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Art for Art’s Sake – Wanda Ellerbeck, Abstract Artist – Regina Leader-Post



Wanda Ellerbeck sees more than meets the eye in abstract art.

She has been an artist all of her life.

“I don’t think I decided to be an artist,” Ellerbeck said. “I think art found me, at an early age.”

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Holding a Masters of Fine Art and years of experience teaching art, Ellerbeck is now focusing on painting abstract art.

“It’s more like an archeological dig where through the process of painting I’m uncovering a lot of emotional spaces inside myself but also letting the influence of the environment that I live in come through,” Ellerbeck said. “So for me it’s more about the sense and concern of the place. And I find it easier to express that through abstraction. And besides, it’s great fun.”

Ellerbeck and fellow Canmore artist Chrissy Nickerson held an art show in June at Elevation Gallery in Canmore and then at Mortar and Brick gallery in Lethbridge.

“After that I started to sell abstract paintings. So I think the market and the sense of art and what art can be has very much changed in Canmore,” she said. “And that is a result of influence from people moving in who have lived other places and people who are exposed to different kinds of art forms. And we have contemporary art right next door, at the Banff Centre. So I think all of those things have created a kind of new or different sense of what art can be here. And that for me is uplifting. It’s like, ‘yes’, that’s really good.”

Her focus has never been just to sell the art, she said.

“I would keep painting even if I didn’t sell the art here, and find a place where I could, because of course you have to make some money in order to keep going,” Ellerbeck said. “You have to buy paint and brushes, pay your rent and all of that. Selling art is important. But I can’t start a painting with the idea that it’s going to be for sale, or else I’m sunk. It has to come from my process, my own self, and what I’m dealing with inside myself.”

The rest of it is just the struggle and finding a place where people can see it, she said.

“The viewer is very important to my process,” Ellerbeck said. “And I think about the viewer when I’m painting. With abstraction the viewer will bring their own interpretations and it will remind people of different things and that is the beauty of it. It’s not telling people how to view and how to think and this is art. This is the work I’m doing now. What inside yourself as a viewer will you find? And I find that interaction really interesting.”

She is working on an abstract piece that she says has gone through many permutations

“But basically it was an attempt,” Ellerbeck said. “Right now I’m struggling with the formal aspects of it how these colours work together and balance so it doesn’t look like a mess. I get really excited when colours start to bounce around each other. So some, like green, are in the background and the white comes forward. There’s a reference to ice and snow and the Earth. You see colours like this in the river. I don’t go into this piece and say this is about the river. I go into it solving the problem that’s in front of me. So every brush stroke you put on asks a question, should it be on there or shouldn’t it be. And is it the right colour?”

There are no rules, she said.

“Everything here has to come from inside myself,” Ellerbeck said. “It’s a different way of painting than looking at a still life or a figure and painting that. Those kinds of artists also deal with the same formal questions. It’s just the expression is different. And I find this more engaging and stimulating than regular landscape painting, for me.”

But she said she loves regular landscape paintings.

“There are some great landscape painters in this valley. Just for me, this is what’s working,” Ellerbeck said. “Your painting has to talk back to you. You’re in a conversation with your painting. But that’s the challenge of abstraction, to let it speak to you as opposed to force yourself in what your busy monkey brain says on top of it. So it’s not an intellectual, rational process at all. It’s intuitive and quite irrational.”

Check out her Facebook page to find out more.

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Paired exhibitions showcasing Sask. art history at MacKenzie Art Gallery – Regina Leader Post



Two collections, curated in tandem, are examining the under-highlighted 1950s era of contemporary art that helped shaped artists like Regina-born Anthony Thorn.

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A set of connected exhibitions opening at the MacKenzie Art Gallery are offering a window into a “critical moment” of Saskatchewan art history in the 1950s.

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The two shows, titled Anthony Thorn: A Portrait, 1927–2014 and Ten Artists of Saskatchewan: 1955 Revisited, have been curated in tandem by head curator Timothy Long and open at the gallery on Thursday.

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Long began conceptualizing the retrospective on Thorn first, after receiving a large number of works from the private collection of art dealer Tony Colella, including art and essays from Thorn’s later years.

“It’s one of those opportunities we have to look back and observe a lifetime of achievement, from very early days to a painting that was sitting on his easel at the time when he died,” Long said.

Thorn is a nationally renowned abstractionist whose career began in Regina, where he was born, before continuing in B.C. as he forged a path through the evolution of Canadian contemporary art.

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“He was an artist who was attached to his studio, attached to representational practices, at a time when abstraction was in its ascendancy,” Long said.

“His independence of thought really went against the grain.”

Conceptualizing Thorn’s ties to his home province led Long to thinking about the show that introduced Thorn to Saskatchewan audiences as an emerging artist: an exhibition in 1955 titled Ten Artists of Saskatchewan.

The show debuted just two years after the MAG opened, as the first public art gallery in Saskatchewan, including Thorn and other artists who would go on to similar successful prominence like Dorothy Knowles and members of the Regina Five Ken Lochhead, Arthur McKay and Douglas Morton.

