5 December 2017



I keep a small bronze acorn on the bookshelf beside my desk. It was a gift from a Chicago artist who exchanges them for stories about trees. I thought of that artist, Gabriel Akagawa – and his collection of tree stories – as I wrote this issue’s cover article about a show with a fascinating concept: Every item is made with wood from the same tree, a centenarian black walnut that likely has a few stories of its own. As I wrote, I also found myself pondering the recurring presence of trees in Canadian art history, from Tom Thomson’s Jack Pine to Rodney Graham’s mesmerizing photographs of inverted oaks, as well as shows we’ve written about previously in these pages, including Forestrial Brain and Overgrowth.

From trees we get paper – and the theme of our next issue – books. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I now have a stack of art books, freelance writers with similar piles, and a computer clogged with digital images of book covers. It’s our first foray into a themed issue, so like anything new it’s both exciting and daunting. My head starts to ache when I think about how to organize it all, but I’m always pleased to share news about books, which I love as much as trees – and art.

If you’ve got your own stack of art books, there’s still time to choose a favourite and send me a quick email about why you like it. I’m collecting recommendations for a special “readers’ choice” story and have been getting great suggestions of books past and present. It would be good to hear from you!

In this issue, you can check out the roundup about Canadian auction sales that we publish twice a year. It's always a lot of work, not only for Doug Maclean, who travels to Toronto and painstakingly records his impressions, but for the editorial team as well. We posted 37 images, including some rarely seen works. Short of digging through the auction house websites, it's one of the most thorough auction reviews published in Canada.

Other highlights include fascinating stories about Vancouver architect John Patkau, who somehow finds time to make art, and Faye Heavyshield, whose show at the Art Gallery of Alberta sheds light on her Indigenous worldview. We also have a thoughtful review of an important show about Scandinavian design influences in Canada by Amy Gogarty, a Vancouver artist and former instructor at the Alberta College of Art and Design, who hopes to encourage more critical writing about craft.

Until next time,



5 December 2017

Volume 2 Number 25
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
250-382-0567 (Victoria)
Toll Free 866-415-3282
Consulting Editor Jeffrey Spalding
Reviews Editor reviews@gallerieswest.ca
Contributors Amy Gogarty, Agnieszka Matejko, John Thomson
Tom Tait
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We acknowledge the support of the Alberta Media Fund for our publishing program.


Merlayna Snyder, "Mystique," 2017, black walnut, 52” x 39” x 10” (photo by Jon-Mark Wiltshire)


One Tree’s Magical Afterlife

The moment Victoria sculptor Merlayna Snyder saw the bulky chunk of black walnut she knew she had to carve a whale’s tail. The wood was forked and, at four feet by four feet, it weighed 400 pounds. But Snyder didn’t realize the full power of her intuition until she got out her chainsaw and angle grinder. As she worked, the complex grain began to emerge. “The wood dictates how things will go,” says Snyder. “But you have to listen.” Her finished work is a mere 44 pounds. Buffed to a fine polish, it evokes sunshine glinting on the watery breadth of a breaching whale. “The grain,” says Snyder, “is almost magical.” Her sculpture, which she calls Mystique, is part of a group show with a fascinating concept – every work is made with wood from the same tree. In all, some 60 pieces are part of oneTree 2017, on view at the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria until Jan. 31. With 53 participants, the show offers a variety of sculptures and wall pieces, but also tables, chairs, lamps, bowls and several musical instruments. It’s a crowd-pleaser to be sure, particularly at the height of the winter craft season. But the show also pays tribute to the long life of a tree and to the ingenuity of the artists and artisans, who collectively created more than $100,000 in economic value from wood that might otherwise have been burned. More ►
– Portia Priegert

John Patkau, “Cut / Drawn 4M," 2016, steel, 70” x 36” x 24” (photo courtesy of the artist)


