All in the details
Artist Schwab looks at art of decay, prompts viewers to do same
By: Scott Hayes
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 06, 2013 06:00 am
Exhibit of works by Erin Schwab
Opening reception tomorrow from 7 to 9 p.m. Artist will be in attendance.
Exhibit runs until Saturday, March 16
Art Gallery of St. Albert, 19 Perron Street
Call 780-460-4310 or visit www.artgalleryofstalbert.com for more information.
Please note: this exhibit also runs concurrently with Passeriforms II by Edmonton artist James Trevelyan.
Erin Schwab lives a long way from her hometown of Morinville but she’s found a way to keep herself close to her early pastoral life, all while pursuing her passion for art.
The art teacher at Keyano College in Fort McMurray goes for regular walks in the forests and pathways of the bustling oil town, not just as a way to escape the pressures of her career. It’s more about finding inspiration in the details of the decay and detritus all around us.
“Fort McMurray pulsates with the cycle of growth and decay in a scale that very few people outside understand, they only see the decay,” she began. “but the relentless cycle of renewal cannot be simply ignored for the sake of melodrama; even decay is evidence of life.”
“The act of making is a powerful way of understanding the intangible. As basic as it is, I find hope in that the most unassuming and modest things can still hold mystery and contentment for us.”
This is the first time that Schwab has appeared at the gallery in several years, after having a small collection in the group show, Roots. Now she gets her own show with an entire body of work called Migrating Colony that runs concurrently with James Trevelyan’s Passeriforms II. Despite being quite different, the two exhibits share some similar characteristics, most notably the fascination with nature.
Colony explores the beauty of death as fungi take over dead trees. It’s something that we’re all familiar with but few of us have looked as closely at it as the 27-year-old Schwab has.
“When I started my masters degree at the University of Alberta, I took a summer job at Cheyenne tree farms during the summer as a way of getting out of my head and the studio. Soon my art research and my passion for all growing things became intertwined; one couldn’t exist without the other, and the parallels between the two kept growing. And it is still that way today.”
She implores the viewer to look very closely and pore over her work. There’s a lot of minute detail that she infuses into each creation; a ton of little lines and shadows, all lovingly crafted with a steady hand and a stick of charcoal, a medium not generally known for lending itself to this kind of exacting output.
The artist explained that she gets so absorbed in her work, obsessed perhaps, that in the past she had found herself staring without blinking for too long periods of time. Her doctors encouraged her to blink more because the charcoal dust was caking on her eyes.
Now, she reminds herself to blink with a timer.
There’s no doubt that this is important work to her. She says that there’s a deeper meaning that even she has yet to understand.
“The quiet relationships of seemingly unconnected objects and ideas have always provided me with direction. My drawings and the way I approach my mark-making are a reflection of the questions I ask when I look at an object. The way that light moves over objects in the woods dictates how I draw that object even if it is out of context. Light plays a very big role in how I approach my work.”
Because they are not reproduced true to life, the numerous highly detailed charcoal sketches have a vague abstract quality to them. That is, unless of course, you know what you’re looking at. Then the dead trees and fungi come across as images that you would find in a black and white nature book.
Accompanying the drawings are a series of raku works along the same line, giving viewers the opportunity to see in two different dimensions what Schwab is trying to get at.
“My ceramic work always runs parallel to the questions I ask of my drawings, but the ceramics can answer those questions in a way that an image cannot. What is it like to be walking in the woods witnessing the subtle circulation between light and shadow, tension and release, growth and decay? The drawings answer that question by how it’s drawn, whereas the raku installation aims to recreate that moment.”