When the prairies lack a rich, green tree canopy in its cities, outdoor public art injects animated life. That is, certain types of art works. Rolling oceans of grass, brilliant blue sky expanses that are Nature’s canvas for dynamic cloud shapes, are already fantastic abstracts for me.
Beyond Artifice of Abstract Art- Search for Prairie Identity
For now, I don’t need to see many large pieces of abstract art in public spaces. Not yet, especially in Calgary, which is still trying to articulate without artifice, its natural history, environment and cultural heritage beyond just cowboys and oil wells. The city is rapidly
expanding like a pea-brained amoeba across its grassy oceans. Like a teenager, it preens to the world, whatever it defines as cool, hip and innovative, art-wise. Meanwhile Calgary still struggles to define its own identity art-wise with more mature diverse art expressions in Toronto, Quebec and Canadian Pacific Northwest coast.
Need More Prairie Art with Rooted Soul
I’m still hoping for large, expansive outdoor art that celebrates this part of Canada. Art with rooted soul. Perhaps my search reflects me, as a transplant from Ontario and British Columbia. I wish to see momumental artistic expression that is indigenous to the
prairies. Any visitor to the prairies wants to see how the Muse comments and visualizes its natural surroundings and local history. Then the abstract art can follow later.
It’s taken me some time to track down some in situ, prairie art works in my meandering bike rides and by browsing the local news. Most of these pieces are quite recent.
Only recently, the City of Calgary has commissioned some larger painted art imagery on its utility boxes –a vibrant, welcome change. Previous older works were too small and pale for any pedestrian, cyclist or car driver to even notice. True, some of the designs reflect the Calgary Stampede heritage with horses and cowboy boots.
However, there is an art piece that celebrates the local Blackfoot heritage with an aboriginal woman in flamboyant dress and colour.
Large Scale Solo Aboriginal Images of Pride, Not Showcased In Heavy Public Areas
It’s rare to see strong public art imagery of local aboriginals by themselves without being surrounded by trappings of miners, cowboys and oil rigs. Or worse a statue hidden in the corner of a farmers’ market, etc. Yes, that’s reality too, but it’s doubtful that it’s a self-assured statement of aboriginal identity. Based on the paucity of large permanent outdoor art on aboriginal cultural heritage in this part of the prairies, their voices have been muffled with the buffalo stampede of urbanization.
So different than being in Vancouver where there are several galleries and museums that feature exclusively aboriginal art and cultural heritage which are world-class known. You are greeted at the Vancouver International Airport with multiple large pieces of permanent aboriginal carvings and sculptures. Then greeted again by a blend of traditional totems and innovative aboriginal carvings in Stanley Park.
May be I’ll find the rare permanent outdoor aboriginal art in a Calgary park or along its path, that celebrates the Blackfoot Indians. For now, we settle for the beloved bronze black bison statue by the bike path at Fort Calgary.
During one of my bike rides, I encountered the artist flourishing brushes on her design that commemorates Canada’s national music heritage. The utility box art design is across the street from the future site of the Canadian National Music
Museum, the former King Edward Hotel, a place where there was some active jazz music performances. I guess we’ll learn more when the museum opens. I’m all for a Canadian place that highlights Oscar Peterson, the Canadian black jazz pianist that lived and died recently in Mississauga, Ontario. No doubt, the museum will commemorate other Canadian world performers in folk, country and western music as well as rock ‘n roll and pop. Maybe this will spawn more outdoor visual local art.
Horses Favoured Over Picas and Wild Jack Rabbits
Always an eternal favourite artistic icon in the prairies for freedom and independence, are horses. We see them galloping wildly or tethered, working loyally for man. Now, we have yet to see the wild rabbits and tiny pika or this rodent, dubbed locally, as prairie dogs, to be featured prominently in outdoor art anywhere. May be wild jack rabbits could be mistakenly
painted as Beatrix Potter children’s storybook creatures? Are the cute pikas are too tiny? In other words, are these smaller animals, not in keeping with the wild west romance?
Well, may be we’ll see if a bold artist can clearly express in outdoor art, the majesty of thunderstorm clouds towering in darkening anger across an azure blue sky ocean above a diminished cityscape and yellowed grasslands. Just don’t borrow the Rocky Mountains for the painting –they’re over 100 km. away.
More Interesting Reading and Photos
Chong, J. Aboriginal Artistic Interpretations: Exploring Connection, Disconnection and Transformation. In Cycle Write Blog, Feb.3, 2010. Photos of some British Columbia Northwest coastal aboriginal artistic expression and culture.