Shelter from the cold

By Claire Cummings

I stepped into the Art is Vital gallery and out of the freezing wind on a strange Calgary winter day. Winter Solace II , an exhibition showing until Jan. 29, lived up to its name and offered respite from the blowing snow outside.

The show is the second half of an exhibition of Calgarian artists featuring artists from both halves of the exhibition. Canadian preoccupations quickly make themselves apparent; the works revolve around themes of landscape, identity and the human figure. From Barbara Amos’ urban landscapes to Aron Hill’s warm earthy canvasses, representations of landscape reflect the world outside both directly and indirectly. Ellen Dick’s piece "Beauty Danger Rise and Fall ii" is an interesting Lawren Harris-style depiction of prairie landscape. But instead of Harris’ mountains and Ontario forests, Dick studies the rolling hills and expansive skies of Alberta. Massive skyscapes are also explored by Ricardo Sanchez-Clague, who paints the ethereal light and colour of clouds in "Dreams of Dahanni."

The human figure. is also reflected in many different ways. Mychael Maier’s rippling male figures are striking on large, stark canvasses. Reinhard Storacki’s bronzes, on the other hand, are whimsical and don’t take themselves too seriously. "Dance of the Blindfolded" is an evocative piece. The round, full, blindfolded female figures create a sense of mystery and sensuality.

Also currently showing at Art is Vital, are some pieces by Charles Malinsky which aren’t actually part of the show. His paintings of pale, masked figures and jesters also give an interesting portrayal of the human figure. "Devil (study)" is a strange combination of foreboding and playfulness.

John Hoyt’s paintings also have a peculiar tension. The artist places realistic modern nudes, complete with jewelry and body piercings, into the context of religious art. Madonna becomes the Madonna, a woman with tattoos and nipple rings becomes a muse, and a man built like a Sumo wrestler becomes the Thinker. Hoyt’s paintings are complex, and layered with symbolism and allegory, and ask a lot of questions about identity without answering any of them for his audience. These reflections on religion are seen again in Mark Murias’ work. Murias’ paintings appear to be ancient religious icons, but a closer look reveals a pious-looking construction worker or hula dancer. Whereas Hoyt’s work is almost somber, Murias pokes fun at institutionalized religion and medieval protocol.

"Mary Kalikimikimaka," the title of one of his angel figures, comes from a Bing Crosby song about Christmas in Hawaii. Murias says the idea for the figure., who is paired with a sunburnt tourist angel, came from tacky Hawaiian souvenirs. Hoyt and Murias’ religious-themed pieces work together to reflect on identity and institution.

The individual works in Winter Solace II are all quite distinct and yet seem linked together by their ideas. The exhibition showcases some of Alberta’s best, and gives a small cross-section of what’s going on in Calgary’s art scene. Drop by the Gallery on Stephen Avenue to take a look at some excellent painting and sculpture.

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