Architect as Artist


Acclaimed Vancouver architect John Patkau knows steel. It’s a key element in the buildings he designs – the Audain Art Museum in Whistler, B.C., the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver and the University of Manitoba’s Art Lab in Winnipeg, among others. With Cut / Drawn, on view at Vancouver’s Gallery Jones until Jan. 20, Patkau has transformed a utilitarian alloy, industrial steel plate, into six remarkable sculptures. “I’ve always viewed architecture as an art form no different from sculpture,” says Patkau. “Architecture is more complex in that you’re dealing with a whole bunch of other issues, but for me the objective is similar. They both have a formal ambition. In architecture, form comes first and material is instrumental in achieving that. About 10 years ago, I began to think about reversing that priority, thinking about material first and then form. When you do some things to steel, what does it become?” Experimentation revealed that when scored with multiple cuts and then pulled apart by a crane, a steel plate changes from a flat sheet to a curved form in less than a minute. It’s hard to believe Patkau’s graceful, undulating forms started life as squares, circles or triangles. Weathering Steel, for instance, took 20,000 pounds of linear force as it was reshaped. Patkau shied away from computer-aided design or simulations, letting the material itself dictate the result. “This method allows for a much more complex, subtle, harmonic form than applying an idea to the material. It’s a dialogue. Steel and I are talking to each other and this is the consensus we’ve been able to come to.” More ►
– John Thomson


Debbie Wozniak-Bonk, "The Best Years of Farming 1," 2017, acrylic on birch, 36" x 24"


Vanishing Prairie Stories


Regina artist Debbie Wozniak-Bonk painted woodland scenes for years before turning her attention to abandoned farmhouses and grain elevators. The struggle to make such well-trodden subjects feel fresh stretched her as an artist and allowed her to reflect on her own story of growing up on a family farm that has succumbed, like countless others, to the wave of industrial farming that’s destroying the material history of an earlier era of Saskatchewan agriculture. Her show, Light Within, at Regina’s Assiniboia Gallery until Dec. 8, has a strong narrative sensibility and a magical, yet somewhat naïve quality. Executed in a series of thin glazes, her paintings glow with an almost ethereal light but also make one think of drawings made with coloured pencils. “My style is a little bit like a fairy tale,” says Wozniak-Bonk. “It’s a little bit off, a little bit unsettling.”  There’s a sense of nostalgia, but she also acknowledges feeling anger. Some images show a burning farmhouse. Painting the flames, she says, was “quite therapeutic.” She often uses a palette with colours from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, recalling how her father would talk about that era as the best years for farming. “You could have a small farm and make a living and provide for your family and not be too hard on the environment,” she says. Things started to shift in the ’80s as more people moved to cities, and family farms were consolidated into massive parcels that could be harvested efficiently with high-tech mega-combines. The old wooden grain elevators started to disappear too, replaced by structures that resemble factories. Wozniak-Bonk honours their passing in The Best Years of Farming 1, which shows a derelict elevator, weathered yet rosy, positioned full frontal in the picture plane in an oddly flat perspective. Standing before a field of canola, under an impossibly blue prairie sky, nary a cloud in sight, it becomes a surreal vision of an agrarian past. More ►
– Portia Priegert

Faye HeavyShield, “Calling Stones (Conversations),” 2017, detail of installation at Art Gallery of Alberta (photo by M.N. Hutchinson)


Faye HeavyShield’s Calling Stones


Imagine a world where past and future seamlessly coexist: a world where not only our parents and grandparents, but an endless line of ancestors as well as future generations, are an ever-present part of our lives – not eerie or ghostly presences, but a caring, loving community that fills us with a sense belonging. This is the worldview embraced by Faye HeavyShield in Calling Stones (Conversations), on view at the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton until Feb. 19. HeavyShield, a Kainai-Blood artist, took inspiration for this exhibition from the southern Alberta landscape near her home in Stand Off, as well as the many trips her family took to the Majorville Medicine Wheel (Iniskim Umaapi). She documented these pilgrimages over many years, taking photos of her son, daughter and grandson; solitary figures silhouetted against this sacred site on a hill overlooking the Bow River east of Calgary. The site, in use for thousands of years, is a place where offerings of sage, sweetgrass, willow and tobacco are still made and where spiritual activities continue to link the past and the future. The four installations and single video that comprise HeavyShield’s show are as spare as the prairie landscape, and give the gallery a sense of contemplative silence. As viewers wander through nearly empty rooms, delicate installations composed of feather-light elements come into focus. For example, many voices one story; one voice many stories is an airy column composed of small paper figures – people walking, children playing in the grass or doing cartwheels. Suspended, they sway in air currents created as visitors move past. On the floor is a spot-lit circle covered with laser print transfers of prairie grass. Inattentive viewers could dismiss this work as technically simplistic, but they would be missing its intensity of feeling and conceptual richness. More ►
– Agnieszka Matejko


Velta Vilsons, "Wall hanging," 1965-1970, wool (collection of Gail and Gerry Crawford; photo by Toni Hafkenscheid)


