Rough Country:
The Strangely Familiar in Mid-20th Century Alberta Art

October 22, 2016 – February 5, 2017

Organized by the Art Gallery of Alberta
Co-curated by Ruth Burns and Mary-Beth Laviolette
Supported by Canadian Heritage


Laura Evans Reid, Abandoned, 1950, Oil on panel, 35.5 cm x 55.8 cm, Courtesy of the Chute family in honour of Laura Evans Reid and her daughter Helen Evans Reid Chute
Laura Evans Reid, Abandoned, 1950, Oil on panel, 35.5 cm x 55.8 cm, Courtesy of the Chute family in honour of Laura Evans Reid and her daughter Helen Evans Reid Chute

In these prints, drawings and paintings, the world is not depicted as it objectively appears. Everyday subject matter becomes strangely familiar – altered by the artist’s emotional and subjective response to the world around them. The artists Maxwell Bates, Laura Evans Reid, John Snow, W.L. Stevenson and Dorothy Henzell Willis were moved by the hardships of modern life and its contradictions; their artworks simmer with underlying psychological tension and emotional backstories.

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Evocative of the postwar social climate, the perspective these five artists offer can be unsettling, sometimes uncanny or even downright disturbing. All born before 1918, they bring a perspective of the province and its people that belies the myth of Alberta as a land of prosperity and simple beauty. In these scenes, melancholy contrasts with the vibrancy of everyday life. Still lives and landscapes are depicted and domestic scenes of mothers and children are featured. But there are also spectacles of clowns, fortune-tellers, nightclubs and circuses. Ghosts, scarecrows and life-like dolls also make an appearance.

Taking its title from John Snow’s print of the same name, the exhibition Rough Country reflects the impassioned approach all five artists had to their subject matter. Although not necessarily geographically close, all five of these artists were connected by formal and informal artist-networks that were maintained by newsletters, magazines, letter writing and travelling exhibitions. They exhibited alongside each other, and would have been exposed to the ideas and points of view inherent within each other’s practices.

Links

Shannon Moore, “Visually Raw and Visceral: Art in Postwar Alberta,” in National Gallery of Canada Magazine, December 18, 2015


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