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CURTAIN CALL: Shelly Ouellet’s Wish You Were Here is currently showing at the Nickle Arts Museum.
Nickle Arts Museum

The beads of nature

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She is creative, innovative and Calgarian, and her latest flash of inspiration displays all these aspects-and lots of beads.

Shelley Ouellet's latest work, Wish you Were Here, involves three paintings from the 19th century of the Saguenay River, Lake Louise and the Niagra Falls, blue lights and more than 180,000 beads.

"Basically, I was quite attracted to the goofy plastic beads," says Ouellet, who graduated with her bachelor's degree in Fine Arts from the University of Calgary in 1991.

It was Ouellet who came up with the idea of transforming the three paintings of Canadian nature scenes into large curtains using beads in black, white and grey, all illuminated with blue light.

Ouellet's work relates closely to the humorous ambition of presenting major tourist attractions with the kitschy material usually be found in souvenir shops. On the other hand, Ouellet wants to pay tribute to the artistic historical aspect by choosing these particular images by Frederic E. Church, Frederic M. Bell-Smith and Lucius O'Brien. By selecting paintings meant to market the Canadian landscape and develop tourism before the 20th century, Ouellet examines perceptions of Canadians.

"I was interested in how Canadians always get tagged as these natural people," she says.

The 15-foot-wide curtains, which Ouellet refers to as sculptures, are the product of endless hours of work following a giant needlepoint pattern.

"I have troops of people that help me, because it is a very laborious work," admits Ouellet.

An important aspect of her work is her intent to bring people who may not know a lot about art close to her work by using material, topics and shapes everyone can relate to.

"Most people can relate to kitchen materials like beads, bugs or beaded door-curtains and are able to enter the work through that way," Ouellet points out. "It is one way that makes the work more accessible so that people can respond to my work."

In her exhibition she will be showing the three curtains at the Nickle Arts Museum as part of the annual Series program.

"I have really been a big fan of the program and I was thrilled when I got invited this year," says Ouellet.

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