BANFF – The show must go on.
For the better part of a year, the people who work in the visual arts have had to adapt to a new reality just like everyone else, but one fact remains, sculptors still sculpt, painters continue to paint, and photographers are out there capturing images.
By providing access through virtual openings, as well as online exhibitions and book talks, the Whyte Museum continues to be an outlet for artists and a destination for the public, even as normal in-person gatherings remain restricted.
“We have shifted our thinking and actions from in-house viewings to digital based ones,” said chief curator of art and heritage at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies Anne Ewen in an email. “We are invigorated with new ideas on how we can best share stories and our collections with the community during this time.
“We miss in-person engagements with our members, our many international and national visitors and members of the Bow Valley community,” Ewen added.
“We miss the person-to-person conversations that are so engaging and encouraging. However, we have experienced a good response to the digital content we have been creating so far.”
As part of Exposure, Alberta’s Photography Festival, the Whyte is featuring Julya Hajnoczky and her stunning images of ecosystems re-contextualized, the plants, feathers, bones and fungi representing “Some last remaining pieces of a fragmented world, floating in the void,” Hajnoczky said in her artist statement.
Snapshots, an examination of photographic artistry and the equipment used by notable historic photographers, including Bryon Harmon, the Vaux family, Tom Willock and George Webber, among others, is also part of the festival.
Banff-based painter Michael Corner is also currently featured at the Whyte Museum. Corner has lived in the valley for 22 years, is self-taught and only began painting eight years ago.
The question of what led him to the brush and canvas in the first place reveals the inexplicable compulsion many artists feel toward the work that they do.
“This is the crux of why I paint. If I could figure out the answer to the question of why, I think I’d have a much easier time at it,” Corner said with a laugh. “I sometimes think there is something wrong with the way we see things, and painting forces you to look at the world in a new light.
“What became fascinating about painting and the reason I started to pursue it more seriously is that it really made me pay attention to things that perhaps I’d started to overlook. It became a vehicle towards a certain type of exploration of the world around me.”
At this point in his career, Corner is experimenting with styles, subjects and even the medium on which the work is presented, in order to examine more fully the relationship between the observer and the work of art itself.
“Different ideas necessitate different materials and a different approach," he said. "The way I’m trying to make sense of things forces me to radically alter the approach I would habitually take to it. If I’m trying to paint a sense of movement part of what I’m trying to do is work quickly to mimic that movement, so everything has to become more fluid.”
Working with new techniques and pushing the boundaries of what is possible is part of every artist’s development, and it is important to follow when the inspiration leads.
“It’s so difficult to speak about the production of artwork because so much of it is intuitive,” Corner said. “I simply respond to the demands of the subject matter. Whatever it is I’m trying to portray, kind of forces my hand.
"Whether I’m working in oil paint or pen and ink or pastel, there’s a curiosity in using the material, but it’s also driven by necessity of the form I’m trying to depict. The two kind of fit hand in glove.”
As artists of all disciplines continue to do their work, the museum continues find ways to serve the community in an uncertain environment.
“We have many talented and resourceful people on staff here at the Whyte Museum,” Ewen said, “who continue to learn, adjust and discover new ways of adapting as the COVID barometer shifts. Some of those changes include curb-side pick up for online orders in the shop as well as video production and editing.”
And there is hope going forward that mitigation measures will succeed and vaccinations administered over the coming months will help return life to normal.
“We are currently developing contingency plans based on the current and future state of the pandemic,” Ewen said. “Of course, we hope to be open during the spring and summer months, but we will be prepared either way. We are planning a big summer exhibition that will open in June and we hope it will be an in-person event. A good party is long overdue.”
Visit whyte.org for more information on exhibitions and events at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.