“These are pretty trippy,” my friend said as we stood in the middle of the basement exhibit at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.
Around us were various paintings; some collages, some basic geometric shapes, others playing with positive and negative space while others questioned what exactly a painting is.
The paintings seemed a little out of place at first — they don’t fit the mould of the formal, ancient-seeming style that many of the Beaverbrook’s permanent collection possess. But director and CEO Terry Graff explained that abstract art is much more a part of New Brunswick’s history than is often assumed.
“The first abstract painting was made over 100 years ago, but New Brunswick has been repressed,” he said.
While many books and professors focus on the main hubs of Canada when it comes to art, the smaller towns and provinces are often forgotten about. That is why this current exhibit, Off the Grid: Abstract Painting in New Brunswick, is so important to him.
“The aim is to trigger a rethinking of the standard narratives of Canadian art history and the cultural conditioning of stereotypical assumptions about the visual arts in New Brunswick,” Graff writes in the exhibit guide.
Abstract art, Graff says, challenges the viewer. There is a give and take that hopefully makes the person have to work to understand what is being conveyed.
While some more conventional styles may seem easier to look at, it is after viewing abstract art that you can go back and truly appreciate all the colours, textures and messages that are used in other art forms.
Take, for example, Dana O’Regan’s “3-D Art,” which includes twine and unravelled canvas, with paint dripped on top of it all to make a sculpture that looks like a net you would pull out of the ocean on your fishing boat.
“For anyone who is curious about art and the visual, this exhibition is a great introduction,” said Graff.
As we walked around the exhibit, Graff’s enthusiasm was clear. In the guide he writes about “enriching life through art” and building a “stronger cultural landscape and identity for all the people of New Brunswick,” and while the idea is a nice one, most of the people in the exhibit were there because they liked the way the paintings looked.
Students filled the ground floor of the exhibit, talking about which ones were “cool” and which ones were their favourites. Some would stop to listen as Graff spoke, interested to get the back story on the paintings they were looking at.
Off the Grid and the reception that it has gotten shows that even if Graff’s mission of educating the rest of Canada on the talents in New Brunswick is still in the works, there are at least those in the province who are interested and willing when it comes to exploring the local arts scene. By looking at the past and present of art in New Brunswick, hopefully the exhibit isn’t just a celebration but also an inspiration.
Off the Grid: Abstract Painting in New Brunswick runs from June 26 to Sept. 14.