Arts & CultureCampus & City

Exhibit Review: ‘Creating Beauty – A Watercolour Exhibition’ at the AGA

Gentle colours and awe-inspiring landscapes bring fleeting moments of joy and tranquility to life in this exhibition at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

How do you define beauty? In Creating Beauty, curated by Amy Loewan, each artist strives to answer this question in their own way.

Unique subjects and themes overlap to capture not only the essence of visual appeal, but also candid emotions and universal connections between elements of the natural world and those who call it home. Even in the absence of motion, subjects are dynamic and alive — primordial landscapes remain in a state of perpetual flux, and mysterious figures seem ready to share timeless tales.

Although levels of realism vary greatly among the artists, the use of watercolour in all the paintings creates a soft and humble overall aesthetic. The colours are bright, yet not unnecessarily vivid. Viewers experience a sense of highly relatable evolution.

the earth above
Natalia Gala Cheryl Moskaluk’s The Earth Above.

The featured artists are alumni’s of the University of Alberta’s visual arts program in the faculty of extension. They were inspired by Irish poet John O’Donohue’s book, Beauty, the Invisible Embrace,” which pinpoints the deeply transient nature of the beautiful. O’Donohue’s influence is evident throughout the exhibit. 

Artist Cheryl Moskaluk’s The Earth Above shows impressive technical ability. The painting depicts a solitary figure at the bottom of a narrow, rocky ravine. Slight differences in shades and fade-outs of brushstrokes create dimension and depth. Watercolour can be unforgiving, but Moskaluk has clearly learned to tame her medium of choice — she maintains a sense of cleanliness with balanced contrasts. The texture seems real enough to touch.

Compared to the size of the massive, swirling rocks, the lone figure is incredibly small. This emphasizes the strength and dominance of the rock. Moreover, the figure is off-centre and clearly looking upwards, which immediately gives it more personality. 

Natalia Gala From left to right: Ingrid Pederson’s Botanical Bay and Sunrise Over Kamloops Lake.

The passage of time and memory is masterfully implied, while the angle of the tilted rocks is such that it seems ready to swallow the figure whole. The Earth Above reminded me that we are a part of the wilderness, and not the other way around.

Natalia Gala Linda Vaudan’s Arunachala 1.

Ingrid Pederson’s Botanical Bay and Sunrise Over Kamloops Lake showcase watery landscapes. Botanical Bay captures a wave splashing on rock, frozen in time. The misty effect of sea spray proves that watercolour can be versatile, and adds a concrete quality to the air.

Meanwhile, I interpreted a sense of transformation in Sunrise Over Kamloops Lake. The cool snow in the foreground suggests changing seasons, while the warm sunrise in the background hints at the transition between day and night. Ironically, there is stability to be found in this transition. Pederson embraces the flow of the natural world, and creates beauty in doing so.

Natalia Gala Brenda Heine’s Lunch at Lake Minnewanka.

Similarly, Brenda Heine and Linda Vaudan also chose to capture the classic beauty of mountains. Vaudan’s Arunachala 1 depicts the Arunachala hill, located in India, in streaks of varying shades of solid red and orange. Unlike Pederson, Vaudan focuses more on silhouettes and contrasts than on details or dynamism.

Heine’s Lunch at Lake Minnewanka offers a free, lively view of people sitting on the lakeshore, surrounded by mountains. The people are turned with their backs to the viewer, making for a laid-back, friendly mood.

Everything in this painting feels natural and unforced. Looking at the people, I could almost hear them chatting about their summer vacation.

Natalia Gala Lucy Rachynski’s Cheerful Abundance.

Lucy Rachynski’s Cheerful Abundance focuses more on human-made wonders. Sweets overflow from a glass mug, while soft shadows are cast on the dark green background. The texture of the transparent plastic and glass show tremendous attention to detail, and the shadows are naturally diffusive.

Several other artists are also featured. Majestic landscapes coexist with tiny, colourful sweets — a reminder that beauty is defined more so by emotion and memory than by surface appearance.

Ultimately, Creating Beauty does exactly what its name suggests. It awakens a sense of awareness for beauty in the ordinary and the ever-changing, as well as for the seemingly abandoned and the tantalizingly unknown. 

The exhibit is displayed at the Art Gallery of Alberta until June 2.

Natalia Gala

Natalia is a first-year student majoring in conservation biology. Her favourite pastime is exploring other planets by writing dystopian science fiction. When not inventing alien civilizations, she’s learning languages or running.

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