I would like to mention that attending the opening reception of Worse Things Have Happened to Better People, the 2008 staff exhibition at The Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts, was my first visit to the organization. I was vaguely aware of its role in the Edmonton community as a place for individuals, who might otherwise not have the necessary access or support, to receive an opportunity and space to participate through a creative outlet. As I had never actually visited the centre, or taken in any of the previous exhibits, I was, however, familiar with the work of at least a few of the artists/staff members who would be exhibiting, and felt this was the perfect chance to go and learn about an important local arts-based institute.
Before heading out, I asked a few friends how to reach the centre (I am not originally from Edmonton, and am still sometimes unsure of how to get around), and was told a number of conflicting bus numbers and routes. So my decision to walk down 97th Street in the baking hot sun was made. I was very grateful once I arrived to find an oasis--an air conditioned building filled with people who appreciate art and its making.
Once there, I was immediately befriended by one of the members of the centre, a very kind man named Paul, who decided to give me a tour of the building. I was shown where they have wheels for clay, two controlled with the feet, and one by hand. There were shelves packed with clay sculptures and bowls, in various stages of completion. He showed me his own work, some beautifully hand formed clay bowls, glazed into a deep shimmering blue. There was also a large and well used press for printmaking, and many tables for drawing and painting. Everywhere we went, the walls were coated with the proudly displayed work of the artists who attend the centre.
We made it back to main gallery, and I was given descriptions of all the Lead Artists work, with Paul pointing out to me how affordably priced the art was (followed by some subtle encouragement to perhaps purchase one of the works, since they were priced so reasonably). Once he was sure I was well educated about all the artists and what they did, Paul left me to take in the show for a bit. It was perhaps the kindest welcome to an art opening I’ve ever received.
And the exhibit was no slouch either. Many prominent and active local artists had their work on display. There were a number of landscape-inspired paintings by Brenda Kim Christiansen (who completed her MFA only four short months ago). Jewel-like in their transparency and richness, these paintings appear like small liquid gems. Their relation to our changing and degrading landscape roots them with a kind of memory, a collective understanding of what we could loose.
There were also the fabric/ceramic sculptures by Stephanie Jonsson, who is currently completing her run as Artist in Residence at Harcourt House Arts Centre. Often described as reminiscent of underwater plant life, sexual anatomy, or other-worldly forms, these sculptures make a powerful visual impact while maintaining a level of descriptive uncertainty. The viewer is never completely sure of what they are seeing. Any reading of subject or meaning becomes more a reflection of an individuals' own assumptions, rather than a direct commentary or declaration from Jonsson herself.
Also of note was a lively drawing by Nicole Galellis, with twisting vibrant lines of intersecting color; some endearingly tiny paintings of houses by Dave Janzen, and one surreal and unexpected all white sculpture by Paul Freeman, again a very small piece. Most of the work in the show was of a smaller scale, perhaps to accommodate the amount of people who were included. There were no large, attention stealing pieces; it looked as if a great attempt was made to be as cohesive as possible, considering the wide variety of subject and styles present. If this had been a group show outside of Nina Haggerty's educational staff context, the exhibit would not have necessarily worked for me as a whole; but as there was that essential community context exhibiting the quality of individual works, I think it completely fulfilled its objective as a very thoughtful display of artwork made by a community of working artists endeavoring to encourage others. Definitely worth the sun baked trek.
Featuring work by: Marta Beranek, Jon Corbett, Paul Freeman, Cindy Fuhrer, Nicole Galellis, Dave Janzen, Steph Jonsson, Cynthia Sentara, Sue Seright, Davey Thompson, Brenda Kim Christiansen, and Lorraine Shulba
Mandy Espezel is a 24 year old artist and writer who currently lives and works in Edmonton, Alberta. Originally from Fort McMurray, she moved to the city to attend the University of Alberta, and graduated with a BFA in 2007. She enjoys making, looking, writing, and talking about art in its many forms.