Red Deer artist Erin Boake loves to take her children camping and to explore Alberta’s natural beauty.
But she can’t help wondering how many of the pristine mountains, forests and streams will be left when her two girls have children of their own.
Kids are already surrounded by the degradation of our natural world, said Boake. “How will the places they love to explore as children look when they are grown, as a result of the increasing effects of climate change and human interference? What will this do to their well-being?”
A couple of years ago, word got out that the Alberta government planned multiple coal projects in the Rocky Mountains, including near Nordegg.
In reaction, the mother of a five-year-old and a seven-year-old started a new series of paintings exploring her ecological concerns, titled Children of the Apocalypse.
Last March, Alberta’s UCP government did an about-face. Responding to public outcry, the government walked back its decision to open much of the Eastern Slopes to coal mining. Some restrictions were reinstated. Boake was pleased. She reasoned, “You can grow back a forest, but you can’t grow back a mountain…”
But throughout this unusually warm autumn, as new homes are built on former farm fields and wooded groves, the artist continues to have uneasy thoughts about what the future will mean for central Alberta’s natural areas.
Eleven canvases from her Children of the Apocalypse series are now displayed at Riverlands Gallery on Alexander Way.
The figures in them are of young people at play, reflecting the simple pleasures and curiosity of kids being kids.
But the neon, acid colours that the artist uses to create the environment around the children introduce an undercurrent of the unnatural. Boake said the colour palette reflects toxicity and bleakness. “The paintings are both cheerful and oppressive.”
In At the Edge, two young girls are shown standing at the edge of a creek. Boake uses a jarring contrast of complementary reds and greens to re-create this idyllic setting near Sundre. ‘
She hopes viewers will appreciate the dichotomy in paintings like Ghost of Abraham, which shows a child enjoying the freedom of a vast landscape — although flashes of neon orange peak through dirty snow.
The images are inspired by family photos. Boake has simplified the compositions to create “a mother’s love letter to her children. but also a reaction to fear and uncertainty for their futures…
“I try to teach my children that littering is bad and that we don’t have to buy new things all the time. We can recycle.”
She hopes her Children of the Apocalypse paintings will stir similar feelings in viewers. “I hope (the show) evokes some reaction about the human impacts on nature, and the hope that there will be a future so that new generations can enjoy it, as well.”
Boake, who studied at at Red Deer College and at the Alberta College of Art and Design has exhibited her work throughout Alberta, B.C. and Nunavut. Her Children of the Apocalypse exhibit is featured at Riverlands Studio and Gallery until Oct. 28. There’s an opening reception on Friday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.