While traveling to see the art and artists in the province is always a treat we decided this year to get on the Alberta Foundation for the Arts traveling exhibition circuit and grab some wonderful art that usually moves past our ‘door’.
In 1981 this provincial exhibition program was developed to provide every Albertan with the opportunity to see the province’s growing collection which now consists of over 7,000 pieces from more than 1700 artists.
This year we brought silver gelatin photos from the Badlands to town, heritage prints made by reknowned Alberta printmakers like Peter von Tiesenhausen and Margaret Sheldon and rare wildflower watercolours from the first botanical book on Alberta flowers by Annora Brown. Etchings and oils by painters and artists that we would never meet…
And this weekend I await the crate containing 22 photographs by George Webber. I must confess here that I thought I was getting photos taken by the artist George Weber…the man who is mostly known for his serigraphs of the province! But after receiving the overview on the Webber photos I am not disappointed at all.
George Webber has been described as a ‘lyrical poet with a camera’. His photos have appeared in books, Canadian Geographic, Photolife and Swerve. In 1999 he was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts for his contributions to the visual arts of Canada. Yet he is still not a household name in Western Canada. This is partly due to his shunning of the spotlight – and very likely partly due to his choice of subject matter. For many in the west – rural dwellers – his photos appear very ordinary, often depicting everyday rural life.
His images are unique, special and ‘very western’. He explores the ‘essence’ of his subject matter – whether it be people or landscape. He is fascinated by the passage of time, the surface and underlying qualities of his subjects. His critiques have come away saying ‘he captures the ethereal qualities of the prairies – the desolation, the loneliness, the immensity – isolation…while incorporating irony and dry wit. He shows the symbiotic bond between people and their environment’. “First people touch the land, then the land touches the people”, Webber says.
As I look out the window this week at the cold October rains, naked trees and encroaching winter I wonder how the images will be interpreted! But isn’t that the sign of great art? To evoke emotion.