January 13, 2013 – BY ELISSA BARNARD ARTS REPORTER
Halifax Chronicle Herald
Group formed to fight indifference
Painter Joy Laking is one of the organizer’s of a new realist art show set for 2014 at the Dalhousie Art Gallery.
Concerned about a lack of public gallery attention, a group of Nova Scotia realist painters is behind a contemporary realist painting exhibit to be held from Jan. 17 to March 9, 2014, at the Dalhousie Art Gallery.
The exhibit, to have about 50 paintings by 10 to 20 artists, will be curated by Canadian art writer-curator Tom Smart with Peter Dykhuis, director-curator of the gallery, acting as “co-pilot.”
Deadline for the call for applications is March 1.
“I really sense a lot of public galleries don’t have any respect for realism,” says Joy Laking, one of the exhibit’s organizers.
“Realism is somewhat dismissed.”
The realist painter started PLANS, or Professional Living Artists of Nova Scotia, in 2009 as a group of eight realists that included Tom Forrestall, Ed Huner, Paul Hannon, Gordon MacDonald, Shelley Mitchell, Susan Paterson and Steven Rhude.
“It was partly selfish,” Laking says in a phone interview from her studio in Portaupique, near Great Village, Colchester County.
“Living where I do, I don’t see other artists very often.”
She also wanted to raise the profile of realist art in a province that has a long history of realism.
Although she is a board member of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, she was unable to persuade the gallery to take on this idea.
“I was trying to think of a way to increase membership and visitation and the profile of realism, but that didn’t work out.”
Dykhuis remembers the day the PLANS members knocked on his door.
He had just finished programming a Montreal exhibit by Quebec realist painter Pierre Dorion for the Dalhousie Art Gallery, to run this March 15 to May 12. “Ironically, the day I signed the contract for the Pierre Dorion show, the whole PLANS group showed up with this proposal,” Dykhuis says.
“I was already in the state of mind of reinvestigating the idea of what realism is.”
The timing is good because 2014 marks the 60th anniversary of the gallery and realism is “a subject that has spanned” its history.
PLANS has received partial funding from the Robert Pope Foundation to hire an administrator, Sue MacIsaac, and curator Smart, former director of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.
Smart is noted for his award-winning, critical biographies, catalogues and books on Canadian artists, including painters Alex Colville, Mary Pratt, Forrestall, Miller Brittain and Fred Ross.
Smart will make studio visits in the spring and summer.
“I want to be his co-pilot,” says Dykhuis.
“We’re trying to reinvestigate this subject. I don’t think it’s healthy to have one monolithic point of view.
“I want to set a high bar in terms of what realism is about and what does it mean with its heritage in Nova Scotia.”
Realism goes back to 1850 internationally. It was a key strain in mid-to-late 20th century Atlantic Canadian art through Christopher and Mary Pratt, Colville and Forrestall.
Today, says Dykhuis, several young artists at NSCAD University are pursuing representational and realistic work.
“Some of my colleagues are raising their eyebrows, but I’m going, ‘I want to go down the rabbit hole.’
“I think it’s time to go back to what does it mean to make a painted image that is supposedly realistic in a digital age.”
The term realism is “fraught” and “that will be part of the clarification.”
“The PLANS people realize just because they are kick-starting this doesn’t mean they get into the exhibition,” says Dykhuis. “We could get hundreds of applications because these questions haven’t been asked in possibly decades.”
Laking is pleased with the gallery.
“We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful space.”
The exhibit, which is unprecedented, will be “what Nova Scotia realists need,” she says.
“It’s very exciting.”