Martha Expected Redemption

Scapes, Stills and Martha

A vase of lavender floats mysteriously over an open suitcase. A anxious bride arrives in unfamiliar rural surroundings. A birdbath stands abandoned in a wintry garden. These are some of the intriguing subjects in Scapes, Stills and Martha, a joint art exhibit at the white gallery, adjoining Sunworks in downtown Red Deer.

A vase of lavender floats mysteriously over an open suitcase. A anxious bride arrives in unfamiliar rural surroundings. A birdbath stands abandoned in a wintry garden.

These are some of the intriguing subjects in Scapes, Stills and Martha, a joint art exhibit at the white gallery, adjoining Sunworks in downtown Red Deer.

The seasonal scenery by David More, surreal still lifes by Doug Williamson and Prairie portraits by Vivian Bennett are painted in distinct and disparate styles.

Yet the three artists’ works were brought together by the gallery’s curator Brenda Hucal because they represent different aspects of our lives, said Sunworks manager Ann Langille.

“They’re about who we are, where we live, and… what we love.”

The ‘who’ is apparent in the colourful abstract-expressionist portraits by Vivian Bennett.

The Central Alberta artist depicted people from vintage photographs, or photos she took herself of friends in period dress. Each painting in Bennett’s “Martha” series tells a story of a woman who came to live in the Prairies.

In Martha’s First Day of Marriage Wasn’t So Hot, a lady in a bright green hat and too-small suit jacket stands uncomfortably in a farmyard. Like many city-raised women, this Martha didn’t know what she was in for when she agreed to move to the country, said Bennett.

“There’s this sense of ‘holy crap. Where am I… and how am I going to milk a cow?’”

The harsh loneliness of 1940s-era Prairie life one of her ongoing themes. But many of the transplanted women portrayed by Bennett eventually found beauty in their Prairie environment — as did the painter, herself.

Bennett is an Edmonton-born former store-display artist, who now lives near Buffalo Lake.

In her Well, Thought Martha, Here We Are Back at the Farm Again painting, a seated wife with her hands in a mixing bowl seems almost content.

The ‘where we live’ aspect of the exhibit comes from More’s impressionistic paintings of his backyard garden in Benalto.

The retired Red Deer College visual arts instructor has been painting his wife Yvette’s garden, Benhaven, for years, watching it become “a piece of art, itself.”

More, who had a solo show at the white gallery last year, said he likes how the flowers, trees and shrubbery take on various appearances at different times of year. “I try to capture the moment,” he added — even if it means standing on a ladder to gain a different perspective, or sitting on the grass to get a lower vantage point.

His dynamic brushstrokes in Winter’s Rhythms, Benhaven convey a blustery snowstorm, but More also sees a “nestling beauty” in the winter garden’s sheltering bushes.

Winter Bath, depicts a similar dichotomy with a summery birdbath in a wintry environment.

These paintings are contrasted with verdant and idyllic summer gardens in The Blue Table and Shadow Bridge.

Flower-themed still lifes, painted in old-world, hyper-realistic style by Williamson, contain the “what we love” aspect of the show.

But it’s not a simple love affair with this subject matter, since there’s often an uneasy complexity to the symbolic elements in Williamson’s paintings — especially in his largest surreal work, Essence of Lavender, which shows a floating vase over an open, satin-lined suitcase.

The real suitcase that inspired the painting is owned by Alberta artist Rita McKeough. And since one of McKeough’s latest artworks involves a pasture and cows, Williamson paid homage to her by including these in the background of this work. He also depicted lavender in a central suspended vase because there were actual sprigs of lavender in the suitcase.

“I think her father had put it in there,” said the Red Deer-raised artist.

Williamson, who studied at Red Deer College and the University of Calgary, invites viewers to take away whatever meanings they find in his paintings — including Loose Thread and Magnesia, which focus on small blooms in repurposed bottle vases. There’s a Victorian look to their dark backgrounds that semi-hide fallen leaves.

The Calgary-based artist, whose detailed works were featured at the white gallery last spring, is happy to be paired with More and Bennett in this show.

He feels the downtown gallery is helping “bring a higher level of arts and culture to the city.”

Scapes, Stills and Martha continues to Jan. 3.

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