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Red Deer artist connects people with nature in new Symbiosis exhibit

Erin Boake explores our earthy aspects at the white gallery

Red Deer artist Erin Boake has lived near Arctic tundra, Prairie farmland and Nova Scotia’s rocky shores.

In moving across this vast country, from Vancouver to Nunavut, she’s become aware of the connection that exists between humans and our diverse environment. This link is the basis of her exhibit Symbiosis, at the white gallery, connected to Sunworks in Red Deer.

Boake has created 16 delicately rendered portraits, using graphite and coloured pencil on birch panel, and copper-etched prints.

Most of her detailed works depict people becoming at-one with nature — whether their beards are attracting butterflies, or their hair giving new meaning to ‘beehive hairdo.’

Boake, who teaches art for City of Red Deer community programs and has instructed at Nunavut Arctic College, has been working on this series for the last couple years — no easy feat, considering she now has an almost two-year-old daughter.

“Motherhood was an eye-opening experience,” said the artist who made a lot of process drawing during nap-times. The more earthy aspects of being a parent got Boake thinking of how humans are not as disconnected from natural functions as some of us like to think.

Her self-portrait, From the Ground Up, shows Boake wearing moss and pine cones from the forest floor, suggesting motherhood is “raising something from the ground up,” she said.

Local artist Robin Lambert is shown in Rooted with his facial hair morphing into twig-like stalks. Boake’s niece sports blooms in A Rose By Any Other Name, which was inspired by her line of study: “She’s an English major, getting her master’s in comparative literature,” said Boake.

Dawn Detarando, a fellow artist whose work was sparked by an interest in bees, is shown with the honey-producers crawling through her hair in Hive, while a garden sprouts from her musician friend Jessica Heine’s head in Good Omen.

Boake said the latter drawing will be used on the cover of the Edmonton singer/songwriter’s new album, Good-bye Party. Since Heine’s album covers a gamut of emotions, Boake decided to portray her friend with a multitude of flowers, which have different meanings according to Victorian folklore.

The artist, who allows the natural grain of birch panels to show through her portraits, hopes viewers will contemplate their connections to nature as they examine her work.

Boake studied art at Notre Dame High School. She graduated from the Alberta College of Art and Design and Red Deer College, and has exhibited at Red Deer’s Viewpoint and Harris-Warke Galleries and in the Blue Rock Gallery in Black Diamond.

Symbiosis continues to April 29.