Skip to content

Lam explores memories through abstract art in VASA show

Anchors & Powerlines runs at St. Albert's Visual Arts Studio Association until Saturday, April 27.

For a part of her life, visual artist Carla Lam was North America’s version of a nomad. Raised in New Brunswick, she received a doctorate in political philosophy from Ottawa’s Carleton University. 

Since jobs in her field were scarce in Canada, she applied to teach at the opposite end of the world — the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. For a decade she built a formidable reputation teaching. However, little did Lam realize Dunedin’s charms would eventually become the catalyst for discovering her true passion: experimental art. 

In 2018, Lam returned to Canada to be closer to family, now residing in Edmonton. An artist who favours working in oils and the heavy textures it creates, Lam showcases Anchors & Powerlines, an abstract collection of paintings at St. Albert’s Visual Arts Studio Association gallery until April 27. 

Anchors & Powerlines reflects Lam’s life-changing emotional journey from Canada to New Zealand and back. The abstract collection is a diary of wispy, yet powerful, memories that encapsulate her life and the ground she has covered. 

“All the canvasses are experiments," Lam said. "They just look different. This exhibit is like an autobiography; it’s a collection of emotional responses to relocation." 

The portion Anchors symbolizes the need for stability during constantly shifting waves of change, while Powerlines are more than sentinels dotting the Prairie landscape. Although often taken for granted, power lines illuminate and connect us to each other on multiple levels. 

Lam received her first taste of art classes while working between jobs in Ottawa. 

“I took a couple of courses, and I discovered I was the happiest I’d ever been,” Lam said.  “But my main goal was to eat and survive, and eventually, I found work at the University of Otago.” 

During the day, Lam taught classes. But in the evenings, the aspiring artist enrolled at the Dunedin School of Art, an exploratory move that expanded both her personal growth and artistic vision as a conceptual thinker. 

“I had a wonderful teacher that I jelled with, and every week I would go for three hours. There was a core group and when a class was finished, we would continuously renew together. Working with the same group, it was easy to keep a commitment to oneself and at the same time I built a body of work and grew my muscle memory.” 

By 2018, the university implemented cutbacks to the humanities. No longer were tenured or untenured positions safe. In addition, Lam’s elderly parents were now a 30-hour flight from Dunedin. 

“If something happened to my parents, I didn’t want to be away and later have regrets," Lam said. "It seemed better to take a bundle of money from the university than leave without nothing.” 

Lam describes her abstract works as “referential paintings.” Her canvasses generally have a point of reference, yet the abstraction toys with the viewer’s perception and demands a degree of critical thinking. 

Some of her works are brainteasers. The strokes take shape and then unexpectedly shift and confuse our brain’s way of searching for familiar representational forms. 

For instance, Trust the Journey is a large expressionistic painting of a black-masted sailing ship that appears to dissolve among blobs and strokes of orange, red, green, blue and black paint. It is audacious and powerful. 

Turmoil in Calm shifts to choppy waves rearing their heads at the beginning of a storm. One can almost hear the crash of blackish-blue waves as they churn towards an inky bottomless pit. 

However, Natural Geometry veers away from marine life to focus on the bold, bright beauty of roses. There is joy and a vivacious quality in this cluster of red, orange and yellow flowers that makes viewers burst into a smile. 

“I want people to access my work and I want them to feel joy in the way I give life to everything I do. It’s a gift, really.”   

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

Read more


push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks