Evolution of creation
Diversity, quality of work astonishing as young artists take centre stage in WAG's Supernovas exhibition

Thu Mar 2 2006

By Lorne Roberts

IN the 1950s, when a group of art students at the University of Manitoba were beginning their careers, their professors convinced them to enter work for a juried exhibit in Montreal. Most of the students were accepted, but none of the professors were.

While Manitoba's more senior artists still receive their share of attention, it could be argued that a similar phenomenon is occurring in our province these days; that the majority of artists whose work is gaining notice abroad are younger. The 29 young local artists on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery's Supernovas exhibit seem to indicate where art in our province and our country may be heading in the next few decades.

With a few exceptions, "traditional" painting barely shows up -- Melanie Rocan, with her painted-from-memory landscapes, Lisa Wood with her introspective portraits and Adam Brooks with his renderings of celebrities being among the few exceptions.

For less-traditional paintings, former Royal Art Lodge member Adrian Williams' fun, quirky images use bits of wood and sand, plastic monkeys and empty colour fields of space that make the areas he fills that much more effective. And in addition to Rocan, there are several members of the 2-6 collective who paint and draw on pretty much anything they can get their hands on.

So is there a theme that ties the show together, some underlying narrative that guides the viewer through the work, item by item, to a satisfying conclusion? Unfortunately no, but when you consider the task that faced the show's curators -- assembling a cohesive exhibit from the hundreds of talented young artists in our province -- it's hardly surprising.

Yet the works often seem to complement each other, forming several mini-exhibits, each with enough ideas to fill an entire article. From the first room, where culture and the individual are considered, to the last, where Paul Robles, Liz Garlicki and Erica Eyres explore sexuality with an unblinking gaze, there is a certain pattern that emerges.

It's in the first room that tamara rae biebrich, in her piece Social Butterfly, playfully examines image, identity and gender. At first, her only work on display was a group of framed paper doll's clothes, with a drawing of herself at the centre. While the show's opening took place, though, the artist had photographers follow her around all night as she mugged for the camera and people planted kisses on her.

The resulting photos are slowly beginning to fill the wall, and feature her with artists, members of the public and WAG security guards, among others. Even Chris Cooper's dog sculpture/air purifier, which also appears in this show, nuzzles up for a kiss at one point.

Meera Margaret Singh and Richard Hines, through photography, probe the ways that we, as individuals, come together and pull apart. In Hines' case, he says he's interested in subtle gestures and what they mean. With his ongoing multiyear study of his family, Hines explores these subtleties, which he admits are often mysterious or lost to him, and the result is some of the most intimate and haunting work in the show.

Words are also explored in many works -- how we create and define their meanings, or how they define us.

Eric Lesage, for example, has slowly been going through the entire dictionary, cutting it into small pieces and weaving these pieces together to form hanging screens. The project is ongoing, until the entire dictionary is finished. Perhaps then some conclusion may be arrived at, or perhaps not -- words are that way sometimes, Lesage suggests, more exploratory than conclusive.

So rather than coming to this show expecting something that leads you through questions and ideas to a satisfying conclusion, simply come here to wander through at your leisure, and be amazed by the diversity and quality of work. Then consider the fact that every one of these artists is young, local and part of a movement that has gained our city an international reputation for the arts.

If even some of the artists on display here can maintain the pace and the quality of creation that they've begun their careers with, it seems safe to say that our reputation can only continue to grow for years to come.

Supernovas, by various artists Winnipeg Art Gallery

300 Memorial Blvd.

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