Alberta Artists for Canada150 Part 1 by Brandy Saturley
Talking to 15 Alberta Artists for Canada150 – Part 1: The Iconic Calgary Based Artist, Chris Cran
Over the past decade working as a visual artist in Canada, I have had the privilege and honour to speak with a diverse range of artists and gallery owners across the country. As a Canadian Visual Artist, the Alberta market offers many things. Calgary is filled with opportunity to create community and educate, it is also an immediately responsive market that knows what it likes and isn’t afraid to tell you straight up.
In 2015, I was visiting a friend at his opening at Douglas Udell Gallery in Edmonton. Whenever I visit Edmonton I always drop into the Art Gallery of Alberta to view the current shows and at that time a show titled, “Sincerely Yours” by one of Canada’s most notable visual artists’, Chris Cran. The show subsequently toured across Canada, ending up at the National Gallery in 2016. I really enjoyed taking in this retrospective show and seeing Cran’s career transitions from representational, to experimental and more abstract – I felt like I was walking through his studio door and hopping on a magic carpet, taking a ride with the artist. A fascinating artist trajectory that made me smile and feel good about being a Canadian visual artist.
Last week I reached out to Cran as he is preparing for a showing in his home town of Salmon Arm, BC at the Salmon Arm Arts Centre. Cran graciously took the time to chat over the phone and by email and the result is this delightful exchange with an artist I admire.
With “Sincerely Yours” – how does a retrospective show and subsequent tour of this magnitude come together?
I have many works in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada going back to the nineties. About four years ago Josée Drouin-Brisebois, Curator of Contemporary Art told me that they were interested in mounting a significant survey show of my work to take place in 2016. Not long after, the Alberta Art Gallery in Edmonton and the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge offered me exhibitions that would take place in 2015. Those two exhibitions, in partnership, folded into the National Gallery Exhibition. It was an exhilarating few years working with great institutions.
How did it feel to be on stage at the National Gallery talking about your art of the past few decades?
Almost overwhelming as it was the evening of the opening, but I kept it together. Earlier, when the doors opened to the galleries, four hundred people arrived, some who I hadn’t seen for a week and some I hadn’t seen for thirty years and many that I didn’t know at all. Onstage, I was in great company, with the curator whom I greatly admire conducting the interview.
How long have you been part of the faculty at ACAD in Calgary? Are you still teaching?
I began in 1990, taught for three years, quit for about four and went back and have taught there ever since. For the last couple of years I am down to teaching one class every second semester. Studio time rules.
I understand that you are now presenting a condensed version of your retrospective in your home town of Salmon Arm? Is this the first time you have presented a major exhibition of your work in your home town?
A few years ago I was in a group (3) exhibition with two Salmon Arm friends, Herald Nix, who started me painting and Steve Mennie, who introduced me to some basic realist painting techniques which came in very handy.
Do you feel that bringing this exhibit to your home town will help to bring attention to arts and culture in Salmon Arm? and is this important to you?
I don’t really know. I am looking forward to showing in my home town and perhaps seeing people I haven’t seen for a long time at the opening. I was at my fiftieth-year high school reunion earlier this summer and it was a great event. Very relaxed and it was intriguing to find out what people I knew so long ago were up to. All these histories. As for bringing attention to arts and culture in Salmon Arm, this is what the Salmon Arm Art Gallery does very well.
I see that you were recently exploring the Arctic? Why were you there and are you working on anything new since that trip?
My wife and I are Fellows of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and we were offered this trip and could not refuse (of course). It was a two-week trip around Baffin Island, from Iqaluit to Resolute Bay with One Oceans Expeditions. An amazing experience. Enhanced with no Wifi. The experience was existential. I expect it to show up in my work but I don’t know when. Driving through the Rocky Mountains last week, I noticed that I looked at the mountains and terrain in an entirely different way. I saw structures layered and worn in time. Perception has been deeply affected.
What is the last show you saw?
Just caught the Ron and Damien Moppett exhibition at the National Gallery, on our way to the Arctic. Terrific show!
What is the last show that surprised you? Why?
Hyang Cho at Georgia Sherman Projects in Toronto. She is one of my favourite artists and her work always surprises me.
As a Canadian artist, why did you decide to make Calgary your home base?
I went to my first year of art college at the Kootenay School of Art in Nelson BC. I moved to Calgary to attend the Alberta College of Art, now Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD), graduating in 1979.
Over the years I have made many friends here and it is a city that I enjoy living in. I used to visit my children, four of whom lived in New York City back in the early nineties, and I would sleep on their floors or couches.
I think I decided I liked to be comfortable in real time, and so I stayed in Calgary and I do not regret it.
Where can I find your work in Calgary? Do you have any upcoming exhibitions in Alberta?
My Calgary gallery is Trepanier Baer Gallery. I have work in public collections like the Glenbow Museum and the Nickle Arts Museum at the University of Calgary. I will be having another major exhibition at the Nickle in the fall of 2019.
Finally, do you most identify as an Alberta artist, renowned Canadian Artist or visual wizard of the universe?
I get up in the morning and my wife asks me if the tea is ready and I say “It sure is!”
Studio time absolutely rules and I think it’s safe to say we are all looking forward to see what Cran’s studio time, Arctic travels and drive through the Rocky Mountains returns in art. ‘Enhanced with no WiFi’, could be the title of the next exhibition, and we’re looking forward to it.