26 September 2017




I love to break up my work routine. And while I no longer get early-morning calls telling me to pack a bag and head off to the latest crisis, as I did when I was a journalist, the open road still beckons. These days, I'm more tied to my home base in Victoria, so the chance to visit Calgary last week was a welcome change. After catching an early morning flight, I popped into 13 galleries with Tom Tait, the magazine's publisher. The next two days were spent at an arts writing symposium organized by Contemporary Calgary.

Observant readers will notice this issue of Galleries West Digital is somewhat Calgary-centric. Our cover story, by Karen Quinn, looks at Calgary artist Sandra Sawatzky's epic project, the Black Gold Tapestry, to be displayed at the Glenbow Museum starting Oct. 7. An embroidered history of oil inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, it is 220 feet long and took Sawatzky nine years to complete. Elsewhere in these pages, I write about the extratextual exhibition at Contemporary Calgary, which also includes a brief update on the gallery's ongoing relocation saga.

While in Calgary, I saw plenty of interesting art, including abstract paintings by Mark Mullin, whose show at the Paul Kuhn Gallery is also featured in this issue. Other favourites included a retrospective by the late Joane Cardinal-Schubert at the Nickle Galleries, our next cover story. And there's a fascinating show at the Esker Foundation by Mary Anne Barkhouse, who juxtaposes animal sculptures with ornate Louis XIV furnishings to explore ideas around Indigeneity, colonialism and the environment. I'm hoping we can write soon about her work.

It was also good to check out shows we have written about in previous issues  – Ideas for a Wall at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery, Diane Landry at VivianeArt and Oksana Kryzhanivska at Herringer Kiss. At the latter gallery, I also enjoyed the well-worked surfaces of Curtis Cutshaw's paintings. I'm a sucker for texture, which probably explains why Yechel Gagnon's gouged and scraped plywood pieces caught my eye at Newzones. There's too little space here to mention everything, of course. All I can do is to encourage you to get out on your own gallery hop.

Now, it's time to get back to work. Spending four days on the road was great, but a mountain of emails awaits. I bet if you stretched them out end-to-end, they'd reach all the way to Calgary.

Until next time,



26 September 2017

Volume 2 Number 20 Copyright 2017

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
250-382-0567 (Victoria)
Toll Free 866-415-3282
Consulting Editor Jeffrey Spalding
Reviews Editor reviews@gallerieswest.ca
Contributors Stacey Abramson, Agnieszka Matejko, Karen Quinn
Tom Tait
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We acknowledge the support of the Alberta Media Fund for our publishing program.


Sandra Sawatzky, "The Black Gold Tapestry," 2017, wool thread on linen, 20" x 220' (detail) courtesy of the artist


The Black Gold Tapestry

Beautiful and gentle, but with a political pulse like a metronome, the Black Gold Tapestry is contemporary fine craft based on a medieval masterpiece. Cinematic in scale, it unfolds the story of oil over seven millenniums of human discovery and technical innovation. Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, and replete with tiny, intricate details to tempt our curiosity, Sandra Sawatzky’s hand-stitched tapestry becomes a sort of allegorical modern-day take on The Pilgrim’s Progress, both a testament to perseverance and a cautionary tale. It took Sawatzky nine years to complete her tapestry, on view at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary from Oct. 7 to May 21. At a length of 220 feet – but just 20 inches high – it could span the wings of a Boeing 747. Sawatzky, who lives in Calgary, meticulously planned and drew the design on paper before she began single-handedly embroidering linen sourced from New York with hand-dyed thread in colours based on ceramic glazes from Ancient China. Around the time she was starting the tapestry, American sociologist and philosopher Richard Sennett wrote a book called The Craftsman. In it, he discusses the human need to make things by hand, and after much practice, seek the point of perfection. He argues that craftsmanship is the path to personal fulfillment, and applauds the dedication and time it takes – attributes hard to apply to a machine. Over the last three years, Sawatzky spent nearly 10 hours a day sewing, moving through history, touching on landmarks like the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, before ending in today’s technological era. More ►

– Karen Quinn

Travis McEwen, “Fallen,” 2016, oil on linen, 18” x 20” courtesy the artist and dc3 Art Projects, Edmonton


Travis McEwen’s Futuristic World


The boat, a floating place that travels from port to port in an infinite sea, is a metaphor the French philosopher Michel Foucault used to describe heterotopia, a Greek word that means “other place” – one where people outside the norm can find shelter. “In civilizations without boats,” he wrote, “dreams dry up.” For Travis McEwen, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota with an MFA from Montreal’s Concordia University, Foucault’s words are not abstract concepts but lived experience. McEwen, who describes himself as queer, grew up in Red Deer, Alta., where he experienced ostracism and isolation. His show, The Arch: Plans for a Heterotopic Space Opera, on view at dc3 Art Projects in Edmonton until Oct. 14, creates an alternative futuristic world where “otherness” is both welcomed and embraced. McEwen’s myriad small to mid-sized paintings – 66 in all – are individual works, but collectively form a seamless installation: a landscape inspired by science fiction with a continuous horizon line that encircles the viewer. Most paintings feature structures in the shape of rainbows or abandoned construction walls that hover ghost-like above vast, deserted spaces. These scenes, partly inspired by his visit to southern Turkey, diverge from the subdued ochres of the Taurus Mountains, projecting tropical garden hues that both beckon and repel. More ►

– Agnieszka Matjeko

Eve Fowler, "a spectacle and nothing strange," 2011-12, series of screen print posters, 28" x 22” courtesy of Mier Gallery, Los Angeles, copyright of the artist


