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Painting: Thick and Thin examines Calgary's art culture

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High school reunions are often a disappointment. University reunions can be an excuse for the alumni organization to fleece donations. A reunion of Alberta College of Art and Design graduates, however, defied convention, producing an exhibition at the Glenbow Museum. Eight artists, either born in Calgary or transported here to study at ACAD, gathered their works together as "Painting: Thick and Thin." The collection is a testament to their experience and artistic abilities as well as tells the tale of the artists themselves and their struggles to make a living in a city reluctant toward its artistic community at best and uncaring at worst.

Co-artists David and Jenn say that they themselves are the real pieces on display, not their paintings, with all their blemishes and embarrassing secrets exposed. Their struggle to find a decent studio in the rollercoaster housing market in Calgary, with their double-sided painting, We are waiting to leave, a portrait/landscape of their house awaiting replacement by condo development.

"Essentially, the piece is a love letter to our ancient and wooden prairie home, about to be plowed," they say. "We would vacate as soon as they get their gears together, but we have been waiting for over a year. You could joke that the title, in retrospect, works with the usual exodus that so many artists perform."

The inspiration for how people relate to community led to another concept, that of a peaceful nature in Ask Me Again If That Bear Is A Rock. In another way, it is inspired by the terrifying powers of nature as a hiking trip went horribly wrong.

"The painting depicts one hike when we underestimated the weather and were stuck in the Wilcox Pass during a lighting storm with no shelter," they explain. "We have no binoculars and were trying to identify what the small black lumps in the distance were. Were they always large boulders or bears pretending to be boulders?"

For her three paintings, Fele VI, Fele II and Fele V, Kim Neudorf says the series shows an evolution of her skills over the year, after she learnt how to work faster with limited means at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 2005. Using a rigid method of layering, under-painting and glazing, she creates a series of haunting paintings of the same man, a realistic work that breaks down into a parody of the original one, to show how a subject can break down over the time.

"Part of this 'stretching' comes out of my interest in trying to make fleeting experiences last longer, even while the result can break down and becomes very thin, comical and a ghost of itself," says Neudorf. "Spending so much with the same subject through painting was a project in recording how that kind of 'stretching' breaks down and has very little to do with the original subject matter."

Neudorf was excited about having her three paintings displayed, explaining that the Glenbow Museum has started showing Calgary contemporary works through the summer such as Wim Delvoye's Cloaca and Peaches' Peach Pit. That is a drastic contrast to the Glenbow's more conservative exhibits. David and Jenn agree.

"We do know that the recent interest that it has shown in the city's art was absent for some time," they say. "It's good to see the Glenbow Museum taking interest again because the audience is a different group of people than the ones that make the effort to see shows at artist-run galleries."

Wil Murray, the curator of the exhibition, agrees with the Glenbow Museum, pointing out how it was a nice change compared to the Sled Island Festival's visual arts component, which allowed people to see the exhibition via multiple visits and viewings. As an artist, Murray was intrigued by the work of being a curator, since it was a change from his artistic career to the point where the paintings are already shown or owned.

"There is a Salman Rushdie essay where he states that you must first learn to tell your own story before you can tell any other," he says. "I was reminded of that essay a lot in the past. I didn't even consider that all the artists in the show attended ACAD when I asked them. Art is most exciting when it disallows any fixed points and I'm exhilarated by how much this is true of this exhibit. There is too much in the work of eight artists tenuously tied by geography to make any absolute curatorial statements and I love that. It should be always be a bit of a mess, which lets people in a bit more."

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