Ripples of Loss is an art exhibit that’s unlike any show that has come through the doors of the Art Gallery of St. Albert.
In fact, it’s unlike anything that Terry McCue has ever produced. The Devon-area painter is known for his representations of animals. Local viewers might remember his contribution called Rainbow Bear that was featured in Animal Spirit, an exhibit that ran at AGSA in 2013.
One can never tell where inspiration will come from next, or how it will wield its influence. Two years ago, McCue attended the group exhibition of the Red Dress Photography Project, a series of photos showing red dresses hanging from trees and elsewhere. It was a response to the terrible truth of the 1,181 and rising missing and murdered aboriginal women.
“I walked out of that little gallery where the show was happening, and by the time I got to my car, I saw this,” he said, referring to the collection of works that is now hung on the walls and being shown for the first time here in this city’s public art gallery.
He said that he was compelled to get it all out, marking a marathon passion project of 18 months of intensive labour in his sylvan home studio.
“It fell off the end of the brush. There’s something that happens when I’m working on a piece that’s meditative and restful, no matter the imagery. That’s what I seek, that feeling,” he continued, remarking on the impressive and impressionable pieces. “It’s emotional to look at and the end of it, but not while I was doing it. When the painting is actually happening, there’s no stress, there’s no nothing. I go away … if I do it well.”
The exhibit, which features an opening reception today from 2:30 to 5 p.m., contains a set of larger-sized canvases, each repeating that red dress motif but with McCue’s own version. Now, they are mostly being worn by living skeletons, sometimes joined with skeletons or half-skeletal animal companions.
They make for some powerful pieces. Gallery director and curator Jenny Willson-McGrath commented that they are mostly nighttime scenes in the winter as well, making the solemnity of the images even stronger and vivid.
“It’s haunting. The paintings are very beautiful and they definitely tell a very compelling story. He’s worked very hard to play out different narratives in each painting,” she began.
“There’s a mysterious, twilight feeling. There’s definitely a different feeling in the gallery compared to a lot of shows.”
The artist himself is similarly affected. Ripples of Loss is the first showing of this collection and it’s also the first time that McCue has seen them all at one time.
“I’m a little overwhelmed by it. I’m a little blown away by it,” he said.
Part of that emotion he’s feeling comes from how hard he had to work to produce it all, finishing only weeks ago. Of them all, there is only one painting that has no figures in it. It shows a series of red dresses hanging from a wispy clothesline between two young trees. Considering the nature of the show and the content of the rest of the works, it’s difficult to see the clothesline and difficult to not see invisible skeletons wearing the red dresses, dancing side by side each other.
That was the last piece he made for this series.
The compelling imagery is comparable to the compulsion that he felt to get these paintings out of his head. He had boundless energy during that time, he said.
It was only upon finishing when he became overtaken by exhaustion. The message, he said, is making sure that the voices of those lost women and girls don’t become lost themselves.
“That’s why I did it: to keep the conversation moving forward.”