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Banff artist’s exhibit restores 'dignity' to animals

“Animals, they have an otherworldly intelligence — You look at them and you realize there’s more to the world than just you.”

BANFF — Banff-based artist Michael Corner is searching for a question he is still trying to formulate.

Corner’s current exhibit Animals is at the Edge Gallery in Canmore features a selection of moody oil paintings celebrating the grandeur of animals through a series of portraits that continues his search for answers.

“In a sense, it’s just an excuse to paint different textures,” he said, explaining each painting is an examination of how the world can be interpreted.

“Why we choose to paint anything is kind of an odd process to begin with,” he added. “With those animals, sometimes it just feels like they belong with the object that’s next to them.”

The goal of the series was to restore dignity to animals while creating the rich textures of fur, feathers and teeth on canvas.

The gallery show features around 18 animals depicted in a style that blends the contemporary and classical aspects of painting. The animals range from birds and squirrels to cats and dogs placed with innocuous objects.

“Animals, they have an otherworldly intelligence. You look at them and you realize there’s more to the world than just you.”

Corner said he wanted to do them justice and create a regal setting that celebrates the animal’s unique spirits.

The Animals series investigates the complexity of these creatures, he said, explaining that he thinks people do not necessarily understand them, or give credit to them for what they are.

“In painting them you’re trying to capture their noble dignity,” Corner said. 

The series doubles as an exploration of space, Corner added, because the animals sit in neutral backgrounds that can have an incredible depth, or rich shallow perspective.

“I just sort of build them out of the space – it’s more like a sculptural process, I try to paint behind them.”

Corner uses oil paint because it takes a long time to dry, he said, allowing him to pick away at a painting until his vision is almost realized.

“There’s just something very rich about oil paint,” Corner said. “It's like painting with butter.”

He hopes those who visit the exhibit come in with no preconceptions, and are open to exploring how they look at the world around them, while acknowledging the unique place of animals.

Corner dived into the world of painting because he began to question how the world appears to people, and the effect one's expectations have on interpretations of what they see.

Painting and drawing became a means to explore these questions, and six years on Corner said he his continuing to dig and explore these questions and their potential answers.

“I think if I did this for another 50 years I might be able to formulate the question I’m trying to ask – I think I’m still distant from [the question],” Corner said. “It’s a really big question.”

When one picks up a pencil or paintbrush to create what they see, he said, one is immediately struck by the complexity of an image be it a tree, ground squirrel or person.

“Painting is impossible – there’s never a moment that it isn’t a half-formed question that I’m trying to finish answering,” he said. “Through that process, you end up somewhere, but it isn’t necessarily where you wanted to start.”

Corner originally hails from Regina, Sask. and moved to the Bow Valley for the snowboarding and mountains.

“I was immersed in that pretty full time for about 15 years,” Corner said. “One day I suddenly found myself asking a different set of questions and that was that.”

He picked up a paintbrush to begin creating because, “he couldn’t figure out why it was so impossible.”

“You can’t make sense of what you're trying to make sense of,” Corner said. “You should just be able to draw an apple that shouldn’t be a problem. Yet, somehow when you sit down to do it you realize that the questions you're asking about it aren’t the right questions – that becomes very hypnotizing.”

His art shows the exploration of these questions, and his style has evolved as he has searched for answers and the image becomes clearer, Corner said.

Corner is currently moving away from animal painting and has begun a people painting project. He is currently conceptualizing what he wants to get out of the project, but expects it will continue to explore relations of space.

Corners Animals exhibit will be featured at the Edge Gallery in Canmore at 612 Spring Creek Drive until Nov. 30.


Chelsea Kemp

About the Author: Chelsea Kemp

Chelsea Kemp joined the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019 as a reporter and photojournalist. She writes provincial politics, health care, arts and entertainment and Indigenous stories. She also contributes photo stand-ups, multi-pics and essays.
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