Lorraine Toohey Followed an Artist’s Path to a Vibrant Community

Lorraine Toohey studio by Yucatán Magazine
Lorraine Toohey’s workshop contains current assemblages in addition to past projects. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

As a young artist, Lorraine Toohey embarked on an unconventional journey that eventually led her to Mérida, a stark contrast to her hometown of Edmonton. 

After graduating with a BFA and an art education degree, she was drawn to Vancouver’s artistic energy.

“At the time, the Conservative government was cutting back on arts education. There were no jobs in Edmonton. So, I packed my bags and headed to Vancouver, where I had family,” she recalls.

 “I’ve always been a traveler,” she confesses, her eyes twinkling with the memory of vibrant markets in Mexico City and serene temples in India.

In 2007, a fateful trip to Merida led her to purchase a house after she was drawn to the city’s vibrant art scene and rich cultural heritage. In 2014, she made the bold decision to retire early and relocate to Merida permanently. 

“I knew I wanted to live here, but since living here, I love it even more,” she exclaims, citing the city’s abundance of charming coffee shops, eclectic restaurants, and quaint pastry shops.

Lorraine Toohey's vertical assemblages are the artist's latest obsession. Photo: Courtesy Lorraine Toohey
Lorraine Toohey’s vertical assemblages are the artist’s latest obsession. Photo: Courtesy Lorraine Toohey

Artistic Immersion

Toohey’s relocation to Mérida was a pivotal moment in her artistic journey. Liberated from the confines of her teaching job, she found herself fully immersed in the local artistic community, drawing inspiration from the region’s natural beauty and organic forms. 

“My biggest influence is nature,” she reflected, “especially the flamboyan pods on the streets. Their unique shapes and textures are just so beautiful.”

Toohey’s artistic journey has been dynamic and marked by constant evolution. Initially, she was drawn to steel sculpting. Lorraine studied under renowned abstract sculptor Anthony Caro through workshops in the United Kingdom and NYC. 

Mérida artist Lorraine Toohey, in her Jesús Carranza studio, explains how some of her latest work is meant to hang vertically as opposed to being mounted on a base. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

However, her creative spirit led her to a new medium — clay. These sculptures, often reminiscent of mushrooms and other natural forms, hold a deeper meaning for the artist. 

“My imagination sees them as wise elders, reminding us of the wisdom in nature that we’ve lost touch with,” she reveals. She believes that modern society has disconnected us from the natural world and hopes her art can help bridge that gap.

Her creative process is intuitive and spontaneous. 

“I don’t like to overthink it,” Lorraine confesses. “I just let the forms come to me.” 

To clear her mind and spark her creativity, she swims, meditates, listens to music, and immerses herself in nature. Her long-standing devotion to Buddhism also plays a significant role in her life and art.

As she prepares for her upcoming show at Casa Gemela, she is both nervous and excited. “It’s always a bit nerve-wracking to put your work out there,” she admits. “But it’s also incredibly rewarding to share your creations with others and see how they connect with them.” 

If you go

Lorraine Toohey’s exhibition, Simbiosis: Vivir la experiencia de la tierra, opens with a reception at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 6, at Casa Gemela, Calle 31 94B at Calle 16. The exhibition is in combination with Tania Camara, and curated by Regina Tattersfield. 

Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012.
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