Wylie: Compelling message in Kelowna Art Gallery exhibit

Current show at KAG comprised of 18 photographs by Ontario artist Edward Burtynsky, and nine paintings by B.C.’s own Emily Carr.

  • Jan. 29, 2015 2:00 p.m.

If a friend told you that the works by Edward Burtynsky and Emily Carr in the current exhibition at the Kelowna Art Gallery were “eye candy,” would you think that was something of an insult?

Or is it actually possible for paintings and photographs to be visually stunning and delicious and still have a compelling intellectual component?

These are questions you can ponder when you come to see A Terrible Beauty: Edward Burtynsky in Dialogue with Emily Carr.

This show has been organized and circulated to us from the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of their Across the Province touring exhibition program, sponsored by the Killy Foundation.

It’s comprised of 18 colour photographs by internationally known, Ontario-based artist Edward Burtynsky, and nine paintings by B.C.’s own Emily Carr.

What unites these two artists, who are separated by a generation, is their shared concern about humanity’s devastating impact on the natural environment.

Burtynsky actually made his first professional works in northern B.C., photographing cuts made in the forest for railway lines. He then moved onto a series of images of giant quarries, which met with immediate critical success when they were first exhibited in the 1990s.

From there, Burtynsky began to travel the world and has photographed such wide ranging places and activities as ocean tanker demolition in Bangladesh and the devastation from the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China. His works are both riveting and gorgeous.

Emily Carr was a unique and unusual person who struggled against her society’s views on both women and art.

Rather than being a polite, submissive Victorian woman who devoted herself to family and dabbled in genteel watercolour painting, Carr was a serious, committed and passionate artist.

She continued to study abroad and to travel for her art, striving to improve her work all through her adult life. The nine works by her in this exhibition all depict the British Columbia landscape as it was being affected in her time by clear cut logging and gravel quarrying.

What may come as a surprise, given their grim subject matter, is the incredible aesthetic kick to the works of art in this show.

Burtynsky and Carr are both wonderfully talented artists, and they seduce us by their colour, light, exciting compositions, and vigour.

Then, after such a visual feast, viewers may find themselves beginning to think about the pressing issues of environmental degradation. A Terrible Beauty is at the Kelowna Art Gallery until March 1.

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