He spoke about these works during a public reception for the exhibition Drift at the gallery, April 6.
The exhibition presents works from the series Under a Big Sky and another series Continental Drift. It is the first time these paintings are presented together in an exhibition. He noted it is unusual for an artist to see more than one or two of their works together at the same time.
“So for me, to see all of these works from the two series together is really important,” he said. “I can relate to them in a different way and understand them, and they support each other as well in a different way than just seeing an individual one. So that’s important. The fact that it’s my hometown — there’s a certain validation that exists there, so that’s great.”
He was born in Beaverlodge, Alta., but his parents moved to Swift Current when he was a teenager and he still has family connections in the city.
“Even though I lived other places longer, I think of Swift Current as my hometown and always like to have a little trip back,” he said.
His connection to the prairie landscape of southwest Saskatchewan had a more significant influence on his art than his earlier years as a child in northern Alberta.
“I think it has, growing up here and having summer jobs and living in this environment at a particularly formative time as a young teenager,” he said. “I got familiar with the space and the landscape and it sort of became whatever that essence of home is. It somehow became ingrained in me more than the parkland country that I had actually come from.”
He followed a different approach to composition for the paintings in the series Under a Big Sky. Each painting presents two images. A horse is painted on one side of the canvas and the other side shows an image of the sky.
“I’ve always liked the idea of juxtaposing two different things together in order to make each of them more together than they are by themselves, sort of forcing some kind of conversation between the two panels and consequently between the viewer and the work,” he said.
The separate presentation of the sky in these paintings is a reflection on the physical connection of humans to the earth.
“Most of us move through the world on the ground and look up at the sky occasionally but in my mind they’re two separate worlds,” he said.
These paintings are also a commentary on the impact of humans on the earth, because the horses are presented in a domesticated situation. The corner of a fence or a corral is visible and in some cases there are also round bales.
“So that’s a reference to the fact that they’re part of the operation, that they’re not out there on their own,” he said. “They’ve got a good bit of freedom. They can step outside there and go for a long run in the pasture or whatever, but they know a hand feeds them in a sense when they need it, when the grass isn’t that good.”
In the Continental Drift series, the horses are superimposed on historical maps to connect the presence and movement of horses and humans to different locations around the world.
“It’s not exactly linear, but I put the two of them together because there are horses everywhere and maps are a way in my mind at least of thinking about the movement of people throughout the world,” he explained.
Anderson has been interested in old maps for a long time. He noted humans have used maps for more than just understanding the world.
“I like that notion of even though people weren’t in possession of something, they sort of took an intellectual possession of it through creating these maps and speculating about what was there and somehow codifying it and developing their sense of ownership over it by doing that and I’ve being intrigued by that,” he said.
The two series of paintings in this exhibition reflect his thoughts about the relationship of humans to their environment, but he appreciates that visitors to the exhibition will have their own interpretation of these artworks.
“I’m not offended if people just say ‘I like that blue’ or ‘I like that brown’ or’ I don’t like that’,” he said. “I’m cool with that. I’m happy and I know that people are going to bring their own information to a painting, and I don’t try and control and make it such as kind of a diatribe about this one specific thing. I want some ambiguity and some interpretation open to people to do.”
Anderson completed a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Regina in 1984 and he has established a successful art practice in Regina. His work has been exhibited in various group and solo exhibitions, and his art pieces are in public and private collections across Canada. Two of his paintings are in the permanent collection at the AGSC.
“I’m really pleased to be able to present Bruce Anderson’s work,” AGSC Director and Curator Kim Houghtaling said about the current exhibition. “Bruce is pretty special to Swift Current. He’s from here and he has such a substantial career and painting practice, and an important art professional in the public gallery scene as well. With a lot of his career he was the registrar for the MacKenzie Art Gallery collection, which is major.”
He described Anderson’s work as beautiful and multidimensional.
It is surreal, but at the same time, the animal figures provide a natural realism to the works that make them accessible to a variety of people.
“They feel like they really can approach it, but then they also begin to think and understand and they start to find their way into the messaging or the experiences that the paintings really are offering,” Houghtaling said. “We’ve had a really good response from a variety of people. Lots of folks who never come into the gallery are coming in to see this show simply because they like horses. The works are impressive and visually beautiful and so I think it’s been a really good show and really good for local audiences.”
The exhibition Drift by Bruce Anderson will be on display at the AGSC until April 23. Admission is free and the AGSC is open 1-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, and 1-5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.