focus on painting on this trip, her students’ funny nickname inspired her to paint primates and other animals. Gloria later travelled to Nepal to teach English in two different women’s literacy programs. She stayed with a host family and had a lot of free time to explore and paint. It was her experiences overseas that allowed her to develop into the painter she is today, an artist who values people as well as animals.
On her return to Edmonton, Gloria taught English to newcomers to Canada. She hung her paintings on the classroom walls to make the learning environment more fun and to show her students another part of her life. Today, she is known for her animal portraiture, and she has ongoing collaboration with the SPCA, a charity near and dear to her heart. She has just completed her seventh poster for the organization.
Much of Gloria’s work is illustrative, comical, inviting and, in a way, magical in the joyful emotions she portrays of her subjects. Gloria is often commissioned to paint animal versions of her clients. To do this, Gloria uses many reference photos and notes small details of the subjects such as their posture, how their clothes sit on their body, or the which way their hair curls. Sometimes clients will ask Gloria to decide which animal they should be, in which case, Gloria considers their personality, what animal they remind her of, and how the composition will unfold with other creatures she includes. Gloria people-watches to observe different types of facial characteristics to capture different human expressions. Each work is individualistic and full of personality.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Komagata Maru Incident, Gloria created portraits for an exhibition that was held at Latitude 53. The Komagata Maru was a ship that attempted to bring immigrants from India into Canada in 1914, but they were faced with physical confrontation at the Canadian border and fatal confrontation when returning to India2. When Gloria studied the photographs of the event, she noticed that the passengers were seen from faraway, showing the people on the boat as outsiders separate from society. To make viewers empathize with this disaster and to connect with the humanity of those on board, Gloria zoomed in for a closer perspective of the passengers. Many people had never even heard of the Komagata Maru Incident before seeing the exhibit, and it brought needed focus for the important historical event.
Gloria’s early artistic experiences have grown and developed into her work today as a professional painter. It is her goal to continue to create artwork that brings joy into people’s homes. She also hopes to document important moments and experiences in her life that she can share with her son in the future. In addition to using watercolours, Gloria would like to spend more time experimenting with gouache paint because of its graphic quality. Through the years, painting and selling art has helped Gloria develop patience and let go of things and events she cannot control. An art career can be unpredictable, overwhelming, and stressful. Gloria’s advice for anyone starting out is to stay positive, have another source of income initially to help lessen the financial stress of selling art, and continue to make art that speaks to who you are.
Interview by Isaac Beland
Women’s Art Museum of Canada DFD Project Coordinator June to August 2022
1: The IB program is a demanding program that indicates to universities that the student is capable of handling undergraduate studies. (Source https://www.crimsoneducation.org/ca/blog/campus-life-more/international-baccalaureate-programme/)