One thing is certain, Indigenous visual artist Lonigan Gilbert’s first ever solo exhibition of paintings leaves an uncommon thumbprint at the Art Gallery of St. Albert.
Each canvass in Transmission is urban art, a cocktail of street art, graffiti and animation mixed with doses of anger, horror and a touch of whimsy. Bold and assertive, these are politically and socially charged works, which often feature dark, sinister symbolism.
Transmission is a visual narrative of Gilbert’s personal stories, his concerns and his frustrations. Most of the 16 pieces were created throughout COVID during periods of enforced isolation from his job at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA). The major theme is a brutally honest assessment of our failure to communicate and how miscommunication increases stress.
The Edmonton-based artist doesn’t just lay out a pretty picture. He packs each canvass with explosions of bold often contrasting colours and seemingly unrelated images borrowed from history, literature, film, music, the media, psychiatry and racist cultures. Past, present and future collide into a cacophony of densely packed details.
It is impossible to see each canvass as a whole piece. There are simply too many images competing for the viewer’s attention. Gilbert forces the eye to travel slowly, image by image, section by section, gradually absorbing and interpreting the symbolism.
At the gallery’s official opening on Thursday, Oct. 13, guests were blown away by the imagery.
P. J. Luhanga, an IT specialist from Edmonton is new to the art world but found the canvasses intriguing.
“I like how minor details make me look at something. It’s like a puzzle. It’s like Where’s Waldo? When I see something out of the corner of my eye, I want to keep looking again and again. There’s no rigid structure. It’s free form allowing all thoughts to go through in the moment,” said Luhanga.
Alison Besecker, one of Gilbert’s former AGA co-workers added her observations saying, ““I find it fascinating. Every time you look at it, you get drawn into a different part. You can feel the emotions coming off. Chaos is one. You can see disparate and pop culture references.”
Gilbert grew up in Winnipeg where his father was an established political cartoonist. As a child he took art classes at the Winnipeg Art Gallery practicing sketches and animation. His artistic skills were well-recognized and in Grade 6 his principal asked him to paint a mural drawing of a buffalo hunt in the school cafeteria.
Once able to create highly technical pieces, the artist was in a cycling accident that injured his hand. The accident left him unable to complete fine detailed work. Refocusing his innate creatively, Gilbert shifted from the technical to the abstract leading to the development of his own urban style.
Canadian fiction writer Tim F. Pruden, who also happens to be Gilbert’s uncle, drove in from his home in Thorsby to view the art.
“He’s captured life in all its jumble, chaos and insensibility. These are all things we've talked about in the past,” said Pruden. “I see him as the next Picasso. I see a van Gogh trying to find himself. I’ve known him ever since he was a little kid. As the months go by and the years pass, I see his vision growing stronger. It’s important to see and create these things.”
Transmission is on exhibit at the AGSA free of charge until Saturday, November 12 at 19 Perron Street.