From Abstract to Traditional: Local Artists Show Their Roots

Some people feel something is missing when they’re in complete solitude. But walking into the lunchtime silence of the Yukon Arts Centre Public Art Gallery felt comforting and soothing compared to the bustle of downtown Main Street.

And even though I might have been the only person in the expansive space, I was still in good company. The minds and hearts of almost two dozen of the Yukon’s most treasured artists surrounded me in the Yukon Art Society show simply titled, Roots.

As Sandra Storey writes in her curatorial statement: “This exhibition has an energy that speaks with colour of the adventure that comes from taking risks.

“Artists have worked with varied mediums to create ideas and abstractions, and there is a sense of humour that appears with unique interpretations of the Roots theme.”

The exhibition leads its visitors through an intriguing collection of not only what these artists are made of, but of a vast use of what the art world has to offer – employing both traditional and creative treatments.

“Selecting the work for Roots was not a difficult process,” writes Storey.

“I want the show to reflect the incredible growth and diversity of our Yukon artists as well as a less predictable approach to expressing ideas around a theme.”

Some works appear to blatantly integrate the exhibition’s premise.

Lara Melnik’s polymer clay piece, Stop and Smell the Daisies, not only shows the underground from which her trademark flowers bloom, but also combines placer gold that reaches to the roots of the Yukon’s industrial history.

Daphne Mennell’s acrylic work, Red Root, is a deep, dark, large-scale exploration into environment as the trees mesh with the waterfall that attempts to separate them.

And Nicole Bauberger’s acrylic large-scale, Home, brings a sense of nature to the intimate embrace of lovers through the addition of soft white roots stretching away from the couple’s toes.

While the remaining works that span the gallery do not make such an obvious connection to the theme, there is a notable element of their organic interpretations.

Carver Justin Smith has two pieces that showcase the intricate detail he achieves when working with natural materials such as birch and cedar. Smith’s piece, Untitled Mask, and paddle titled, Between Two Worlds, also provide a glimpse into the artist’s aboriginal culture.

“These informed and passionate artists do not turn away from the past, but honour what has been before, while embracing the reality of the present and moving into the future with confidence,” Storey writes.

“They do so with an open mind and with the knowledge that there is no end to the products of human creativity when it is nurtured, shared and allowed critical dialogue.”

Paul Baker’s welded sculpture, Autto, stands tall in a corner of the exhibition. The structure is made up of long-forgotten parts from springs, to gears and rusted chains. The created figure clutches an Old Style Beer can, while donning mirrored glasses and matching silver baseball hat.

And just as I’m finishing my once-around of the space, I stop to gaze at Jeanine Baker’s four-piece fused glass, Best Wishes. The work is perfectly hanging in mid-air. I take the time to examine it from every angle and spot new geometrical shapes hidden amongst its many layers.

Screaming with bright colours, it resembles the chaotic beauty of a painter’s studio floor, riddled with globs and lines of brilliant paint.

Before exiting, I turn back to glance at Roots in its entirety. The exhibit is quite literally filled with splashes of colour juxtaposed with warm, earthy contributions.

Perhaps Storey says it best when she writes, it “demonstrates an exciting approach that reaches beyond the traditional landscape art that may have previously been considered “Yukonnais.”

Roots is on display at the Yukon Arts Centre Public Art Gallery until August 24.

PHOTOS: RICK MASSIE [email protected]

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