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Thursday, 01 March 2018 11:25

Artist reflects on mental health in collection of drawings

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Artist Alix Gowan has created a collection of soft pastel drawings to reflect on human vulnerability and experiences of mental health.


She grew up in Swift Current, but currently resides in Saskatoon. She originally produced this collection, titled Into the Depths, for her graduation exhibition at the University of Saskatchewan in 2017.
Since then some of the large works have been part of a Canada 150 exhibition at the Art Gallery of Swift Current (AGSC), and for the past two months the entire collection was on display at the Lyric Theatre.
The AGSC hosted a reception and talk by the artist for the exhibition at the Lyric Theatre on Feb. 25. For Gowan it was a good feeling to have her artwork displayed in such a familiar space.
“This has been a space that’s been like my home for so many years,” she said. “So this has just been absolutely incredible to see my work here.”
She wanted to use these drawings to comment on mental health, because she had to deal with anxiety and depression in her own life.
“I’ve known so many people with mental health issues, and so I just wanted to create some art work that could resonate with a bunch of different people,” she said.
The natural environments in the artworks have a sense of otherworldliness, which can either be viewed as an obstacle or a potential place of sanctuary.
“I was really thinking about dreamscapes as well, that was definitely something that came into mind, and the idea of fairy tales,” she said. “This unknown world that you can hide yourself away into was something that played a role as well.”
The different creatures in these works can also be seen as a threat or a comfort. The animals in some of the drawings vary from a moose and polar bear to whales and an octopus.
A small character can be seen in many of the artworks. In one drawing she is standing forlornly in a mysterious wood and in another she is stretching out a hand towards a polar bear.
“I’ve been using this character, Little Red Riding Hood, as a metaphorical self-portrait for myself continually being overwhelmed by these environments that are just too much for her, and so that’s the theme, and overcoming those environments,” she explained.
Gowan received a Bachelor of Arts degree in studio art with a minor in digital communications and new media in 2016. Last year, she completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours degree with a studio arts major and a concentration in art history.
“I’ve been doing art ever since I was little, and it was just the right path,” she said. “Everyone around me just continually encouraged me to keep doing art and do something that was really important to me. It seemed like the right path to take and I really enjoyed it, and I found my community of people. So that was really good.”
She is currently working as an arts educator and program guide at the Remai Modern Art Gallery in Saskatoon.
“That’s been really fun,” she said. “I’ve been able to do a lot of art with people. ... I do tours with school groups and everyone that comes into the gallery space, and I also do outreach programs and teach art classes.”
AGSC Curator and Director Kim Houghtaling has seen Gowan's developing interest in art while she grew up in Swift Current.
“Alix would come to workshops and activities,” he said. “I’ve seen her interest grow, and so it’s a real treat that she’s made this her profession and went through with university. ... It’s really quite wonderful to have seen an artist develop all the way through their life, and then to be able to present a really significant show with her.”
He appreciates the purpose of this collection of artworks to reflect on mental health issues in a visual manner.
“In fact, when you explain mental health it sounds scary and clinical and you think it happens to other people,” he said. “We all struggle with mental health in one way or another, and need to always be concerned about it for everyone. I think sharing these experiences with us, makes us relate better to the real feeling of what she’s trying to share with us.”
He finds the narratives in these artworks quite intriguing, because it is not simply about whales and ships on the ocean, or wildlife in the deep forest.
“There is the human psychology,” he said. “With this she’s counting on our psychological reaction to it, and that’s the sense of vulnerability that the human has within this story that’s being told. ... I think it really speaks to her subject and her concern for mental health, which is a really important subject to be addressing.”
Gowan's portfolio and images of the artworks in this collection can be seen on her website at www.alixgowan.com

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Matthew Liebenberg

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