BY TARA McCARTHY

The frosted trees along Whitehorse’s Main Street are lined with Christmas lights. It’s a sure sign that holiday shopping season is here and that means arts and craft sales of all shapes and sizes.

Weekends of Christmas shopping past have already included rows of goodies at Spruce Bog, but for a more intimate, yet still eclectic selection of artisans’ work, try Arts Underground’s annual Christmas Show and Sale.

Twice a year – in both summer and winter – the Yukon Arts Society gives its members a chance to explore a theme within their work. For this winter season, curator Sandra Grace Storey says things get a little personal.

“We don’t try and put really heavy parameters on people, but I always like to try and throw out ideas. So this year, about a month and a half ago, I put out a call for submissions for the Christmas show for the theme of who I am, or who am I,” Storey explains.

From still life paintings and colourful realism works depicting Yukon landscapes by Lee Murchison, to pressed leaves and acrylic pieces by Gabrielle Watts, the main space in the basement gallery is brimming with the self-revealing creations of about 20 local artists.

Storey also has a selection of her palm-sized clay figures scattered throughout the show, stemming from her recent The Storey of Raven and Rabbit exhibition.

“I’ve been kind of enamored with ravens and rabbits. And when I put out this call for submissions, I wondered which one I was. Or whether I was one of them at all,” she says.

“And then I thought … in dreams, you know, you’re everything in your dreams, you’re all the characters … so I figured I was all of those characters as well.”

Art in numbers is another thread within the show.

Vanessa Martin uses four small canvases to create textured, minimalist oil paintings for her Blue Flower piece, while Neil Graham playfully touches on the personal concept with a series of small-scale paintings depicting scenes like The Artist Loves His Wife and The Artist Rides A Bike.

Arts Underground program administrator Marlene Collins also contributed to the show.

“I’m one of those artists who really explores. I do flat work and most recently I’ve been working with clay, which is very exciting because with my flat work I was always constantly trying to build it up more and more,” Collins says of her two encaustic paintings and collection of striking vessels.

Geometric shapes on the surface seamlessly complement the slightly misshapen forms of Collins’ clay designs, which are rich in texture and depth. Storey admits they are some of the most engaging pieces in the show due to Collins’ use of oxides and stains.

It’s easy to tell from the exhibit that the Yukon Arts Society is bursting with a diverse cast of characters that employ a multitude of media. Boasting about 255 members, Storey says the society has come a long way.

“Our membership has grown incredibly since we came to this space at the Arts Underground. We’ve got a lot more new, emerging and up-and-coming artists,” she says.

“Twenty years ago the Yukon Arts Society would have seen a lot of landscapes, a lot of very traditional Yukonnaise kind of paintings and prints. And now you see very contemporary, challenging, whimsical, colourful, informed work.”

While well-known artist Kathy Piwowar displays her texture-driven mixed media creations, newcomer Larry Duguay presents his first Underground showing of what Collins calls “sophisticated and accomplished” pottery.

And it’s this combination of artists using a variety of media and reaching different levels of community exposure that she says make the show so important.

“A lot of our artists are emerging artists and so they haven’t built up a large body of work yet, so a show where they’re committed to putting in a couple of pieces is great. It’s a great first start. And it gives them the chance to explore what they’d do if they were doing a whole show,” Collins explains.

“It stays vibrant, even though the actual event is a similar thing each year.”

Arts Underground’s Christmas Show and Sale is on now until Jan. 7.

PHOTOS: RICK MASSIE massierick@whatsupyukon.com