Long has revived this past show, re-collecting works as close to those featured in the original show as possible, to “recreate the feel of that exhibition” in Ten Artists of Saskatchewan: 1955 Revisited.

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“I’m always thinking about how to tell the story of art in this province,” Long said, about the idea.

The collection partners with the exploration on Thorn’s career, tethered by a painting titled “Moses Diptych,” which was included in the original 1955 Ten Artists show.

“Moses” is from a period when Thorn worked under Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, before it became part of a travelling art show program in Regina the 1960s. Long had it restored specifically for the exhibition.

“It’s like a time capsule of art in Mexico City in 1955. The image of Moses — he looks like Che Guevara holding the Ten Commandments in one hand, but that hand is a fist that’s punching into the future. It’s an incredible painting.”

  1. Curatorial fellow Felicia Gay, who has put together a retrospective exhibition on the career of contemporary artist Faye HeavyShield, stands by one of the installations at the MacKenzie Art Gallery on Thursday, October 20, 2022 in Regina.

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  2. Curator Michele Hardy stands in the new exhibit at the Nickle Galleries called Prairie Interlace: Weaving, Modernisms and the Expanded Frame 1960-2000 on Monday, September 19, 2022. Gavin Young/Postmedia

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The MAG is approaching 70 years since opening doors, and Long said these shows are an “opportune time” to consider how contemporary art in Saskatchewan has evolved.

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Historically, the ’50s were something of a precursor era, as many artists from this time are better known for works from the ’60s and ’70s, the later years of their careers.

It’s a decade that “hasn’t received a lot of attention, in terms of our history,” but Long feels offers insight into how these artists existed and grew together, as a group.

“Saskatchewan artists weren’t breaking new ground, at that point, but this was an important foundation for what they would explore in future years,” he said.

“Artists don’t work in isolation; they look at what each other and others are doing in their community, and so you get a sense of the shared effort to become modern, in terms of art in the province.”

In tying together the shows, the hope is audiences will get a sense of the province’s history, through the lens of Thorn, who revelled in the craft and had a penchant for retrospection.

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“He really was an artist who followed his own internal vision, and spent more time looking back than forward,” Long said. “As we’re looking back at history, we’re looking at an artist who himself is always looking back, seeing what can be recovered, what can be brought forward from a very long history of art.”

The shows will be accompanied by a free talk on Thorn’s life and career with art historian and curator Ihor Holubizky on Saturday afternoon.

The news seems to be flying at us faster all the time. From COVID-19 updates to politics and crime and everything in between, it can be hard to keep up. With that in mind, the Regina Leader-Post has created an Afternoon Headlines newsletter that can be delivered daily to your inbox to help make sure you are up to date with the most vital news of the day. Click here to subscribe. 

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Rancher gives new life to afterbirth by creating art from cow placentas



When customers enter the Dawson Creek Cannabis Company store to buy marijuana, some are stopped dead in their tracks by what looks like a full-sized, glowing coffin in the middle of the store.

Illuminated from within, it looks like a stained-glass casket.

But it’s actually a work of art crafted from cow placentas, created by local rancher and artist Emilie Mattson.

“It raises eyebrows,” said Mattson in an interview with CBC News about creating art from afterbirth. “It makes a bit of a spark. Some people are totally disgusted and walk away, horrified. Some are amazed.”

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Emilie Mattson with her son, artist Karl Mattson. (Matthew Rivard/Contributed)

Mattson said she was first inspired to use the unusual artistic medium during calving season at her ranch near Rolla, B.C., more than 20 years ago.

Helping to deliver a calf in her barn in bitterly cold weather, she slung the placenta over a light at the edge of the stall.

“We’re helping this cow because she’s having trouble, and I look over and with the light behind it, the placenta looks like stained glass,” she recalled.

At the time, Mattson was running 300 head of cattle and raising a family on the farm, but was already an artist working in paint and sculpture.

She soon began to experiment with adding preserved placenta to her repertoire. Preserved in a special brine, she says placenta dries like parchment or leather, preserving dramatic colours.

Emilie Mattson on her cattle ranch near Dawson Creek, B.C. (Donna Kane/Contributed)

Calving season gave her a plentiful supply. While she said her neighbours in ranch country were dismissive at first, they eventually started saving the placentas of their own animals and “brought them over in buckets” to top up her supplies.

Even the local veterinarian contributed, she said.

Mattson has since used placentas in many of her multimedia pieces.

For the coffin-shaped work she calls The Treasure Box, which took her two years to make, she stretched placenta across a metal frame that’s held up by a well worn chassis.

Now it’s been given pride of place in a cannabis dispensary a 20-minute drive from her ranch.

Dawson Creek Cannabis Company owner Matthew Rivard, who promotes local artists in his store, says Mattson’s artwork is “captivating, breathtaking, and with brilliant colours.”

Customers are curious about the ‘captivating’ art piece made from cow placenta, said cannabis store owner Matthew Rivard, who uses his Dawson Creek business to showcase work by local artists. (Matthew Rivard/Contributed )

He says the piece is eye-opening for locals who come in to buy a pre-rolled joint or THC gummies.

