The people behind the paint

I asked Dee Barsy on a bright Wednesday morning, “Is painting still relevant? In a media-saturated world where the average person is bombarded by thousands of images a day through the Internet, television and advertising, why is the single static image that a painting presents meaningful?” The receiver is quiet for a moment, and then responds.
“Because in paintings you can sense the person behind them.”

Dee is a current student at the University of Manitoba and one of the seven artists that the Urban Shaman Gallery features in its current exhibition, “University of Manitoba Retrospective”. The gallery features work by former School of Art students Kale Bonham, Roger Crait, Jackie Traverse, Lana Witfeild, Jaimie Fougere, Dee Barsy and Suzanne Morrissette. Dee is correct; as I walk through the gallery I sense that there is intimacy between the paintings and the viewer, as each image allows us closer into the experience of the artist. Through this, one can feel humanity in the space.

Urban Shaman is a gallery that offers a voice for contemporary aboriginal artists in Winnipeg. Each year, the gallery curates a show to highlight the production of aboriginal Fine Arts students practicing at the University of Manitoba.

When Urban Shaman’s “University of Manitoba Retrospective” opened on Aug. 6, the space was buzzing with a wide variety of art-goers, young and old. There was fresh bannock and jam served, and a warm atmosphere. When I return by myself a week later, the gallery is quieter and the space feels like a silent sanctuary for the paintings, each quietly living out their vividness, whispering their story across the floorboards. There I meet Amber Dawn Bear Robe, the gallery’s coordinator and curator. She tells me, “Urban Shaman gives aboriginal artists an opportunity to make art in a noncommercial way and to express their creative intentions uninhibited by cliché stereotypes of what aboriginal art is supposed to be.”

The paintings portray an aboriginal experience that cannot and does not need to be labeled. It is art that does not mark the boundaries of race, yet still expresses the unique experience of the artist.

The paintings offer the viewer a way to peer into the lives and experiences of seven different University of Manitoba students. There is kindness in the intimate gallery space between the image and the viewer. The paintings are evidence; they are records of living that allow the viewer understanding in the way that only a handcrafted art piece can.

The range of work at the show indicates the wide variety of production at the university. Lana Winfield’s brooding encaustic landscapes tell a story through texture and tonal emphasis. Dee Barsy’s portraits place figures amidst shattering webs of graphic colour. Her work uses bold shards of bright colour to construct dynamic and at times overwhelming graphic planes where figures and faces float — sometimes in harmony, sometimes as backdrops for existential angst.

In the vein of identity, Jackie Traverse allows the viewer close insight into her personal life in her featured portrait of her two daughters. The two young women sit on a great plain holding between them a human heart. There is poignancy to the work as they look out from beyond the frame of the canvas, transcending the limitations of pictorial space, silently declaring who they are.

Urban Shaman offers University of Manitoba artists an opportunity to strengthen their voice in Winnipeg’s art community. This year’s retrospective features a broad range of talent and insight into the artists’ personal experience. Even more, it highlights painting as a way to portray that unique and human experience with empowered voices.

“University of Manitoba Retrospective” runs until Sept. 6 at Urban Shaman.