Some things are meant to be experienced with your own eyes. That should probably go without saying, but in a world where everything is at the tip of our Googling fingers, it’s easier said than done. The Google Arts & Culture app even allows you to do virtual tours of many notable museums so hey, why leave your house right?
This weekend I went to the Glenbow Museum here in Calgary, to see an art exhibit by nationally celebrated Indigenous artist Alex Janvier. For me, It was a reminder of why it’s so important to ALWAYS see art in person. I had this feeling once before, as I stood in front of works by Salvador Dalí. I never thought I would get the opportunity to see his work in the flesh with my own two eyes and it did NOT disappoint. Neither did the work of Alex Janvier. Granted he has a completely different style than Dalí but the mastery of his work was no less impressive. Most of the lovely readers of my blog are artists, so you already get what I’m about to say. For those of you who are not, hear me out, because I can’t stress enough why this is important.
Pictures can be worth a thousand words but seeing it in person is worth a million. The thing about photographs of artwork whether you are seeing it digitally or printed on paper is that as good as it is, there’s something important that always gets lost in translation. One of those very important things can be color. As I mentioned earlier, I got to see some of Salvador Dalí’s work in 2014 also at the Glenbow Museum. The largest piece they had on display was the 13.9′ x 10.6′ “Santiago El Grande” (1957).
In the book I have with Dalí’s collected works, I had passed by this painting many times and never gave it a second thought nor had counted it as one of my favorites. I have to say though that when I walked into the room where it was displayed, it absolutely took my breath away.
First of all, the color in the book I have wasn’t even close to what it is in person. In fact, the color is so off, it’s absurd it was even approved to be printed. I’m sort of questioning what his other works really look like now because of this. Granted this isn’t the case for every artist’s work but if you never get to see it in person you’ll never know for sure I suppose.
Second, the sheer scale of it was impressive! I wasn’t allowed to take photos so I’m sharing a couple below from the Glenbow’s Twitter account to give you the idea. A lot of artists work on quite a large scale. There’s something very humbling about standing in front of a giant canvas that consumes an entire wall and marveling at the fact that someone spent months if not years of their life pouring their mastery and talent onto it. Some people have trouble filling a sketchbook page, nevermind something mural-sized.
For most oversized artworks, there is a reason they are created at a certain scale. That is a much part of the experience as what has been painted, drawn or sculpted. In the case, of Janvier’s work, the sophistication and intricacy of his designs could not be fully appreciated if you had only ever seen a small version of it printed. You might spend a fraction of the time looking at it and completely miss the experience of getting lost within it.
In addition, and perhaps my favorite part of all, is that you can SEE the brush strokes. You could walk right up to it and analyze it in a detail that photography in some ways just can’t capture. At least it doesn’t tend to in a book format. It’s like looking a fingerprint up close. One of Janvier’s pieces had a strong 3D textural element to it. In the book I purchased after seeing the exhibition, the same painting was not nearly as striking. Again, had I not seen that painting in person, would I have truly understood why the piece was so great? I honestly don’t think so.
Lastly, there’s the emotion you feel when you’re engaging with a piece of art in person. You know that feeling you get when you go to a concert and everyone sings along loudly to that one particular song and for a moment it feels like everything is right with the world? That’s what seeing great art in person is like. I got absolutely lost in the in the intricate intertwining lines of Alex Janvier’s work. His sense of balance, composition and color palette choices are truly all things that qualify his works as a masterful. Though many of his pieces have strong political themes, to the unknowing observer there is a fluidity to his line work that feels like a visual representation of sound and emotion. I had experienced strong feelings with Dalí, and although I wasn’t expecting it, I got those same feelings for Alex Janvier’s work as well. I left feeling excited and inspired and had that same fuzzy glow after going to see a great band live.
Admittedly, I am very passionate about the arts whether it is fine art, music or even theatre so it may seem like I have a very biased opinion. Maybe I do, but I happen to think a lot of people agree with me. Some of the best things we have to offer as human beings are created with only our imaginations, emotions and hands. At times we really are capable of such amazing and beautiful things. If that’s not worth being in the same room to truly appreciate and experience, then I don’t know what is.
The Alex Janvier Modern Indigenous Master Exhibit is on at the Glenbow Museum until September 9th. For more information visit http://www.glenbow.org/