18 July 2017




Circles. As I worked on this issue, I found myself thinking about them again and again. If you’ve seen the cover, you’ll understand why. It shows Transect, a new public sculpture in Edmonton created by glass artists Tyler Rock and Julia Reimer to mark Canada's 150th anniversary, and it's replete with numerous circular glass tiles held in a stainless steel armature. As soon as I saw the striking close-up photos by Galla Theodosis, I knew I had found this issue's cover shot.

At its most basic level, a circle is a simple geometric form – a closed curve in which all points are the same distance from the centre. But the symbolism humans have placed on circles is anything but simple. At various times, and within different cultures, circles have represented wildly disparate notions ranging from the individual self to the wholeness of the universe. Perfection, unity, the cycles of life … there are many more readings. Sometimes we sit in circles to share non-hierarchical conversations. Yet, paradoxically, circles can also be exclusionary: The inner circle is the elite, often with special privileges or access to power. I could go on, but I’m sure you have plenty of your own ideas about the meanings of circles.

As is often the case, when you notice something, you begin to notice more of it. As I worked on a story about Tyler’s Gronsdahl’s tongue-in-cheek exhibition, Saskatchewan Maritime Museum, I felt drawn to the circular form of an old-style diving helmet. Then came Australian artist Gordon Bennett’s exhibition, Be Polite, at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver. John Thomson begins his review with a discussion of one of Bennett’s notepad drawings, Seeing is Believing, which features an eye: Another circular element. Then there is the kitchen table in Tabletop Commander, part of a collaborative show by Sonny Assu and Brendan Tang. Above the installation's round table is a painting of a white house to which Assu has added Northwest Coast imagery – yup, you guessed it, a stylized ovoid form. Even Helen Mackie’s print of a mountain ash features many small red circles – the tree’s berries. I managed to break the trend with an image of  cacti in bloom by Karin Bubaš. But I'm sure if you examined it closely you could  spot some circular elements, as they are so common in flowers. Me? I’ve stopped looking. My pattern-seeking brain needs a break.

I hope you enjoy this issue. As always, you can join our circle by signing up for the email reminder we send out when we publish a new issue each second Tuesday. We call it subscribing, but there is no fee to read the magazine. Open access – yikes, that's another circular concept.

Until next time,



18 July 2017

Volume 2 Number 15 Copyright 2017

ISSN 2561-3316

Galleries West Digital is an online magazine published every second Tuesday to promote and advance the visual arts. Launched in 2016, it replaces the print version of Galleries West magazine, which covered art and artists in Western Canada for 15 years. Our award-winning website, gallerieswest.ca, the repository for all content, is an open archive of information about the arts in communities large and small throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columba as well as Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

Editor Portia Priegert
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Contributors Bev Cramp, Mary-Beth Laviolette, John Thomson
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Julia Reimer and Tyler Rock, "Transect," 2017, cast glass, images and stainless steel, 7' x 6.5' (detail), photo by Galla Theodosis


Glass Geometries Reflect History

At first glance, Transect seems to channel some of the ambitious spirit behind Buckminster Fuller’s steel-and-acrylic geodesic dome at Expo 67. But this spherical sculpture, created by Alberta glass artists Julia Reimer and Tyler Rock to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary, is just seven feet in diameter. Affixed to a circular concrete base on Edmonton’s Capital Boulevard, the sculpture – with its connective stainless steel rods and handcrafted circular tiles in blue glass – both absorbs and reflects light. Its precise sphere-within-a-sphere geometry may inspire the imagination of the mathematically inclined and the despair of everyone else. The artists, however, prefer to focus on the rhizomatic function of their first piece of public art, and cite the work’s emphasis on “the interconnections of people that make a community.” To look closely at any of its 60 laminated glass tiles is to blend the present with reflections of the past – photographic images the artists culled from the Provincial Archives of Alberta and Calgary’s Glenbow Museum relating to the frontier and the relentless colonization of the Prairies. There are images of First Nations and Métis people, Fort Edmonton and the fur trade, the construction of the nearby Beaux-Arts legislature and, in an odd moment from history, a cart pulled by two moose, harnessed but still magnificently antlered. More ►

