Having received a sneak peak earlier this semester of the University of Alberta sculpture studio, and having caught several of these undergraduates' work during NextFest's "New Edmonton Artists," it would appear the next wave of Edmonton's sculpture students has dramatically embraced the creative possibilities inherent in contemporary sculpture.
Returning to the figurative, along with installation-based presentations of pieces in various media from touches of steel, to treated wood, light weight plaster and even rice paper, the works gathered together for From the Human Body are a welcome change in breaking out the U of A's reputation as an abstract steel yard.
Informed by courses and techniques taught by celebrated artists Isla Burns and Royden Mills, who both work in, but are not limited to, steel, the approach to sculpture evidently returns to a basic foundation of portraiture and formal transformation.
Mills, who serves as both friend and mentor to his students, notes, "We're trying to encourage them during these years of development to have a solid grounding in the figure, and have self confidence in knowing they can do a classic portrait if they like, but shortly after that, we are encouraging them to develop personal expressions, self-investment and conceptual development in setting their own parameters for making work that has pertinence for people living in our contemporary world."
Showing in commercial spaces the Peter Robertson Gallery and The Front Gallery, both located just a few doors down from each other at the west bend of Jasper Avenue, the majority of works are done by third-year students, which is surprising considering the level of sophistication inherent in many of the works.
For example, upstairs in Peter Robertson Gallery, Jennifer Konanz's small works of treated and untreated paper cast over seemingly found objects held resonance. "You & Me," which features an object clearly tempered with thought and process, sits on top of two stacks of real and worn 4" x 9" mail envelopes. Pushing the concept of the pedestal to a new reality where nothing is stable or permanent, sculpture's preciousness and fragility is held up by something equally perishable and dependent.
Downstairs, Carly Greene and Jessica McCoy vie for your attention with their preoccupations on the handsome aspects of natural wood grain, touching upon elements of surprise and formalities. McCoy is one familiar name from the "New Edmonton Artists" show, who had works throughout the main foyer of Enterprise Square including the piece "Procession," featured in the middle of Peter Robertson Gallery. With a small blackened pond upon the top face of the large lain lumber along with crafted handles on either end, McCoy suggests something beyond the immediate association of its title to death, opening up imagery of transformation through the Narcissus myth, and redefining the solemnness of a formal procession through sheer formal play.
While the students' voices and styles are still rapidly changing and developing, there appears to be greater attention to experimentation and risk taking within the form, consequently revealing a maturity far beyond their years. Breaking out of the moulds, literally, of past forms and theories, the overall tone of this exhibition is one that balances conceptual process with formal techniques.
As this is only the second year BFA undergraduates have been featured along the Gallery Walk in recent memory, the first being a partnership through Front with Peter Robertson coming aboard this year, the exhibition is a great opportunity for the students to develop their skills in a professional context.
"We put them into these positions where they have to act like real professional artists, because they need to gain respect and support from people early in their careers," Mills shares. "The public, as well as friends and family, need to view them as artists now, as they will be hard times ahead, as to get to the top of your fields, you are going to have to pay your dues."
*First published in Vue Weekly