Scandinavian Design Influences Canada


Scandinavia’s impact on Canada’s national design sensibility is traced in True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada, on view at the Vancouver Art Gallery until Jan. 21. Organized by the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, the show assembles a striking collection of objects from museums, private collections and thrift stores to advance the proposition that Scandinavian design meshed uniquely with Canada’s ambition to embrace modernity and define its national character, particularly as the 1967 centennial approached. Curators Rachel Gotlieb and Michael Prokopow organize the show chronologically, locating the origin of Scandinavian influence in the early 20th century, when highly skilled artisans from Sweden and Denmark relocated to Canada. At this time, quality handmade goods were primarily the purview of urban elites, as evidenced by Carl Paul Petersen’s elegant silver tableware. Scandinavian influence entered a more populist phase after the Second World War, when rising incomes and expanding suburbs created fresh demands for household goods. Government-sponsored exhibitions and lifestyle magazines actively promoted these designs to the broader Canadian public. Presented as a softer, more organic and nature-inspired version of modernity, Scandinavian design was seen as sympathetic to the Canadian psyche because of its use of natural materials, which are plentiful in Canada, and because of social, geographic and climactic similarities between the two regions. More ►
– Amy Gogarty

Lawren Harris, "Mountains East of Maligne Lake," 1925, oil on canvas, 40.5" x 52.3" (photo courtesy of Heffel, Toronto)


Fall Auctions Bring Solid Sales


Another Toronto art auction season, another batch of speculation about the heights Lawren Harris will scale. And we’re not talking about the peaks with which he sought painterly – and later spiritual – communion. This fall, the likeliest candidate was Mountains East of Maligne Lake, a mid-sized work Harris completed in 1925, just before he hit his true heights. It was offered by the Heffel auction house with a conservative estimate of $2.5 million to $3.5 million. Some expected the work to catapult higher, given the $11.2 million paid a year ago for the much larger Mountain Forms, the sale that set a new record for the most expensive Canadian work sold at auction. But Mountains East of Maligne Lake performed at par, selling for $3 million. It was one of eight Harris paintings up for grabs at Heffel – Morin Island, Eclipse Sound, North Baffin Island, Arctic Painting XXXVI, 1930, sold for almost $1.3 million and Cathedral Mountain from Yoho Valley, Mountain Sketch LXXXVI at $931,250. Meanwhile, Waddington’s recorded solid sales for Group of Seven works and Consignor sold a 1911 watercolour by Emily Carr, European Street Scene, for $276,000. Another development was a first sale by a new venture, BYDealers.com, founded by Quebec art dealers Louis Lacerte and Yves Laroche with CEO Marc-Antoine Longpré. One highlight was Serge Lemoyne’s Le Masque, 1975. Signed on the verso by Ken Dryden, it sold for $240,000. For more details and images, read Alberta art dealer Doug Maclean’s report on the fall sales here.

Stephen Wilkes, "Canada 150, Ottawa, Canada, Day to Night," 2017 (photograph ©Stephen Wilkes)


A Gift from America and Other News

Never has Parliament Hill looked quite so much like … Disneyland? The glowing “castle” is missing a few turrets, but those amazing fireworks, bright against the night sky, take this photograph over the top. But wait, isn’t that daylight on the parliamentary lawns? Things are getting strange, very strange, indeed. This surreal image, courtesy of American photographer Stephen Wilkes, is a gift in honour of  Canada’s 150th anniversary. Taken on July 1, it uses a special “day to night” process Wilkes developed to capture the temporal scope of notable public occasions. The piece, on view all month in the main entrance of the National Gallery of Canada, saw Wilkes shoot Canada Day celebrations continuously from one camera angle for 15 hours. He then electronically blended selected images into one photograph, a  process that takes four months. But, hey, who’s counting when you live in a magical place?

In other news:

  • American photographer Hank Willis Thomas is this year’s  winner of the $50,000 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize. Raymond Boisjoly (Haida Nation/Canada) was one of three finalists in the international contest organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario.
  • The Remai Modern and the University of Saskatchewan are signing a partnership agreement to encourage collaboration in research, teaching, public programming and more.
  • Douglas Coupland will create a 160,000-square-foot LED-based art installation for Calgary’s new Telus Sky tower, which will open in 2019.
  • Derek Besant has apologized for using the work of other photographers in a $20,000 public art installation in Calgary, the Calgary Herald reports.
  • Winnipeg artist R.F.M. McInnis has been elected to the College of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
  • Quebec artist Valérie Blass has won the 2017 Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
  • Edmonton’s Telus World of Science is opening an exhibit about Terry Fox’s heroic Marathon of Hope on Feb. 16.


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