– Mary-Beth Laviolette

Todd Gronsdahl, “G.A.S.P.R. Helmet,” 2017, mixed media, 18” x 16” (detail)


Saskatchewan’s Maritime Museum


A show called Saskatchewan Maritime Museum? It has to be a joke, right? Well, Todd Gronsdahl is kidding – and he isn’t. Of course, landlocked Saskatchewan has no sea, but Gronsdahl has created three fanciful stories about misadventures on regional waterways for an exhibition that, in the words of curator Leah Taylor, challenges “truth, fiction and the construction of historical narratives.” While plenty of recent exhibitions have interrogated different aspects of archives and museological practices, Saskatchewan Martime Museum, on view until Aug. 19 at the University of Saskatchewan’s Kenderdine Gallery, extrapolates local lore using irony and absurdity. With tongue-in-cheek humour worthy of a CBC comedy sketch, Gronsdahl confronts viewers with a completely fictional personage, Charles Gaspar, reputed to have invented insulation made from cattails and lip balm from sturgeon cartilage. It’s a play on a Prairie stereotype – the eccentric DIY entrepreneur, a character who seems to share some affinities with Gronsdahl himself. “The more I make this stuff, the more I find I am willing to be that eccentric character myself,” says Gronsdahl, who grew up in Saskatoon. “In real life, there are social boundaries where you have to act like a sane person. But when I make art, I get to take this part of me that maybe is just sort of out there and I can express it through my work rather than just being an eccentric myself.” More ►

– Portia Priegert

Gordon Bennett, "Notepad Drawings: Optical: Seeing is Believing," 1995 © Estate of Gordon Bennett


Gordon Bennett: Be Polite


Australian artist Gordon Bennett’s exhibition, a powerful attack on systemic racism, is called Be Polite. It is anything but. The late artist, of Indigenous and Anglo-Celtic ancestry, expressed his disgust through wit and anger in a variety of styles and media. His largely unseen works on paper, on view at Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery until Sept. 24, are a foundation of his practice, precursors to the larger conceptual paintings for which he has attracted the most attention. His 30 notepad drawings are the most compelling work in the show. Early in his career, Bennett travelled the continent documenting his observations in text and pictures while working as a telephone lineman. These drawings in gouache, ink and ballpoint pen criticize white paternalism and sanctimonious condescension. Drops of blood that morph into racist slang are a common element. In Seeing is Believing, a TV newscast reports on drunks and bums while a giant eye sheds tears of blood. The tears turn into letters of the alphabet – “a” for abo, “b” for boong, “c” for coon; all derogatory terms for Australia’s Indigenous people. Other works are not so subtle. Wall of Death depicts two people who have been lynched. Their spurting blood again turns into letters of the alphabet. More ►

– John Thomson

D. Helen Mackie, “November: Mountain Ash,” in “Leaves of a Year,” 1991, intaglio and stencil, A/P
 series of 12 calendar pages, Collection of Nickle Galleries, Calgary, gift of D. Helen Mackie, photo by David Brown, LCR Photo Services


Helen Mackie’s Life With Nature


Helen Mackie has always been interested in biology and nature – a fascination that she translated into myriad prints throughout her 40-year career as an artist. Her solo show, Pressed, at the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary until July 28, features carefully observed images of the ordinary  things around her: Blossoms and berries, chickadees and hummingbirds, deer and horses, all culled from what curator Christine Sowiak calls “a life really well lived.” Mackie came to the opening last month to view the show of 196 prints curated from a gift earlier this year of one print from every edition she has ever created – some 350 in all. Sowiak recalls Mackie, now frail and in her early 90s, saying over and over: “It’s all just the little things.” But amassed over 40 years, Mackie’s little things add up to a rich collection of etchings and woodblock prints that Sowiak found deeply moving: “I’m surprised at the very personal emotional reaction I have to this whole project.” More ►

Brendan Lee Satish Tang and Sonny Assu, "Tabletop Commander," 2017, installation of various collaborative and solo works by the artists, wallpaper, vinyl flooring, kitchen and household objects and furniture, 8.5' x 7' x 6'


