Sometimes people can walk into a gallery and the art that is being exhibited strikes them in a deep, personal and unexpected ways. That’s likely the case with the ‘Highways of Alberta: Paintings by Greg Pyra’ which is currently on display in the Kiwanis Gallery of the Red Deer Public Library downtown branch.
The exhibit, also hosted by the Red Deer Arts Council, shows through to Aug. 21st.
Pyra’s style is simply mesmerizing – as one ponders the images of service stations, fast food spots and service vehicles set in some instances on lonely landscapes, highways or silent stretches of Alberta’s prairie communities, there is almost a palpable sense of nostalgia. Skies also play a major part in many of the works – backdrops of crystal-clear colour that beautifully add to the sense of ‘aloneness’ that is at the heart of the subject matter.
Pyra likens life to a journey, and the sense of being on a journey – with many of these homegrown sites and sounds in the province sadly vanishing – shines through all the more. It’s a poignant exhibit – personal and absolutely meaningful.
As to the sites represented within this exhibit, there’s a spiritual sense of journey resonating there, too.
Certain points on the horizon may be gas stations or restaurants – places of security and familiarity. But folks as passer-by are essentially moving on elsewhere. “There is no final destination in life – life is the journey,” he said, adding the pieces in the exhibit do cover a span of years.
As mentioned in a release, “Capturing places of comfort and refuge, like service stations, fast food joints and service vehicles that are disappearing in small towns, allows Hanna artist, Greg Pyra, to comment on the migration of people to the cities while celebrating the towns and communities of southern Alberta and (recognizing) their cultural contribution to the province of Alberta.
“Light becomes an important aspect of this journey of paintings as it alters the environment in significant ways and expresses Greg’s inner state of mind.”
As indicated, many of the elements seen in these works are disappearing. “The prairie life is disappearing, but this is what I knew. These service stations, these restaurants, these small towns. Some are in a state of decay – in fact, many of these places I’ve painted are already gone.”
For Pyra, a love for artistic expression was sparked early on.
His dad had wanted him to be a lawyer initially, but Pyra knew a drive to create art and chose to focus on that.
“I was taking art classes already in Grade 4 and my art teacher from Grade 9 is still a friend,” he explains during a recent chat. “So we’ve been friends for 40 years. He was giving me private art classes after school in addition to the regular art classes.”
Post-secondary studies eventually followed, plus a career in teaching. Pyra also spent three years in Cologne, Germany because it was the centre of visual art in Europe, he said. A primary influence during his own formation as an artist was acclaimed artist Agnes Martin, who was born in Macklin, Saskatchewan in 1912.
Later on, he taught at the junior high/senior high level for more than 24 years in Hanna.
Ultimately, Pyra said he would describe his work as a study in human isolation. “People are also moving to the cities so there is a rapid migration from the prairies. It’s a loss of history and heritage. So there’s a sadness on my part, because I think there is a lack of appreciation of the beauty of the prairies.”
For Pyra, sharing his work brings fulfillment as well. He enjoys openings to his shows, and the opportunities to chat with folks and see their reactions to his works. “Artists basically work a lot by themselves, so to see people’s reactions is very affirming – both the good and bad. Most of the time, there’s an excitement and enthusiasm and a positive response.
“Artists also tend to be critical of themselves – there’s often no formal feedback apart from friends or other artists, if that. There may not be any feedback at all.”
Meanwhile, the Red Deer Arts Council is pleased to present a special First Friday Red Deer Aug. 5th performance featuring Improv Jelly, Red Deer’s newest improv and sketch group in Central Alberta, in the Snell Auditorium at the downtown library.
Four actors will be doing improvisational games from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m. and 7 to 7:30 p.m.
The adjacent Kiwanis Gallery will be open from 6 to 8 p.m.
Refreshments will be served. There is no charge, but donations are accepted.
According to a release, “Improv Jelly will be performing two sets of classic, simple, yet fantastically fun improvisational games with actors, Paul Sutherland, Nicole Leal, James Scott and Philip Abusow.
Improv Jelly, led by Sutherland and Leal, was launched this past May.
Sutherland’s past experience starts off with his years of being a working actor in Alberta who graduated from Red Deer College’s theatre program in 2005. He also improvised for four years with Against the Wall Theatre’s improv group called Bull Skit.
Leal has been a working actor and director in Central Alberta since graduating from Red Deer College’s theatre program in 2013. She has been a part of Prime Stock Theatre’s Bard on Bower and Against the Wall Theatre’s sketch and improv group called Veal Skit.
She is also embarking on a new adventure as Tree House Youth Theatre’s artistic director for the 2016/2017 season.