Saskatchewan may not have the Rockies or ocean views, but the province’s landscape is still interesting and beautiful.
That’s the sentiment viewers may come away with after visiting the current exhibition on display at The Gallery/art placement inc. The commercial fine art gallery, located in the city’s downtown, is featuring the work of three well-known landscape painters from Saskatoon: Clint Hunker, Lorna Russell and Reta Cowley (1910-2004). Although the artists’ styles vary, as do the colours and the seasons seen in their work, there are also commonalities — including a sense of respect and admiration for the Prairie environment.
“One of the unifying aspects is working from the land that all three artists have engaged, in different sites in and around Saskatoon and area,” said gallery manager Linda Stark, who noted the artists’ work fits well together in the same exhibition.
“We’ve represented each of these artists for a number of decades, and it was just a natural fit to look at the Saskatchewan landscape and consider these three artists and their sensibilities and interests in documenting the landscapes over many years,” she added.
Stark said each artist has shown dedication to specific parts of Saskatchewan, with Cowley favouring sites north of Saskatoon, Hunker and Russell travelling to Wakaw and Hunker preferring scenes of the Aberdeen area, “where he can see changes in the farmland.”
“Our focus at the gallery is on local and regional art, and landscape plays a large part in that. And many of our out-of-town clients from away know that there’s something very special in terms of the Saskatchewan landscape,” said Stark.
“Lorna has often made the note that, well, it may not be as dramatic or the diversity of views that you’d have in the Rockies, but you just have to look harder. And it’s a really important point that there is great variety and great beauty to encounter; it’s just a question of patience and looking.”
In addition to their subject matter, there are other links between the three artists. All have been educators and have strong ties to Saskatchewan and to the province’s art history. For example, Cowley taught at Bedford Road Collegiate and also instructed Dorothy Knowles — one of the country’s top landscape painters — at the Emma Lake Summer School in 1948.
“So there’s that great connection in history,” said Stark.
Cowley, who was born in Moose Jaw, is known as one of Canada’s top watercolourists. She studied art under a number of influential teachers herself, including Augustus Kenderdine at Emma Lake in the 1930s, Walter Phillips at the Banff School of Fine Arts in the 1940s and Eli Bornstein at the University of Saskatchewan in the 1950s.
“We’re very happy to include an early canvas as well as panels that she’s done,” Stark said of the exhibition.
Like Cowley, Russell also has had a long artistic career, spanning more than six decades. Russell’s study of Prairie landscapes began as a child when she accompanied her father, a University of Saskatchewan plant pathologist and botanist, on research trips. Robert Hurley, a well-known Saskatchewan watercolourist, often accompanied them as lab technician, which provided Russell with an opportunity to view his landscape painting.
Russell, who was born in Saskatoon in 1933, studied art at the University of Saskatchewan in the 1950s before obtaining a teaching certificate. She worked as an art teacher, an art consultant and an art instructor — with Hunker as one of her students.
“I started painting with Lorna Russell when I was 16, so it’s been 45 years,” said Hunker, who, alongside Russell, was in attendance at the gallery’s exhibition reception on Feb. 4. When asked about his work, Hunker noted first and foremost that much of it is done on site, out in nature — a process also used by Cowley and Russell.
“There’s a long line of us who have worked, and preferred to work, outdoors — including Dorothy Knowles,” Hunker said.
“The stimulus and the emotion has to sort of come right out of the landscape at that moment, which means that you can go back to the same place and you can paint it over and over and over again,” he added.
Hunker, who was born in 1954 in Regina, has been painting the Saskatchewan landscape since he was a teenager. Since 1987, he has worked as a sessional lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan.
When asked about the Saskatchewan landscape, and how to dispel the stereotype that it’s flat and boring, Hunker noted that some “people say that it’s subtle.”
“But there is a quality of light here that you don’t get anywhere else. It’s almost a bleached-out kind of light,” he said.
“If you look at the work of, say, the Group of Seven — well, them in particular — there’s lots of dramatic contrasts and lots of sort of angular shapes in their paintings, and we don’t have a lot of that naturally built into the landscape. So you find your areas, but you’re dealing with openness and infinity.”
The Cowley, Russell and Hunker exhibition runs until Feb. 23 at The Gallery/art placement, which is located in the Traveller’s Block Building at 238 Third Ave. South. For more information, including hours of operation, visit www.artplacement.com.