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Okotoks art exhibits offer unconventional views

The Okotoks Art Gallery’s current exhibitions each provide unorthodox outlooks at the world. On display this month are Moon Gate by Wanru Kemp and This Seat’s Taken by Kimberly Ohman.
NEWS-OAG Exhibit Chairs
"This Seat’s Taken" is Kimberly Ohman’s exploration of the idea that everyday objects, particularly chairs, have awareness and personalities and lives of their own.

The Okotoks Art Gallery’s current exhibitions each provide unorthodox outlooks at the world.

On display this month are Moon Gate by Wanru Kemp and This Seat’s Taken by Kimberly Ohman.

In Moon Gate, Kemp sought to use the circular aperture to frame her landscape paintings of Canadian landscapes, inspired by the circular Moon Gates that feature prominently in the historic gardens from the Suzhou region of China and all feature a circular gateway revealing and framing a focal point of the garden.

“I always think with a landscape painting, it’s like a window or door from once space to another,” said Kemp. “When I look at Canadian landscapes and paint them, I wanted to make a similar feeling to when I was a child looking at the Suzhou gardens.

“I wanted to use that same frame and transfer that same feeling of peaceful, pretty, a little bit exciting to a painting of a Canadian landscape,” Kemp continued.

Moving from China with her husband when she was 29, Kemp spent five years in Thailand before heading to Canada, first in Vancouver for two years before settling in Okotoks.

It was then that Kemp, who was a commercial photographer during her time in China, began painting the landscapes.

“I always liked to paint, so I started painting those little circles one a day,” said Kemp, who found the process rewarding after creating one per day for a year in 2017.

“I got more than I expected. I got to show people what I think of the Canadian landscape."

The other exhibition, however, doesn’t play on what is necessarily seen, but rather what happens out of sight.

This Seat’s Taken is Kimberly Ohman’s exploration of the idea that everyday objects, particularly chairs, have awareness and personalities and lives of their own.

“As an artist I am currently exploring and depicting the possibilities of inanimate objects having a soul,” reads Ohman’s artist statement.

The gallery installation features a mixture of two-dimensional paintings as well as sculptures—an articulated and motorized chair that will infrequently move when the viewer isn’t expecting it or paying attention. 

Another focal point is a series of six two-dimensional portraits of chairs Ohman dubbed The Jury that seem to be looking on at a sculptural piece with scrutiny.

“I wanted them to look stark and austere, yet each one is a different chair, so it has a little bit different character to it,” Ohman said. “I find with chairs, it’s a way of putting an object in the place of a human subject.

“It’s something we see every day and just don’t give a second thought to; to use them as a stand-in for people gives us a way to stand back and look at situations that might be uncomfortable to see a person in.”

The furniture focus came during Ohman’s studies, where one of her mentors would expect her to be constantly sketching.

“My son was doing swimming lessons and I was sitting and waiting, and there were chairs around—they don’t move as much as people so I drew a lot of chairs,” Ohman said.

This caught the eye of her mentor, who told her she drew chairs well.

“I almost smacked myself and said ‘Not more chairs,’ but I took that and looked at what she was seeing in it,” Ohman continued. 

It was through that process that the artist began to inject personality into the inanimate.

“So I started putting chairs in different positions and started saying ‘Okay, what can I do beyond this still life, how can I imbue emotion into a chair?’” she said. “I started playing around with that and see what kind of reactions I would get from people.”

This Seat’s Taken and Moon Gate will remain on display until Nov. 5.

For more information about the Okotoks Art Gallery, visit Okotoks.ca


Brent Calver

About the Author: Brent Calver

Award-winning photojournalist for the Okotoks Western Wheel and OkotoksToday.ca
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