February 19th, 2020

Eye on the Esplanade: TREX launches group exhibition of women by women

By Xanthe Isbister on September 6, 2019.

Collection of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts
Marion Nicoll, The Model, 1958, watercolour on paper

This September the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Travelling Exhibition Program (TREX) begins its 34th season with 16 exhibitions touring communities throughout southeastern Alberta. The exhibitions feature artworks created by Alberta artists and are displayed in schools, public libraries, and community venues such as Kianai High School in Standoff, the Duchess and District Library and the Cypress Hills Visitor Centre. This year the program will mount a total of 95 exhibitions throughout the region, featuring 101 Alberta artists. Fifteen of those artists are featured in Women X Women, an exhibition of works from the province’s permanent art collection.

Women X Women features portraits of women by female artists that span several decades – from 1947 to 2015. The motivation behind the female focus came from a 2017 Canadian Art magazine article on gender diversity within Canadian galleries and museums. Consider the following statistics: women constitute 63% of living artists in Canada, but in 2012, only 36% of exhibitions were solo female, compared to 64% solo male. This exhibition not only highlights the conceptual strength and facility each of the artists’ posses – it also celebrates the vast scope of femininity and the female psyche through the eyes of women.

In her book Women, Art, and Society, Whitney Chadwick states, “During the 1970s feminism expressed itself in a generally celebratory attitude towards the female body and female experience, and an embrace of personal and collaborative approaches to artmaking. Some artists and critics explored the notion of a ‘female imagery’ as a positive way of representing the female body, reclaiming it from its passive object of male desire.”1 Artist Marion Nicoll was a pioneer in this approach, and has done just that in her piece The Model, from 1958. Born in Calgary, Marion Nicoll was a prolific artist whose career extends over decades. She was an educator at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (now the Alberta University of the Arts) for more than 30 years. Her work evolved from landscape painting to a distinct genre of abstraction. This small yet assertive watercolour painting emanates a bold femininity. A balance of light painterly brushstrokes, blocks of dark colour and red highlights creates a piece on point with postmodern abstraction.

Watercolour paintings, etchings, charcoal and pencil drawings, inject prints, sewn plastic, photography, mixed-fibre yarn, and oil on canvas are the various mediums used to create the works featured in this exhibition. The 18 works span 70 years of Canadian art making, highlighting some of the most influential female artists in Canada. The artists include Helen Mackie, Marion Nicoll, Bev Pike, Ruth Syme, Dana Shukster, Jill Thomson, Maureen Harvey, Megan Dickie, Allyson Glenn, Carolyn Campbell, Dana Holst, Petra Malá Miller, Megan Morman, Tammy Salzl and Allison Tunis.

To learn more about the TREX program visit us at TREX Space in downtown Medicine Hat or http://www.trexprogramsoutheast.ca

Xanthe Isbister is program manager/curator, AFA Travelling Exhibitions.

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