Hidden talent uncovered as Southwest Open begins

Staff ~ The Southwest Booster
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A lot of hard work and determination has paid off for the 23 local artists featured in the 2014 Southwest Open at the West Wing Gallery.

The exhibit, which officially opened August 9th with a walk and talk by local curator Kim Houghtaling, features an incredibly diverse array of paintings, drawings, sculpture, woodwork and photography.

It’s a reminder of just how many hidden talents are in Southwest Saskatchewan.

“It feels like the visual artist community of the region is really coming of age,” Houghtaling said after leading the tour.  “Their worldliness is showing.”

There really is something for every virtual art lover this year.  From interactive pieces, like soft sculpture, to surreal and impressionist works, to pop art, to more traditional landscape paintings, the variety is endless.

“All of the concepts and challenges and things that make artists interested and compelled to do what they do are present here,” Houghtaling explained.  “From just a desire to paint expressively and make something quite beautiful, to the celebration of joy and humour and fun, and also this self-exploration where they’re looking internally and thinking about their emotional state… it’s all present here.  I think it’s diverse not only in appearance, but in substance.”

The open has existed in one form or another for more than four decades.  During that stretch it’s evolved from a competition to a stepping-stone for local artists who are looking to showcase their work publicly, many for the first time.

Their backgrounds are as diverse as their art.  Some are art students just recently enrolled in university.  Some are self-trained artists looking for feedback, and some are skilled amateurs looking to pursue art as a career rather than a hobby.

Regardless of their background, however, the open offers them all the same thing: a chance to get their works out into the art world.

“They need the opportunity to show and have other people see the (pieces), and have folks like me and other associates and artists from the area comment on their work,” Houghtaling said.  “They learn from that, and to see their artwork on the wall in a real gallery setting is very good for them.”

For some artists this exhibit will lead to others, in venues like the Lyric Theatre, and then on to curated projects, feature exhibits, and possibly the chance to turn their artistry from a hobby into a part-time or full-time job.

However, even if it doesn’t lead to something more, the experience is still valuable.

“The opening of the exhibition is really a social event,” explained Kyle resident Milan Gerza, whose woodwork sculptures are one of the many pieces on display.  “I can talk with people and socialize a little bit with (artists) of similar interest.”

Even though visual artists aren’t usually the most talkative people, those who were present for Thursday’s tour were given the chance to speak about their work.  Each artist described the thought process and experiences behind their art, providing some interesting insights into the creative process.

For Gerza, that process is time consuming.  His collection of woodwork masks, designed as physical representations of specific human emotions, took one year to create, and he actually expected the process to take three times as long.

“I actually started with aboriginal masks and aboriginal art,” he explained.  “I was not satisfied because it was actually more or less modification, copying something.  I wanted to do something of my own design, so I started to do some faces and masks of my own.”

As for the work of his fellow exhibitors, Gerza said he was impressed by the diversity.  He singled out two pieces for their surrealist and impressionistic qualities respectively, and he’s not alone in his appreciation either.  Across the West Wing many of the feature artists were huddled in groups, discussing, examining and admiring the quality on display.

It’s a sight that’s likely to become more and more common as visual artists flock to the smaller rural communities in the southwest, drawn by the remoteness and isolation of the rural areas.  That atmosphere is ideal for the arts, and Houghtaling said Swift Current stands to reap the benefits.

“I think (the artists) know that what they’ve got here is a good thing,” he said.  “It’s an easy place to be an artist…  if you can afford to make work and you have a place to do it, then that’s going to lead to great things.”

The Southwest Open runs until Sept. 28th at the West Wing Gallery in Kinetic Park.  There will be a walk and talk with adjudicator Bruce Anderson on Sept. 13th.

Organizations: Lyric Theatre, West Wing Gallery

Geographic location: Southwest Open, Southwest Saskatchewan, Swift Current Kinetic Park

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