“You definitely see customers come in, people that are just getting off of work. Maybe they’re working down at the tire shop and they come in and they stop and they look at the piece and say, ‘Oh my God.’ Everybody has a reaction.

“They think it’s stained glass, and then they take a closer look. They see a little fleck of straw in the placenta. Some are like, ‘Oh yeah, I can see life and death.'”

Mattson’s art, including more conventional painting, has been exhibited in juried exhibitions for years.

Her art has been reviewed in publications as wide ranging as Beef in B.C. — a B.C. Cattlemen’s Association magazine  and the culture periodical Espace Sculpture. 

“These brilliantly coloured afterbirths are both a symbol and a chore,” wrote art critic Paula Gustafson in Espace Sculpture in 2001, reviewing one of Mattson’s placenta pieces at the Artropolis 2001 show held at the CBC Vancouver studios.

“[They represent] … the miracle and mystery of birth and the sacred and violent act of labour.”

For Mattson, the placenta, which nourishes the baby in the womb, is “the beginning of everything.”

“It’s life sustaining. … If it wasn’t for the placenta, we wouldn’t exist,” she said.

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‘Amazing’ art, dance program a hit for local seniors (3 photos)



The Orillia and District Arts Council (ODAC) has married dance, visual art, and art history in a comprehensive new arts program created specifically for local seniors.

The HeARTS (Helping Elders with ARTS) program is held every Tuesday and Thursday at St. James’ Anglican Church; the goal is to get participants’ bodies moving before trying their hand at various disciplines of art.

The 26-week program began in September after ODAC secured federal government funding earlier this year, and each lesson includes a dance component, supplementary lectures on the session’s artistic theme, and — of course — the opportunity to create art.

Organizers offer a wide-ranging variety of programming and artistic styles for the participants to learn about, ranging from Picasso-inspired self portraits, to re-creations of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, Japanese Suminigashi marbling, and more.

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An “intelligent” approach was brought to the program, organizers say, adding they hope to give seniors legitimate opportunities to explore their artistic sides, as well as the opportunity to self-reflect.

“It (isn’t) juvenile, like arts and crafts. We wanted to do something intelligent and fresh, and have something that seniors could be excited to come to weekly,” said HeARTS art facilitator Sukhi Kaur.

“They’re taken on a journey of self-reflection that they get to explore through different art techniques, and different artists and activities,” Kaur said. “By the end, they’ll hopefully create a small body of work that represents their time here, as well as connecting to the memories that the art prompts are supposed to bring up, and they have the opportunity to share that with new people.”

Each session’s programming is designed to tie into a specific theme, Kaur said, noting those themes are guided by participant feedback. For example, a dance session based in mirroring was included with a lecture on Picasso before participants painted their own self portraits.

A variety of guest artists — and even a harp player during the Vincent Van Gogh session — have been brought to the program to enrich its sessions.

Above all, however, the program offers the opportunity for seniors to have fun and socialize.

“We were hoping that it would be an opportunity post-COVID for seniors to socialize,” Kaur said. “They come here for art, and they come here for dance, but they get to talk about their week. There’s been some new friendships made here that I’ve got to watch flourish over the weeks.”

The idea is catching on.

“Our board made a decision some time back that we wanted to be more socially involved with vulnerable or underrepresented groups, and we thought seniors would be a good fit,” said ODAC board secretary Christine Hager.

“It was a slow start … but now it’s catching people by word of mouth. They are telling other people what’s going on here, and they’re having a lot of fun — that’s the main thing.”

So far, the program has been a success, with one participant celebrating it as “an amazing get together for seniors” that got her out of a rut through COVID-19.

“It gives us something to look forward to, shows us our cognitive abilities, and motivates us to do better than we thought we could do,” said Donna Howlett.

“I love the dance class — just hearing the music has brought me back to my childhood, and the art class is so interesting. I did not know that I had some talent there,” said Maryann Van Arem.

Miriam Goldberger, the program’s dance instructor, said she enthusiastically joined the program when she learned it would incorporate multiple styles of art, and highlighted the importance of movement for both physical health and creating the right mindset to engage with art.

“Movement and physical activity prevent serious physical and mental and emotional decline of seniors,” she explained. “It also really lubricates all the creativity and the social goals that happen with the other part of the program.”

“They’re relaxed, they’re comfortable with themselves, they’re feeling positive,” she said. “They’re open to new things.”

Beyond offering arts programming to seniors, the HeARTS program also serves as a placement opportunity for Georgian College Social Service Worker students.

Program volunteer Joan Berndt said the addition of these students is “incredibly beneficial” to breaking down stigma surrounding seniors.

“The addition of social work students is incredibly beneficial because they don’t get frontline experience when they’re in school,” Berndt said. “They learn about seniors, (and) there is a discrimination in some younger people, that they don’t want to work for seniors, but they’re meeting some fabulous seniors, and it’s working.”

The HeARTS program is offered to local seniors free of charge. It takes place at St. James’ Anglican Church, every Tuesday and Thursday, with a drop-in session from 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with dance and arts programming taking place from 1 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Organizers are hoping to secure funding to continue the program following its current 26-week run.

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