Cran's work appears in 'The McIntyre Ranch Project 'at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, Alberta.
THE MCINTYRE RANCH PROJECT
Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge
Until September 11, 2005
By Douglas MacLean
As Chris Cran lets us know in his large painting featuring an anonymous talking head, McIntyre Ranch is... king big! Who better to tell the story in two words than Alberta’s master of wit and art.
In my brief visit to the ranch — a 55,000-acre expanse of natural short grass prairie located south of Lethbridge — I saw that not only is it big, it is an absolute treasure of landscape and western culture, complete with incredible ranch architecture, cowboys and cattle.
This is the second McIntyre Ranch project. The first was in 1991 when 13 artists from across the country gathered at the ranch, an event organized by artists/curators David Durrant and Jeff Spalding. In 2004, again organized by David Durrant and directed by Tim Zuck, and supported by ranch owners Ralph Thrall Sr., Cathy Thrall and Ralph Thrall Jr., 18 photographers, sculptors, painters and writers, including some of the original group, met at the ranch. They spent a week talking, walking and sketching in the incredible surroundings.
A year later we have the exhibition, the fruit of the project, at The Southern Alberta Art Gallery (SAAG), a beacon of contemporary art exhibition within the west. Of all the exhibitions the SAAG has sponsored, supported and installed, this exhibition stands out as one of my favourites. Kudos to curator Joan Stebbins and her staff.
The project’s participants have produced a bounty of wonderful art — traditional mediums are explored in abundance alongside more contemporary areas of production such as video and advanced sculpture. All of the adventure was recorded by CBC in documentary format by Jim MacQuarrie of Edmonton.
The McIntyre Ranch Project opened June 29 with a large crowd and a ton of energy, and there were many standouts in the visuals and writings on display. Sculpture by Gordon Ferguson, Robert Murray, Judith Schwartz and Robert Youds caught my attention. Ferguson, inspired by a piece of barbed wire he found in the giant space of land that is the McIntyre Ranch, replicated this small chunk into a large floating construction, expertly crafted, sharp, ominous, and in the end beautiful in a strange way. Murray explored imagery in his wonderful sculpture — the top of a granary or just pure form, the history of his art- and sculpture-making culminates in the work. Schwartz explores history and symmetry with an incredible large metal form, delicate yet strong. And Youds’ work with a lightbox and projected landscape speaks volumes of the place and the inspiration he derived from the ranch.
As we know, keeping one’s eye on the work at openings is often futile, but through it I managed to explore Sandra Meigs’ small gouache paintings. Traditional in the sense that they were created en plein air, the pieces fall completely into Sandra’s quirky style of paint handling; they are rich in variety and views.
Tim Zuck showed his controlled, precise use of graphite in two drawings, both images obviously of local subjects, light and surface revealed. Jeff Spalding explored large landscapes. Although they could be trite in another context, his use of oil paint, depth and colour in a renaissance style gave us a new story of the land and elements. Under the deft hand of Billy J. McCarroll, a bison skull becomes abstract, aggressive and beautiful. American artist Jon Goodman, known as one of the most important photo gravure artists in the world (although most people are not familiar with his work), presented commonplace ranch objects: an anvil takes on a gem-like form with the black and white silk quality of the gravure process.
When you visit this exhibition, read the words of writers inspired by the surroundings and look into the corners and small places for the incredible works that were generated quietly in this environment. The purpose of the project has been envisioned and placed within the context of art, writing and image generating, and it works. It tells a great story.