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Collage exhibit blends art, human evolution

Artist's perspective on culture crafted with scissors and glue

Every child is introduced to collage art in elementary school. It’s easy, low-tech, and fun. But ever since Pablo Picasso and George Braque, Cubism’s dynamic duo, invented collage in 1912, it has taken on a sophisticated tone that asks profound historical, cultural, scientific, and philosophical questions. 

April Matisz’s exhibit now featured at the Art Gallery of St. Albert shows us how powerful, inspiring, and relevant collage can be. In The Gathers, she interprets the ancient Greek adage “know thyself.” It is an entreaty to be conscious of our species and how it is intertwined with every natural aspect of our planet.  

In this deeply personal collection of her world views and interests, each collage offers an evolutionary history designed to help us better understand our current lives. The 10 works display mainly female figures searching for both life-sustaining necessities and existential meaning. 

In a statement, the Lethbridge artist writes, “Through much of my work, I imagine potential worlds that are life-affirming and more knowledgably entangled with their ecosystems. I am interested in physical forces that shaped our world, from the geological to the evolutionary, as well as the phenomenological ways we exist and understand ourselves.”  

Born in southern Alberta, Matisz has enjoyed a colourful life. She developed an interest in nature while camping with her father and a passion for art while painting watercolours with her mother. Matisz pursued a Bachelor of Science in biology followed by a Bachelor of Fine Arts before interning at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. 

An adventurer, she lived in Puerto Rico for five years before returning to Alberta where the working artist continues to raise two children. Currently, biology and culture are major themes fuelling her works. 

“It’s a beautiful series with unique styles and different ideas,” said gallery curator Emily Baker. “I like the stylistic look that goes past human beings. She paints abstract stories as early hunter-gatherers looking, searching, and connecting. They’re not only searching but discovering what they can learn to move forward. For April, the figures are entwined in the world around them. It’s not just about what you’re looking at, but what is reflected back.” 

Each collage narrates a single experience, some bland and others bizarre. Matisz starts by cutting pieces of origami paper. She experiments by assembling different parts and trying out different compositions until satisfied. She then glues the figures onto black backing, pressing and recutting to create a finished form. 

A big part of her work is technique, figuring out how to manipulate the playful figures into telling a vibrant story. While some collage artists thickly layer their pieces with symbolic meanings, Matisz’s work is grounded in simplicity. She projects visual power though a figure’s shape, colour, and trajectory. 

“April says when you get the eyes right, it feels it has its own energy. It comes alive. It becomes more animated,” said Baker. 

Throughout the interview, Baker describes the whimsical figures as “biological ghosts,” “tricksters,” “unbalanced with lack of arms,” “deities,” “ancestral ghosts.” Depending on your perspective they could even look like aliens. Whatever descriptor one chooses, the figures depict moments of joy, concern, anxiety, fear, obedience, and discovery.  

“April wants to create spaces where people feel curious, ask questions, and reflect on how we’ve come to know ourselves. She wants us to ask how we can understand ourselves so we can move forward. To do that we have to look back.” 

The Gatherers opened on Sept. 20 and will close on Saturday, Nov. 12. A reception will be held Thursday, Oct. 13 at 6:30 p.m. Virtual tours with Baker are set to take place Wednesday, Sept. 28, and Thursday, Oct. 20. For more information call 780-460-4310. 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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