“Think Small” Shows Big Thoughts at the Visual Arts Alberta Gallery

I discovered the Visual Arts Alberta Gallery by mistake.

With just a few shows and sales under my belt in my intermittent career as an artist I found myself downtown one afternoon and noticed this Harcourt House building that claimed to have a gallery in it.  I thought, buoyed by a little success and positive response, I might as well do a cold call.  I climbed the stairs to the third floor, walked straight ahead into the VAA gallery, not realizing until much later that there was that other, bigger gallery across the hall.

Having decided that my little paintings could speak for themselves I pulled a couple of my Apellean Sketches out of my backpack for Sharon to look at.  She responded in the familiar but no less gratifying positive way I’d come to expect.  I asked how one got to hang stuff on the gallery walls.  By fortunate timing, one of the VAA’s member’s exhibits and sales was coming up.  I gave Sharon the modest membership fee and I was in and some of my paintings were on the wall.

But this outfit, now VAA/CARFAC, the Alberta arm of Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadians, the non-profit national voice of Canada’s professional visual artists, is no vanity gallery.  VAA/CARFAC actively lobbies for artists’ rights in Alberta, communicates provincial, national and international opportunities to members, provides professional development, workshops, lessons and outreach to the visual arts community of the province.

Of course, at the time I just figured it was neat to have a place to hang some stuff.

Since that first day, I’ve contributed to pretty much every members’ show at the VAA as well as having joint show at the gallery with Linda Daoust.  The calls for submissions the VAA regularly forwards to all members have led to a number of solo shows.

That’s my personal shout out to Visual Arts Alberta.

Now, lets talk about what’s happening in the Gallery until November 24.

Think Small is the current members’ exhibition and show.  I see it as an opportunity for artist members to give a little back to the Association in a win-win way.  Each time there’s one of these shows it’s an adventure for the artists.  This time we have to work within a size restriction (12 x 12 inches or less). Other times the restrictions have been thematic, as in Energize or dictated by a VAAA provided object as in Xposition (a small wooden cross) or VBay (brass platters).  These restrictions provide a wonderful opportunity for artists to expand their visions, to stretch their skills, to grow by working outside their comfort zones.  This is professional development at its most fundamental.

The artists set the price for their work themselves, agreeing to split any sales evenly with the Association.  The artists profit and VAA/CARFAC gains funding which all goes back to programs of benefit to the visual artists of Alberta.  And the buyer goes home with some great art made by an artist they very well may get to meet and chat with at the gallery.  And, believe me, there’s nothing quite like meeting and chatting with an artist whose work you admire.

Because VAA/CARFAC members range across the career range of visual artists, you’ll see work on the walls at Think Small from students just starting out right beside the work of grizzled established professionals.  This show is the place to find gems by artists on the cusp of their professional career as well as marvellous pieces by established artists.  At Think Small (and the other VAA Gallery shows) you can buy art, shop local, secure in the knowledge that every penny you spend benefits the artists. And, unlike what you’ll find at many charity art auctions, these are not works that the artist has had trouble selling and wants to be rid of.  Most of the works in Think Small were created specifically for Think Small.

On the afternoon of Hallowe’en, I spent an hour at the Gallery making brief notes on the works of every artist in the show — except my own, nasty lumpish things that they are.  Not every piece appeals to me, but I can certainly see grateful audiences for most. Not every piece shows a fully developed technique — but then, what artist’s technique is every fully developed before death? But every single piece gave me cause for interest, most have my admiration, and a goodly number make me wish I had far more wall space. Because of the remarkably reasonable prices, no one should feel a wish for deeper pockets.

It would be very simple for me to transcribe the brief notes I made as I stood in front of each work, but I don’t think I’ll do that here.  If there seems to be interest, perhaps I’ll post them separately.  Rather, I’ll give a bit of an overview of the range of works and media in the show. The ranges are tremendous.

For the plastic arts we see clay fired raku and various other ways, glazed and unglazed, representative, decorative and functional.  And then there are the majority of the works, the ones I am loath to call 2D. We see pastels (Shirley Adams’ lovely, painterly land/skyscapes), countless oil and acrylic pieces on every concievable ground, loads of beautiful watercoulours, a number of most interesting mixed media/collage pieces, digital art, various types of prints . . . the only thing I can find missing that was in previous members’ shows is an electolytically etched piece, and that’s just because I didn’t get around to making one this time.

As for what’s actually going on in the pieces:

Botanical/Floral pieces share with landscapes the numerically dominant position.  Some, like T. Michelle Leavitt-Djonlic’s watercolour roses are meticulous portraits, like classic botanical illustrations.  Others, such as Leona Olausen’s acrylics and Sharon Moore-Foster’s Tulips are approaching abstraction while remaining readily identifiable.  There are impressionistic lilies reminiscent of Monet by Lijun Theberge and Amy Loewan’s black ink pieces somehow hovering between old Japanese minimilist and ‘sixties design.

The landscapes are all identifiably Alberta, from Sophia Podrylula-Shaw’s bold and briliantly bright boreal forests with a Group of Seven flavour, through Laurie Bentz’ almost-abstract orange arial farmland landscapes to Patricia Coulters absolutely beautiful, economical Alberta landscapes in watercolour.

Greg Pyra offers pop art faux-fifties ads while Bernard Hippel presents colourfield pieces in terra cotta and jade.

The collage and print work I find to be generally very impressive. Wendy Gervais’ Road Trip pieces are very evocative as is Shane Golby’s “Notes from the Nightshift”, a beautiful multimedia composition in yellow, blue and black.  Wet pavement, streetlight light and shadow. Charalene Denton’s three prints, one in red and two in gold are wonderfully intriguing.

I must mention the many little pinback buttons also on display.  These are themselves unique art works from the hands of VAA/CARFAC members.

These comments are just a snapshot of the big things going on in Think Small.  That I haven’t specifically mentioned many of the artists is not in any way a reflection on their work.  I want to get this post up as quickly as possible in order to get as many people down to the show as my small effort can spur.

Think Small runs until November 24 at the VAA Gallery, 3rd floor, Harcourt House Arts Centre, 10215 112 Street, Edmonton, Alberta, T5K 1M7

A new image from the show is posted each day at the VAA Visuals Blog — but viewing images of art online is, at best, a supplement to, not a substitute for a visit to the real thing.

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One comment on ““Think Small” Shows Big Thoughts at the Visual Arts Alberta Gallery

  1. A terrific article, John. Thanks so much for sharing your writing and observation skills!

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