Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Artists of Alberta (1980)

    Suzanne Devonshire Baker. Artists of Alberta (1980) A survey of 95 artists, published with the help of the Canada Council, and with a somewhat misleading title. Most of the people represented here are instructors, full or part-time, at university art departments or colleges of art, and a large proportion are “of Alberta” only in the sense that they now live and work there. It’s a puff-piece. U of A press produced it, it was well printed in Winnipeg, a stamp on the fly-leaf states “With the compliments of the Canada Council”, it was a freebie for somebody. Not me, I found it at the local food-bank’s permanent yard sale, paid a toonie for it, worth more than that, I think.
     The biographical and artistic details appear in a standardised format, and as far as I can tell the works represent each artist’s style and subjects. They’re all technically well done and interesting, but only a few engage me. I recognised a few names, Thelma Manarey and Norman Yates for example. Abstraction of one kind or another and conceptualism dominate; it’s a very 70s/80s collection. As a record of what was being done in Alberta back then, it’s useful. But like many such surveys, it’s more a snapshot of the market than of art. Many of the pieces could have been done by anyone. There’s not much sense of personal vision or passion here. The pieces are pleasant to look at, most would function well as private or public decor. A few decades from now, someone may be able to trace a nascent Prairie School.
     Still, the book is a keeper, and worth a second and even third look. **½

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