Wednesday, 02 August 2017 14:07

Southwest Open a showcase opportunity for local artists

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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Swift Current artist Jade Wolfe discusses one of her paintings on display in the Southwest Open art exhibition during the walk and talk tour with artists, July 29. Swift Current artist Jade Wolfe discusses one of her paintings on display in the Southwest Open art exhibition during the walk and talk tour with artists, July 29. Photo by Matthew Liebenberg

A variety of artworks by southwest Saskatchewan artists are currently on display at the annual Southwest Open art exhibition in Swift Current. The exhibition in the West Wing Gallery opened July 28 and a public reception with a walk and talk tour by artists took place July 29.


Art Gallery of Swift Current Director and Curator Kim Houghtaling said the exhibition is a good opportunity for artists to showcase their work.
“There’s always a lot of interest for this exhibition and project, because it’s an opportunity for audiences and visitors to our area to see what local artists are doing, and also friends and family members who are with the artists,” he said.
The Southwest Open is a non-curated exhibition for accomplished amateurs and aspiring professional artists from the region.
“There is some really great stuff,” he said. “I think there’s a few things that are interesting about this year. For one thing, much more painting abstract work by amateur artists. Abstraction is something that aspiring professionals and professionals find themselves getting into because they want that challenge, but I think there’s a bigger acceptance now of abstract painting now for example and so we’re finding it in the amateur artists as well.”
This show can be an important stepping stone for artists who want to reach a wider audience.
“Often when I first meet an artist or an artist searches me out, they’re reaching a point where they want to be in a show and this is a great entry-level show,” he said. “It gives them some practise getting ready to be part of the show and making some decisions about their work and how well it’s working and how to make it better.”
Houghtaling noted an artist’s participation in this exhibition can be a catalyst for artistic growth and development.
“It really pushes the artist to get to that level and then once they’re showing it inspires them again,” he said. “They’re sort of revitalized. They realize their artwork has a purpose and it’s to be part of a show and be seen by audiences. So then they’re back the next year, the year after that and they start to rely on it as an exhibition and then several years later going through the open process for a few years often I’ll be able to pick them up and put them in a group show or something like that at some of the other venues.”
The Southwest Open also provides a professional development opportunity on a broader level for participating artists, because this exhibition is part of an Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils (OSAC) program to find artists for touring provincial exhibitions.
A guest curator from OSAC will be visiting the exhibition to view the artworks and to talk to artists. The curator will then recommend three artists from this show, who will have an opportunity to make submissions to OSAC. Their works might then be selected to become part of the travelling provincial exhibitions.
“We’ve had over the years dozens of artists that have gone forward to the OSAC tour process and dozens as well have been part of exhibitions that have travelled across the province,” he said.
Swift Current visual artist Tim Robinson is not only participating for the first time in the Southwest Open, but this is also the first time his works are in a public exhibition.
“I’ve been an artist all my life,” he said. “I’ve experimented with creative endeavours and I normally don’t like showing my work, and I guess this is the first time that I thought ‘why not.’”
He felt the display of his acrylic as well as pencil and ink paintings in the formal setting of an art gallery give the artworks a different appearance.
“They look more presentable, because normally they’re just on the floor, set against the wall, stacked on top of one another, and I just like that it’s more coherent,” he said. “Usually they’re at home being incoherent. So here, because they’re presented with the idea of being looked at, it changes the nature of the work. Normally I’m the only one looking at these things.”
The presentation of his art in the public realm will have some impact on the way he looks at his own work and what he wants to achieve.
“Before I was just speaking to myself, but now that I’m willing to participate and actually have a voice, it will probably force me to think what I want to say a little more,” he said. “Before I didn’t really worry about what I was trying to say because I was just talking to myself, at least visually. So in that way I think it will change, because I do want to turn back to more representational art, using what I’ve learned up to this point to try and maybe say a little more.”
He has a spontaneous approach to creating art, because it provides him with more creative freedom.
“I’ve experimented with a lot of different kinds of arts,” he said. “Back in the nineties I used to paint with roofing tar on Bristol board, and no control whatsoever, but it was fun.”
He focused on pencil drawings for some time, but then his approach evolved to become more abstract and non-representational. He does not use a palette knife to apply paint, but a gift card that his older brother send him.
“I noticed that it worked really well, like a palette knife,” he said. “I’ve been scraping with it for years and it has a nice finely-honed edge that I really appreciate.”
The Southwest Open is presented by the Art Gallery of Swift Current in association with the Swift Current Arts Council. According to Houghtaling, the exhibition was originally part of the Swift Current Arts Council's program.
“So it’s well over 40 years that this program has been happening,” he said. “We’ve been able to keep it going and make it part of our exhibition program, especially since we’ve been able to have the West Wing Gallery.”
Arts councils were established in communities around the province during the 1960s and one of their initial goals was to create professional development opportunities for artists.
“This open exhibition project for accomplished amateurs and aspiring professionals became one of the first things that they did,” he explained. “It was an opportunity to find visual artists and see what they’re doing and give them an exhibition and that experience and then also make them part of the province-wide tours. So it was an excellent program and continues to be.”
The West Wing Gallery is located in the Airmen's Barracks at Kinetic Exhibition Park in Swift Current.
The artworks in the Southwest Open will be on display until Sept. 4. The gallery is open from 1-5 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well as on holiday Mondays. Admission to the gallery is free.

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