By Simran Dhaliwal

Photo Courtesy of Danielle Gagnier

*Permission to reprint granted by the Vancouver Arts Colloquium Society



“The world is so big! Why do the same thing over and over?”

I walked into this interview nervous, not knowing what the temperament of Danielle Gagnier would be like. To my pleasant surprise, as we began to talk over hot cups of peppermint and nettle tea, Danielle revealed herself to be a kind and patient woman with a soothing passion lying beneath her words. As we continued to converse, my stiffness faded and was replaced with excitement as I learned more and more about this remarkable artist.

Image 16 (1)Speaking to Danielle was enlightening as she is one of the best examples of a truly artistic spirit. Throughout her life, she has maintained an open-minded approach to art, branching out into many fields that appear to be divided by our arbitrary categories. Danielle has ventured into pottery, mask-making, singing, songwriting, improv, dancing, guitar, percussion, photography, and filmmaking. If all of this seems excessive, Danielle would disagree, as she is eager to venture into even more pursuits, open to discover new ways to express her creativity. She has this amazing mindset of a learner, something many artists cease to do once they feel like they’ve settled into their niche. Danielle breaks the conventional rules, and I am excited to tell you about how she does so.

But to do that, I believe it’s important to go to where Danielle began. Growing up in Francophone Canada, she was quiet and contemplative as a child.  Danielle appreciates that her parents encouraged her innate draw to the arts, as she tells in a heartwarming story. When she was five years old, in the exuberance of youth she took a sewing pin and carved an image into the bureau. Her parents, upon discovering the carving, gathered their children and asked who did it. No one admitted to the artwork, but the next day her parents took her aside and presented her with a gorgeous set of 100 watercolour paints: a way for her to express her growing creativity. Her parents saw who she was and understood her need to create before she realized it herself. Raised in such a supportive environment, Danielle’s childhood singing, skipping, and drawing turned to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAperformance, dance, and pottery.

Looking back, because of her quiet, contemplative nature, Danielle is surprised that she was drawn into performance. She took an introductory dance class that stole her heart with the depth of awareness that emerged and the immediacy of expression that was available through the body. Her dancing, coupled with her love of cycling, embodies how movement is another pivotal language to Danielle, one she feels is underutilized by many. For her, movement is essential to creating. She believes that “mostly the head is engaged when sitting at a desk all day. In a sedentary lifestyle we can forget our body exists. We are born in a body and there is so much wisdom, learning and joy available through it that we should pay attention and use it.  Not to mention how body awareness can help safeguard against stress.” Besides performing, Danielle explores singing and songwriting, along with vocal improvisation.  She also facilitates workshops encouraging the cross-over that explores different art forms, such as integrating dreamwork with painting and movement.  An essential part of her work includes the practice of presence and self-awareness “so we don’t miss out on the experience while we’re in it”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother aspect of her art that I found absolutely fascinating is her mask making, which she decided to pursue after experiencing a particularly curious dream when she was 30. In this dream, she had an idea which could only be conceptualized as a word and which she followed when awake, eventually leading her to mask making. She first started with masks molded from her own face, then used papier-mâché, and later tried sculpting clay as a mould. Wanting to share this creative experience, she eventually started teaching children and adults while working on commissions.

Danielle is also an avid filmmaker. When she moved to Vancouver from Ottawa in ’83, she enrolled at SFU to study film. She was sidetracked by dance upon discovering her passion for it, but recently has decided to pursue film again. Through the use of digital storytelling, she enjoys helping people tell stories from their own lives. One of the themes of her latest film is “searching,” where she reveals her process of finding her way through deep transition in her life.

After hearing of all this amazing work Danielle does, I was simply blown away. As she is joining the Vancouver Arts Colloquium Society, I am interested in her role as a community mentor. To begin with that, I needed to know how she gets inspired, as every aspiring artist knows inspiration is a fickle beast. When I asked her about what inspires her, Danielle smiled sweetly, citing how she is inspired by “beauty, coherence, and gentleness”. She enjoys walking mindfully in nature and finding loveliness and patterns in the atmosphere around her. Musical ditties often surface during these walks. Danielle creates with an open mindset, with the intention to cultivate an intuitive conversation with the unknown and to discover something new.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen it comes to the creation of art itself, Danielle prefers to return to the basics and focus on the breath and the essence of an idea, and makes sure to avoid censoring herself before she begins. Often, artists place restrictions on their work from the beginning out of fear or anxiety about a project that is still far from completion. This is something Danielle actively avoids, instead choosing to create from a space of freedom and ease any critical or judgmental voices, which allows her to create honest pieces.

To finish up this snapshot of the mind of Danielle Gagnier, I would like to leave you insightful words of hers: “Be willing to try different things and believe in yourself. Sometimes that’s difficult. Nobody knows better. They only know different or other. What is true for you?” Next time you are in a creative rut, open your mind. Move your body and trust in yourself.

What is true for you?