Youth Culture in the Eighties


To say that Sonny Assu and Brendan Tang grew up in culturally diverse and difficult situations is an understatement. Raised in North Delta, in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, Assu believed he was one of the suburban white kids he played with until he was eight years old and discovered his Kwakwaka’wakw heritage. Tang was born in Ireland of Trinidian parents, studied in the United States and Canada, and now is a naturalized Canadian citizen. It should be no surprise then, that much of their work grapples with clashing cultures and ethnicities: Assu with his Indigenous roots and the impact of colonization; Tang with mash-ups of contemporary culture and art history through ceramics that bridge divisions between art and craft. The two recently collaborated to explore youth culture at The Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford, B.C. Their exhibition, Ready Player Two, on display until Sept. 3, focuses on places where Assu and Tang found sanctuary in their teens – the basement den, the kitchen, the arcade. The first gallery is a large installation with a kitchen theme that includes one of Assu’s cereal boxes, Lucky Beads, a spoof on General Mills’ Lucky Charms breakfast cereal. Hanging on the wall is one of his interventions, a painting from a yard sale or thrift shop with added Indigenous imagery – in this case a stylized ovoid shape. More ►

– Beverly Cramp

Karin Bubaš, "Cholla Cactus Garden in Pink," 2017, archival pigment print, 40" x 114" courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery


Karin Bubaš in Hidden Valley


Karin Bubaš presents large-scale photographs of California desert flora in Hidden Valley, on view at the Monte Clark Gallery in Vancouver until Aug. 5. Bubaš, long interested in colour manipulation within analog photography, is known for surreal landscapes that both suggest and withhold narratives. She has explored painterly tints in previous work, including colour gels that shift hues and smoke bombs dispersed across landscapes. Much of the work in this show was shot over the last two years on LomoChrome Purple, a colour negative film much like Kodak’s Aerochrome, a now-discontinued infrared film developed for aerial cartography and surveillance, and LomoChrome Turquoise, another similar film. Bubaš is known for staging costumed female figures in park-like settings to create images that refer to art cinema and vintage Hollywood movies. She graduated in 1998 from what is now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design and has exhibited nationally and internationally, including solo shows at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris and the Charles H. Scott Gallery in Vancouver. Her work is in the collections of the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Glenbow in Calgary. More images ►

Paul Walde, “Tom Thomson Centennial Swim,” July 8, 2017, production still of Paul Walde swimming in Algonquin Park's Canoe Lake, photo by Clayton McKinnon


Swimming in Tom Thomson’s Shadow

Victoria intermedia artist Paul Walde braved rough water to swim across Canoe Lake in Ontario’s Algonquin Park earlier this month to mark the 100th anniversary of Tom Thomson’s death. “It was really choppy,” Walde said after the swim in the lake where Thomson drowned. “I got lost and disoriented and blown off-course … I saw the white totem pole beside the Tom Thomson cairn on shore and I swam toward that. That was the scariest part.” Walde, chair of the  University of Victoria’s visual arts department, was accompanied by musicians, a synchronized swim squad and a canoe flotilla. “I grew up in Northern Ontario near where the Group of Seven did their first trip together,” says Walde. “This is what was presented to us as Canadian art, and through my work I’ve been trying to find other ways of engaging with the landscape, especially around issues of the environment and colonialism.” He intends to reframe Thomson’s legacy in a video of what he’s calling the Tom Thomson Centennial Swim. Footage from an underwater body-cam and mobile boat units will be combined with shots of the lake and locations featured in Thomson’s paintings. Walde is known for his innovative sound and video installations, including Requiem for a Glacier, performed by 70 musicians and filmed live on Farnham Glacier in B.C.’s Purcell Mountains in 2013. Thomson was the subject of Walde’s 1997 theatrical performance, Index 1036, a collaborative work with his wife, Christine, a librarian. It examined Thomson’s death in the context of contemporary performance art. “You get compelled by these ideas,” says Walde, a former competitive swimmer. “This one was gestating for 20 years. My career is about following these kind of ideas. The ones you can’t shake are the ones you end up doing. And there was a bit of that now-or-never sense to it, not only with the centennial but also with the swim itself. I’m 49, how much longer could I really wait to do this?”
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