Meaningful art in Painting the Town Red

Their art challenge was: Choose subject matter that’s meaningful to them and incorporates the colour red. Painting the Town Red, an exhibit at the Harris-Warke Gallery, shows how many different creative paths seven Red Deer artists can go down when following the same instructions.

Their art challenge was: Choose subject matter that’s meaningful to them and incorporates the colour red.

Painting the Town Red, an exhibit at the Harris-Warke Gallery, shows how many different creative paths seven Red Deer artists can go down when following the same instructions.

Sue Barker, Lynn Carter, Carol Lynn Gilchrist, Jeri Lynn Ing, Rita Rake, Sharon Van Essen and Sheila Wright show a range of perspectives and styles — from bold abstracts to painstaking pen-and-ink drawings.

The latter were created by Wright, who portrayed intricate playground structures in delicate pointillism. All five of her black-and-white drawings are set off by a dash of red watercolour — sometimes filling in part of a slide or the roof of a climbing apparatus.

The pops of red suggest the strong emotion simmering beneath the surface of these works. Wright said she started drawing playgrounds soon after her adult son told her she didn’t have to pick up her grandchildren after school anymore.

“They were old enough to go home by themselves,” said the retired school librarian, who admitted this bittersweet news led her back to the places she used to take her grandchildren to play.

Red figures less prominently in paintings by Lynn Carter, who like Wright and most other artists in the exhibit, has taken various workshops and courses over the years, but doesn’t hold a formal art degree.

Carter’s glossy, abstract work, Red Deer River, resembles a long, vertical ceramic work more than a painting. It’s a rusty sienna colour, with white-ish waves of luminescent paint applied over a texture made of sand. “When you look down at the river, you see brownish and reddish spots, you don’t see blue or green,” said the former layout designer for recreational vehicles.

Her impressionistic skyline painting, City View, was inspired by a photograph of Red Deer taken by Carter’s recently deceased artist friend, Norm Jacobs. “It’s a tribute to him,” said Carter, who took up art a few years ago, after both her parents and her sister passed away within a short period.

“It was really a lifeline for me…”

Rita Rake, a retired legal secretary who spends half the year in Arizona, said she can’t remember a time when she didn’t make art. She painted Red Deer’s cenotaph in mournful violets and greens after she became depressed by extremist violence and the “political correctness” that makes some of us forget the hard-won freedoms our country fought two world wars to preserve.

Her pastel work My Puppy was created as a counterbalance to her grim, cenotaph-themed United We Stand. The Marc Chagall-like work of two children holding a dog has a soft texture and a background that glows in warm reds.

Sharon Van Essen, a realist/impressionist painter, based her Garden Party on a scene she witnessed at the mayor’s garden party three years ago. A trio of little girls were playing together. “I thought it was unique because all three were of different cultures,” she said — aboriginal, Asian and Caucasian. “They were all dressed up and it was just fun to watch them play.”

The retired auction manager also captured the peaceful beauty of Red Deer’s park system in Nesting and Welcome Back.

The Painting the Town Red show includes watercolours of Gilchrist’s grandchildren, large abstract works based on nature by Ing, and small watercolours by Barker of personal items that carry a feel-good vibe.

The exhibit upstairs at Sunworks continues to July 30. A First Friday reception, with the artists in attendance, will be held July 8 from 6 to 8 p.m.

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