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'The Big Show' marks gallery's return

Massive works largest ever displayed, says director

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DETAILS

ILL Winds

Paintings by Keith Harder

Virtual exhibition tour will take place on Tuesday, June 22 at 12 p.m. Register by visiting eventbrite.ca/e/virtual-tour-ill-winds-tickets-156779823673

Online exhibition available for viewing by visiting artgalleryofstalbert.ca/exhibitions-events/exhibitions/ill-winds-2

On display until July 30

19 Perron St. Call 780-460-4310 or visit artgalleryofstalbert.ca for more information.

The big wait is over and the Art Gallery of St. Albert has finally reopened as part of the province's Stage 2 summer reopening plan. The big moment is being coupled with a new exhibit that could easily be called The Big Show, which is no overstatement. 

Keith Harder's ILL Winds was postponed from its original slot on last year's calendar; it was the first exhibit to be closed before it opened in 2020. The Art Gallery of St. Albert's interim director proudly announces that it features the largest works ever displayed.

Now that these massive pieces are up on the walls, Leah Louden couldn't be more thrilled to turn on the "Open" sign and let the masses through the door, and see their jaws subsequently hit the floor.

"It's been a very long time, so we're completely thrilled to be fully reopened and to allow visitors to see our exhibitions, start up our programs, and get back to normal," she said.

"Truly, these pieces need to be seen in person to understand the full scale, the breadth and depth of the colour and painting technique. I'm absolutely thrilled that people are going to be able to see these in person."

ILL Winds is huge, though it consists of only five paintings, the smallest of which is 91 centimetres by 91 centimetres. The others are whopped, the largest of which is nearly two metres by 3.3 metres. To stand in front of these is to be dwarfed by art and by the artist's vision.

Harder required suitable studio space with extra high ceilings. When he was forced to move to a new studio while he was in the middle of one work, he had to resort to finish the painting on its side. He then had to deliver the canvases rolled up before reframing them inside the actual gallery space since there was no other way they could fit into the building.

The paintings depict thunderstorm scenes frozen in time. Many viewers will relate to the wonder and awe of watching giant and ominous storm clouds roll over Big Sky country in Alberta. Harder's heavily involved process adds extra awe to the end product. He spent full-time hours over four months to paint each work, according to curator Emily Baker, with intricate layers of design and colour to heighten the light coming through the dark in much the same way that J.M.W. Turner did in the mid-1800s. 

Baker viewed a time-lapse video Harder made to demonstrate the intricacies of his creation process. The immensely-detailed grayscale underpainting was followed with solid colour glazes: red then green then blue. 

"In a way, that's a very old technique of using glazes overtop of a grayscale painting. European painters have been using it for centuries, but using a new technique and the colour combinations. If you're thinking red, green, blue, you're thinking computer pixels, TV screens ... all those ways of combining a very simple colour to get our eyes and our brain to see all the colours of the rainbow," she said. 

The effort demonstrates the "sublime of seeing something in nature that is so powerful and so stunning that it stops you in your tracks like you can't see or feel anything other than what's in front of you," she continued.

"It's a distinction he makes between what a picture does and what a painting can do."

Like Louden first said, you have to see it in person to get the full effect. Making these works so big and putting the horizon lines so low means that you are meant to feel small against the power of nature. Baker ended by commenting on the "beautiful symmetry" of this being the first show for the gallery's reopening.

"There's no way you can get a sense of them. We can film them and photograph them with as many ratios and other people there to give you a sense of what they're like. You cannot make something like this virtual. It's just not the same." 


Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.
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