Wednesday, 10 August 2016 12:10

Southwest Open showcases diversity of local artists

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Thomas Kirk of Swift Current talks about his “monster machines” during a public reception for the Southwest Open exhibition at the West Wing Gallery, July 30. These large functional puppets are based on five characters from a popular video game. Thomas Kirk of Swift Current talks about his “monster machines” during a public reception for the Southwest Open exhibition at the West Wing Gallery, July 30. These large functional puppets are based on five characters from a popular video game. Matthew Liebenberg

The depth and diversity of southwest Saskatchewan’s artistic community are on display in the current exhibition at the West Wing Gallery in Swift Current.

The annual Southwest Open, a non-curated exhibition for semi-professional and amateur artists from the region, opened at the gallery on July 29 and a public reception with the artists took place July 30.
Some artists have been in this exhibition a few times while others are participating for the first time.
Photographer Lesley Roy of Herbert is one of the first-time participants in the show.
“It’s great to be amongst all these other wonderful artists,” she said. “I feel really honoured and really enjoy looking at all the other art. It’s just a real privilege and it’s quite exciting. You know that there’s going to be more people actually seeing your work, and also there’s going to be an adjudicator who’s going to give you some feedback.”
She moved from Edmonton to Saskatchewan almost a year ago. Some of her other photographs are currently part of an Art Gallery of Alberta travelling exhibition.
“Right now, I’m trying to work to promote my art a little bit because I haven’t done that much promotion, but it has been in a couple of other exhibitions,” she said.
She has been discovering new and different opportunities to take photographs since she moved to Saskatchewan.
“The landscape in Alberta is not like the landscape here and it’s so gorgeous,” she said. “So that really inspires me to take pictures.”
Her four photographs in the Southwest Open are images of insects.
She has a long-time interest in insects and other arthropods. Her close-up photographs of these creatures provides viewers with a glimpse into an entirely different world.
“When I was trying to decide what pieces to submit, I tried to think about something that other people would enjoy when looking at it, and trying to make people aware that this little world that’s around us isn’t as hostile as a lot of people seem to think,” she said.
She is hoping her photographs will educate people about insects in the same way she has become more knowledgeable.
“It’s just amazing,” she said. “I’ve seen insects that I’ve never seen before and then I start putting them in classifications. So I’ve learned a lot about entomology as well.”
Shirley Gader of Swift Current participated in five previous Southwest Open exhibitions from 2009 to 2013.
“It’s a good bit of an accountability that helps me get going,” she said. “I haven’t done any for three years and it’s partly because I’m a caregiver and my plate is very full. Art is important to me though. It’s good art therapy and good break for me. … So I’m glad I was able to accomplish it this year and have the encouragement of other people.”
She is a member of a small group of local artists who meet regularly. They have an art retreat every year in July.
“We met painting nine years ago and we’ve been meeting all those years,” she said. “We just really encourage and inspire one another and give honest critique to one another as well.”
She has submitted acrylic paintings of desert plants for this exhibition. Her interest in cacti is a result of visiting family in Arizona over 16 years. She has been making art since childhood and views it as an opportunity to create something of beauty.
“I always feel God is the most awesome creator and artist,” she said. “I’m just trying to catch a little glimpse of it when I paint a cactus or a flower.”
Art Gallery of Swift Current Director and Curator Kim Houghtaling says the the Southwest Open has been taking place for more than 35 years.
For participating artists, the exhibition is an opportunity to have their works evaluated by guest curators from the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils. Three artists from the Southwest Open might be selected for inclusion in a provincial travelling exhibition.
“It’s not a contest, it’s not a merit prize or anything like that,” he said. “It’s about artists showing and developing their work and talking to educated eyes about what they’re doing in their own work. Those artists that are doing something that are significant or reached a level of achievement in their work, are recommended to go to the next level and potentially be in the provincial tours.”
For all the participating artists, the exhibition represents an opportunity to further their own development as practising artists.
“When you make an artwork in isolation, it doesn’t feel finished until it is shown, until you have that opportunity to put it on a wall somewhere and stand it on a plinth in a formal way and show it to the public,” he said. “So really just having the opportunity to show your work fulfills what you’re doing in your studio. That is an important part of the ongoing process.”
He added that participation in an exhibition will often revitalize an artist’s creative spirit.
“It is noticeable that there is a kind of a surge with that artist and often in the year after they’ve been in a show because they’ve gone through that complete cycle and had the reward of completing and showing their work,” he said. “That inspires them to go forward and make more work and find new inspirations.”
The West Wing Gallery is located in the Airmen's Barracks at Kinetic Exhibition Park. The artworks in the Southwest Open will be on display until Sept. 5. The gallery is open from 1-5 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well as on Mondays during long weekends.

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Matthew Liebenberg


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