Text and Image: It’s Complicated


A wag might quip that, as a medium for art exhibitions, text has an image problem. White walls, black words. Or, sometimes, black walls, white words. However it is done, text-based work in a gallery can feel very minimalist and very familiar, like the pages of a book writ large. Of course, there are other common tropes: altered books, words styled into 3-D objects, and text combined with images in various permutations and combinations. It can feel like déjà vu, all over again. So you have to admire Contemporary Calgary’s courage in launching extratextual, a group survey show about art and text, on view until Jan. 21, along with myriad outreach activities, including a recent two-day symposium. A heady mix of international and domestic curators, academics, writers and artists, the symposium had a title that echoes the challenge – Never the Same: What (else) can arts writing do?  More ►

– Portia Priegert

Yael Brotman, “Waterfront,” 2017, installation view showing Blackfriars, Mooring I, Mooring II, Mooring III and Pier I (left to right) at Martha Street Studio, Winnipeg, photo by Larry Glawson


Yael Brotman: Waterfront


When it comes to nourishing her artistic vision, no distance is too far to travel for Toronto-based artist Yael Brotman. Her show, Waterfront, on view at Martha Street Studio in Winnipeg until Oct. 21, is a collection of pieces that resulted from residencies around the globe, from Haida Gwaii to Australia and Scotland, and back again. Brotman’s work walks the tightrope ledge of landmasses that make contact with bodies of water. Her articulate interpretations of architectural impositions like bridges, rollercoasters and telephone poles remind us of the connections between human touch and the natural world. In one piece, she clatters paper-wrapped geometric rods out of smooth cylinders; in another, colour jolts the ends of an organic bend, taking the works back and forth between the constructed and the natural. More ►

– Stacey Abramson 

Kapwani Kiwanga, "Flowers for Africa: Nigeria," 2014, Collection Nomas Foundation, Rome, photo by Rachel Topham


Kapwani Kiwanga: Flowers for Africa


Kapwani Kiwanga is interested in Africa’s transition from colonial rule and has spent many hours searching for archival imagery of different independence celebrations. The images, she has discovered, share one common feature – floral arrangements that range from elaborate bouquets to simple boutonnières. For instance, Habib Bourguiba,the former leader of Tunisia, sported a boutonnière in his lapel when he spoke to a crowd celebrating independence in 1956, an event preserved in the grainy black-and-white footage of a British newsreel. Kiwanga, who was born in Hamilton, Ont., and is now based in Paris, takes these images to a florist, asking that they be recreated as closely as possible. The arrangements are then displayed in galleries, where they are left to wilt. Her show, Flowers for Africa, is on view until Oct. 14 at the Or Gallery,  a Vancouver artist-run centre. It’s the first exhibition to recreate all nine works in the series. Kiwanga, who exhibits internationally and has a degree in anthropology and comparative religion from McGill University in Montreal, eventually hopes to include all 54 countries in Africa. More Images ►

Mark Mullin, "making animals," 2017, oil and acrylic on canvas, 80” x 78"


Mark Mullin: Sticks and Stones


Mark Mullin has chosen a great title – Sticks and Stones – for his latest show at the Paul Kuhn Gallery in Calgary. And there are sticks, so to speak: stubby linear marks that contrast with smoky washes, globular shapes and other painterly gestures. In making animals, for instance, fallen “sticks” are jumbled in the middle of the canvas like the remnants of a collapsed building. Overhead, thin layers of brown paint drizzle downward like a series of frayed sheer curtains; warmer yellow hues dominate below. At the left, two large maroon silhouettes photo-bomb the scene, awkwardly intruding much the way people poke their heads into a doorway to interrupt a meeting. These rounded forms echo the shadows created in hand puppetry, an activity Mullin did as a boy with his father. Flat and still, these forms might well be the titular stones. Mullin describes this new body of work as less polished than his earlier efforts. The change, he explains, is related to his decision a year ago to try painting on paper. He found he was working in a “clunky, brutish manner” and was exhilarated by the results. So much so that he’s included some works on paper in the show, which continues until Oct. 7. Their mood seems to have carried over to his subsequent paintings on canvas. While the visual language is still recognizably his, he says it’s like a different dialect, one that occupies “a stage of playful awkwardness.” Mullin, who grew up in Edmonton, teaches at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. He emerged quickly after earning his MFA at Montreal’s Concordia University in 1999. In 2004, he was a finalist in the RBC New Canadian Painting Competition. Later this year, he’ll be in a show of works on paper at the Beers gallery in London. More ►

– Portia Priegert

John Akomfrah, "Vertigo Sea," 2015, three-channel high-definition video, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, photo ©Smoking Dogs Films, courtesy Lisson Gallery


National Biennial Opens in Edmonton

The Art Gallery of Alberta will be part of the National Gallery of Canada’s latest biennial the show the Ottawa gallery mounts to show off its new acquisitions. The Edmonton portion of the show, Turbulent Landings, opens Sept. 30, three weeks before the main show in Ottawa, which includes works purchased since 2014. Turbulent Landings considers what Marc Mayer, the director of the National Gallery, calls “some of the world’s dark histories” – globalization, environmental crisis, the treatment of Indigenous peoples, and the legacies of slavery and forced migrations. It’s the fourth time the National Gallery has organized the biennial and, for the first time, it includes not only works by Canadian artists, but international artists as well. In Edmonton, that means works by Canadian artists like Shuvinai Ashoona, Rebecca Belmore and Beau Dick are displayed alongside those by John Akomfrah, Chris Ofili and Wael Shawky. Rounding out the Edmonton show are Mark Bradford, Julie Mehretu, John Noestheden, Edward Poitras, Kelly Richardson and Hajra Waheed. Mayer says many of the works in the Edmonton exhibition, including Akomfrah’s  video installation, Vertigo Sea, a highlight of the 2015 Venice Biennale, are yet to be shown in Ottawa. The Edmonton exhibition is on view until Jan. 7.
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