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Artists gather to honour nature

Fragile Elements looks at the outdoors through the eyes of three painters

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Mar 05, 2014 06:00 am

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  • FRAGILE ELEMENTS – Artist Teresa Stieben shows off some of the birds nest creations that are part of the Fragile Elements exhibit.
    FRAGILE ELEMENTS – Artist Teresa Stieben shows off some of the birds nest creations that are part of the Fragile Elements exhibit.
    SCOTT HAYES/St. Albert Gazette
  • Spirit of Spring by artist Susan Casault.
    Spirit of Spring by artist Susan Casault.
  • Riverbend by artist Peter Ivens.
    Riverbend by artist Peter Ivens.

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Fragile Elements
Artworks by Susan Casault, Peter Ivens and Teresa Stieben
Runs from Thursday, March 6 to Saturday, April 26
Opening reception Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m.
Artists will be in attendance
Art Gallery of St. Albert
19 Perron St.
Call 780-460-4310 or visit for more information.

It’s the wonder of nature that brings the birds of spring out to sing. It also entices many Alberta artists to capture its beauty and its fragility through their works. The Art Gallery of St. Albert has a new exhibit that demonstrates all of these things, courtesy of artists Teresa Stieben, Peter Ivens and Susan Casault.

Stieben works in a variety of mixed media, the nice way of saying that her raw materials are scraps of things that she finds around the house and on the ground.

“Nothing is new,” she said. “All of it was on hand, given or recycled.”

The local artist has a deep love of nature. As a person, she couldn’t ignore some major signs that humankind has disturbed some of her and her husband’s favourite camping areas. As an artist, she was compelled to make a statement about it through her work.

“I’ve been photographing and painting birds for a few years now. The more we were going out into the environment, once you start birding … you start noticing their environment. Then you start noticing the destruction to their environment. When we camped [around Hinton] you could hear the drone of the wells … oil wells. There were hardly any birds around.”

She said it wasn’t hard to notice the inverse proportionate relationship between avian wildlife and oil wells.

“One time we’ll go, there’s one oil well there and we’ll see lots of birds. Three or four years later and there’s five or six oil wells and the birds aren’t there. In my observation … the more wells you put in there, the less the birds are there. It’s only natural. That hum drove us nuts. We left the next day because it was horrible.”

She decided to come up with an extensive series of handmade nests using the same technique that birds use. The only difference is that Stieben’s nests are a mish-mash of bits of plastic, shreds of blue tarps and other pieces of otherwise disposable items. Some nests are put together in some fairly unique ways like one made out of hand-matted wool stained with coffee. There are even some coffee grounds still stuck in the fibres.

The other part of her contribution to the exhibit features more crafty creations. She made poles, one of which acts like a pedestal to one of her nests while the other comes across more like a tribute to an entire species. Who will hear the last bird sing? has a small bird at the top of the pillar that looks like it was immersed in oil.

Her environmental conscience speaks loudly through her work.

“We have to take care of what we have. Everyone can do a little bit. Everything ties together,” she said.

Susan Casault

Casault, on the other hand, uses pencil crayons to depict the beautiful sights she sees around her. Living in Parkland County gives her many still-life subjects in the form of flora or fauna. She works from photos of things from her own backyard and from the bush around her acreage and the family farm.

“They are all elements of Prairie nature,” she said of the 17 drawings that she’s bringing to the gallery.

She comes from a background of graphic design so she offers a lot of attention to detail in her work. Some of those details have a very personal significance to her.

“It’s all in Alberta. Some of my pieces are of nests. I find that I gravitate towards the things that are very intricate and detailed like the nests and birch bark … things that show a lot of texture and colour and light in them.”

“Things like that appeal to me but there’s also a few subjects that appeal to me on a more emotional level because the crocuses and the pussy willows are very much attached to my childhood. Searching for those first crocuses coming up in the spring and the pussy willows … those ones have a little more connection that way.”

Peter Ivens

Peter Ivens offers something entirely different from the others, however. He, like Casault, has a background in graphic arts but is far more interested in the beauty of water. He has a series of water studies that he created mostly en plein air.

“I do most of the big pieces inside a studio. Plein air painting is sort of a busman’s holiday in a way. You get out there and have a nice day in the country. It’s a deeper connection … trying to make some kind of connection for the audience,” he explained.

He is fascinated with the dance of light across the surface of water. He spends a lot of time exploring rivers around Calgary and southern Alberta, places that suit his fancy as a painter. Portraying such an untamable subject does lead him to paint in a very expressionistic, sometimes abstract way. It makes for some very emotive paintings.

Being so close to the mountains does make precarious work for some of his wanderings in the great outdoors.

“I’m a fair weather painter. I generally decamp when the black clouds are rolling in,” he laughed.

He has a series of nine acrylic works all on the theme of running water.

“I guess I’m kind of an old-fashioned miner; I’m just digging in the lane that I’ve found, pursuing that idea as a colourist, as a formal painter, as somebody who’s interested in the landscape. I’m not alone, of course. It’s absorbing. I’m still finding new things every time I go into the studio.”


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