By Lana Michelin
Artworks by European masters hang next to original prints by acclaimed Canadian artists Alex Colville and Norval Morrisseau in a small gallery in downtown Red Deer.
The unlikely treasure trove can be found in Red Deer College’s Welikoklad Event Centre.
Anyone wandering through the space when it’s open to the public – such as during Alberta Culture Days on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 – will be able to view a small portion of the college’s massive permanent art collection.
French artist James Jacques Tissot’s 1881 original print of a Victorian lady reclining in a wicker chair is displayed beside Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s 1761 etching of a fantastical dungeon.
A few feet away is Colville’s silk-screen print of a milk cow, while across the room is famed Inuit artist Morrisseau’s graphic print Black Bear Day Dreaming of Fish.
Robin Lambert, curator of RDC’s permanent and student art collections, said very few educational facilities have the kind of art collection Red Deer College has managed to accrue since 1976. With more than 1,000 pieces, it’s the largest college collection in Western Canada — larger even than that of the Alberta College of Art and Design, added Lambert.
Some of the drawings, paintings, prints and sculptures were purchased in years past, when the college had a budget for such things. But most were donated to RDC by artists, corporations or individuals in the belief that art students should have access to original works as part of their education, said Lambert.
The current exhibit will be shown intermittently over the next year at the WEC (coming down temporarily for student and faculty shows in November, February and April), and is made up of favourites selected by visual art instructors.
These include pieces by contemporary aboriginal art pioneer Alex Janvier of Cold Lake, and Kenneth Lochhead, an abstract expressionist who was one of the Regina Five.
The works are visually diverse. Cladio Ravo’s Fur Coat Back and Fur Coat Front, with textural detail, contrasts with Calgary artist Ron Kostyniuk’s bold, 3-D cubist wall hanging. The latter piece isn’t shown that often, said Lambert, who relishes the chance to bring some of these works out of the vaults.
Two of Lambert’s favourites are Vancouver artist Bruce Pashak’s delicate Woman with White Stockings and Colville’s Milk Cow.
The art instructor often shows Pashak’s distorted figure drawing to students “because of the exaggeration in line quality — from incredibly delicate to big dark lines,” said Lambert. “As well as the picture telling a story, the process also tells a story — which I like.”
Colville’s cow looks out at the viewer, while a farmer stands over it with his arms on the bovine’s back. “There’s an accusatory expression in the cow’s face,” said Lambert, “that captures me.” While the farmer appears to be petting the animal, he also clearly owns her — which allows the small round print to make a big statement.
“On a technical level, I like the cross-hatching techniques, the line quality and the soft palette,” Lambert added.
Although RDC’s permanent collection is mainly for the benefit of students, Lambert said the college is also part of the community and welcomes public viewings of this collection — as well as its growing collection of 100 student works.
Original art will also be exhibited in display cases in the Four Centres Building for Alberta Culture Days and throughout the year. This building is open most days and evenings, while the WEC is only open for classes and special events, such as when plays and films are shown.