Art Symposium 2012

Painting the Big Picture

by Eileen Coristine

The ninth annual Art of the Peace Symposium kicked off March 2 with the opening of the Art of the Peace Travelling Exhibition in the Centre for Creative Arts Gallery in Grande Prairie. Over the next two days, participants were inspired, encouraged and instructed by painter Carl White, carver Grant Berg and ceramicist KJ MacAlister.

Carl White decided early on that the legitimacy of art as a career called him to live that life fully. Not wanting to be a part-time artist he committed to a path he calls “I will choke until I swallow”. Not only does this path have him working as an artist fulltime, he also gives every aspect of his life the same focus and energy; all of it is art.

As well as creating masterful works, mainly through painting very large canvasses in oil, White spends as much time altering, obscuring and scratching poems onto them. Often he completes a piece by pouring or splashing paint onto a canvas that is five or six paintings deep.

Grant Berg, KJ MacAlister and Carl White

“I love it (art) but laugh at the folly of it too,” he said. “I am classically irreverent, I love it but I’m not attached to it.” Much more significant to White than his paintings themselves is the experience of making them. “A painting is the snakeskin that is left behind from the process of growth,” he says. And to him the point of doing art is to experiment and to challenge himself towards growth.

Grant Berg loves art and makes sure it is present in his life every single day. The Sexsmith stone-carver appreciates, creates and gives to the art community through his works and through his good works as chairman of the Prairie Art Gallery Board of Directors, board member of the Centre for Creative Arts and member of the Premier’s Council on Arts and Culture.

Berg’s love of art began as a teenager when a serious illness resulted in his staying in a hospital for an extended period. “The artworks in the hospital were a mental escape from the pain I was in,” he says “and those works still influence my carvings today.”

His admiration for artists Emily Carr and Lauren Harris is especially evident in Berg’s carved trees.

“The moment I started working with stone magic happened. Seeing inside the stone and seeing inside me,” says Berg. Inside of him are all the stories from his Cree and European family histories and memories of the good and bad experiences in his life. “I knew carving was going to be an adventure and I have documented my journey.”

“I live art fully,” says Berg. His early illness gave him a deep appreciation for life and he fills his days with skill and dedication, determined not to waste one minute of precious time.

“What I’d like to say to artists,” says Berg, “is draw from your own background, embrace your influences and turn the negatives in your life into positives in your art.”

KJ MacAlister has travelled to Japan where the people “immerse themselves in beauty every day” and claims that making that trip changed the way her brain works. Since her return she has had a new way of looking at her surroundings and her pottery.

KJ feels that texture gives each piece a life of its own. The texture comes from a variety of sources including the clay, the type of glaze and firing and the many found objects that she uses to enhance the surface. “Each bowl is its own journey, even physically,” she says. On their journey, her favorite pots have gone through wood-firing. That process of extreme heat and extreme unpredictability ensures that you “will never have the same pot come out of two different firings.”

The love of wood-firing inspired MacAlister to build a small kiln at Pipestone Creek, where she was raised. Her rural upbringing has been a strong influence in her work, both in form and in texture. “Spending my childhood with trees around me, why wouldn’t I make pots that look like bark when I grew up?” she asks. “I can be so immersed in the tactility of what I’m doing that it is almost a meditation.”

At present, MacAlister is employed offering technical support and instruction at Clayworks Studio-Link in Edmonton. Spending her days with clay and inspiring the people around her, she’s often captured by the natural things in our lives that can be used to make art.

Closing her presentation with questions MacAlister asked, “Would your experience change if drinking from a cup had a tactile experience with it? Would it be enhanced? Keep your eyes open for the texture in your world.”


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