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Wednesday, 28 January 2015 14:52

Swift Current arts community to benefit from art gallery director’s visit to China

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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Canadian printmaker Gordan Novak (second from left) and Kim Houghtaling (far right) with artists during the monotype printmaking process at the Pullman Hotel in Zhangjiajie during November 2014. Canadian printmaker Gordan Novak (second from left) and Kim Houghtaling (far right) with artists during the monotype printmaking process at the Pullman Hotel in Zhangjiajie during November 2014. Submitted

A recent visit to China gave Art Gallery of Swift Current Director and Curator Kim Houghtaling a unique perspective on that country and an opportunity to be part of an international oil painting creation camp.


The event took place from Nov. 3-17, 2014, at the Pullman Hotel in Zhangjiajie, a city in Hunan province in the south-central part of the province.
The camp was attended by 32 artists from across the world. Houghtaling and Canadian master printmaker Gordan Novak assisted artists to create monotype prints.
“It was invigorating really,” Houghtaling said. “I don’t make a lot of art myself anymore. So being able to be involved hands-on in the process and working directly with artists in the working environment was very exciting and really very refreshing.”
The monotype printmaking area at the creation camp was set up around a large glass table. Artists created images by placing sheets of paper on the wet ink covering a piece of glass.
“You’re working on something that’s inspiring for everyone and that’s always enjoyable,” he said. “You really see what’s it all about — the flow the artist is into, the kind of mindful concentration that kicks in when they’re engaged with making something, the sort of deep gaze that a visual artist will have when their eyes and imaginations are directly connected with the visual expression and all other matters, even speaking, just leave.”
Each artist brought a different approach and experience to the camp. It was therefore interesting to observe their creative processes when they were working in the same setting to produce monotype prints.
“They were given the same kinds of materials and the same kinds of tools, but in different artists hands the result was very different from each other,” he said. “The process is very immediate and spontaneous and for many of the artists this was a very freeing experience and they became very experimental and playful just because of the nature of the process.”
The hotel is located near the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This landscape with its more than 3,000 narrow quarts sandstone pillars was an inspiration for many of the artists.
“Most of them, through the experience at Zhangjiajie, the mountains and other visits and tours they went on, pulled together unique images that came out of their experience there but then it was also through the history of their own practice that was totally informing it,” he said.
Houghtaling was equally impressed by the natural scenery in the national park as well as a visit to an ancient farming village with buildings and structures that have been around for 800 years.
“The environment there is fantastic,” he said. “The number of things that we could have looked at and done was just endless. You could make a hundred visits to this province and this location in China and have a new experience each time.”
The trip further afield took them to the ancient town of Fenghuang (Phoenix), which was built on the bank of a river against the backdrop of steep mountain slopes.
“The entire older city was built right along the river banks,” he said. “Everything was about this river. It was their transportation and daily activity and culture and their source of food.It was very intriguing.”
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This was the second international oil painting creation camp at Zhangjiajie. The first one in November 2012 was the result of an idea by a local group to invite artists from different countries to a workshop.
“The idea is that they would be inspired by this visit and the location and produce artwork that’ll be related to that,” he explained. “Then those artworks would become part of a collection that would go towards developing a public art museum at Zhangjiajie.”
Gordan Novak, who has a graphics studio in the hamlet of Admiral located south of Swift Current, attended the inaugural event. He produced a series of monotype prints with 13 artists who attended that creation camp.
Houghtaling became aware of Novak’s experience in China and curated an exhibition of monotype prints from that workshop, which was displayed at the Art Gallery of Swift Current in 2013.
As a result Houghtaling received an invitation to the second creation camp in November 2014. Novak also invited Swift Current artist Stephanie Kaduck to the event after he collaborated with her to produce a series of prints.
“It was out of that experience and Gordan’s knowledge of Stephanie as a painter that he recommended that she be invited as one of the participating artists,” Houghtaling explained. “He did so with a couple of other artists as well and the organizers relied on Gordan because he is quite an international artist and art consultant.”
The second series of monotype prints from the recent creation camp in China will be the focus of a future exhibition at the Art Gallery of Swift Current. Local artists will also benefit from Houghtaling’s trip when some of the international artists visit southwest Saskatchewan.
“I made a lot of really good contacts,” he said. “People are interested in finding out about our place and how we function and the culture that we have. We’ll have experiences for them when they come to work here and that will be a real opportunity for local artists and people interested in culture to meet these guests, both from China but also the folks from places throughout Europe and Asia.”
That link with Zhangjiajie will continue into the future because the creation camp will take place bi-annually.
“There will be other people in Canada who will be invited to go and so that connection and experience will grow nationally and the potential for our gallery to be involved with that will be quite interesting,” he said. “This is an outstanding contact that we’ve been able to make and I know it will lead to many very interesting international exhibitions and connections and experiences for the local area.”
Stephanie Kaduck will talk about her experiences during the trip to China at the Swift Current Museum’s next History Buy the Pint event on Feb. 4, starting at 5:30 p.m.

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