Val Marie artist Diana Chabros hopes her current exhibition at the Art Gallery of Swift Current will provide an opportunity to visitors to reflect on their personal relationship with nature.
The exhibition “Samskãra: Stories of Discernment” will be on display at the gallery until May 5. There was a public reception and artist talk on April 12.
“I'm hoping that they completely fall in love with the land and the resident beings, if they're not already,” she told the Prairie Post. “I'm also hoping that they recognize some connection between our need to make good decisions moving forward and that self responsibility to do so. We can't just rely on all the big corporations to do it all. We have to as individuals in my view do our part in changing lifestyle and encouraging others.”
The term “discernment” in the exhibition’s title is a reference to the need to look with greater clarity at issues such as consumerism and to find ways to create a closer connection with nature and the other creatures that are part of a landscape.
“So encouraging people to become more self aware and certainly to get out in nature, because the more that we do that, the more we will want to protect it,” she said.
The exhibition contains 10 large works and five smaller paintings. All the works are related to what she discovered during excursions into Grasslands National Park and trips on rural roads around southwest Saskatchewan.
“I distinctly thought about whether or not I should broaden this exhibition to include landscapes of the north,” she said. “My father's side is from the Prince Albert area, but no, this work needs to be about the most fragile ecosystem in the world.”
The grasslands of the world are highly threatened and more than 70 per cent of Canada’s native prairie grasslands have been lost. Her paintings represent scenes that are related to natural landscapes in Grasslands National Park as well as working landscapes in the region with cattle, farm structures and oilfield infrastructure such as a pumpjack.
“The commonality is that we've got ecosystems that we aren't necessarily fully aware of that involve life cycles,” she said. “I see it in my own life. Sometimes I forget to really ground myself in connection with nature. We're a part of nature. … My interest is in understanding nature so deeply that we begin to strip away those difficulties.”
An animal skull is a common feature in the large paintings, which is a reminder of mortality, life cycles and the human connection to nature.
“I actually try to develop a relationship with each painting and the beings within the painting,” she said. “That's one reason why I paint so large, because I love to stand in front of it and literally feel like I can cross the threshold, the portal into that space, that experience, that landscape, whatever is going on in the painting.”
The smaller paintings in the exhibition provides a close-up look at the landscape in contrast to the broader view in the large works.
“Those I thought would be a really nice complement to these, because they actually zone in,” she said. “They're the microcosm, this is the macrocosm, and so it's the same aspect, same landscape, but these are tightly framed little snapshots of the landscape.”
The word “samskãra” in the exhibition’s title is a Sanskrit term from the yoga tradition and refers to habits or patterns in human lives.
“It really refers to the habitual patterns that we carve in our lives and in our psyche through our speech, actions and thoughts,” she explained. “We tend to carve these grooves deeper and deeper with the same kinds of thoughts, the same kinds of actions and behaviours that play out in our lives. I was interested in the relationship between the land and humans and of course the other beings on the land and those patterns, because we tend to make decisions that suit us often as humans, but not necessarily are very helpful for the animals.”
She added that human behaviour and habits also cause suffering to other human beings, but it is possible to move beyond such negative actions through greater awareness.
“We tend to choose the hard way sometimes,” she said. “If we can get past some of those patterns, become aware of them and then make some different decisions, that's where that word discernment comes in. So I wanted to look at those kinds of stories and patterns that surface and sometimes rear their ugly little heads in our lives, and really look at it within the context of the land and nature and our interactions with that.”
The initial two large works in this exhibition were created about three years ago. The others were completed during an intense five-month period of activity that started last August.
“Several years ago I was having a block as an artist, and I was looking for any way possible to move me past that block,” she recalled. “One night I took a book off my bookshelf that I had for probably 10 years, and that just wasn't resonating with me for all that time. That night when I flipped open the book and started reading, I thought this sounds like a really interesting process, maybe I need to investigate this.”
This book was written by Aviva Gold, a psychotherapist and artist as well as an art therapist and teacher. Chabros attended a weeklong retreat at the Esalen Institute in California, where she became familiar with Gold’s techniques for process painting and also created the first painting in this series now on display in the exhibition.
“You literally grow the painting as your ideas morph and as you're examining your dreams and you're examining your emotions,” she said. “It's a very powerful process, and I now teach that process and I still connect with Aviva frequently. I knew at that point I wanted to work on a series about the land. I just didn't know how I was going to tackle it, and so that particular retreat moved me out of that blocked feeling and forward into developing this series.”
Chabros feels she is an emerging artist. Her works have been shown before, but this is her largest ever show and also her first solo show at the Art Gallery of Swift Current.
“I would like to double the size of this exhibition,” she said. “So this winter I have plans to produce 12 more works along the same lines and I will apply for shows.”
Admission to the exhibition “Samskãra: Stories of Discernment” at the Art Gallery of Swift Current is free.
The gallery is open Monday to Thursday from 1-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., and Friday to Sunday from 1-5 p.m. It is closed on statutory holidays.