Hanna painter highlights night life of rural Alberta
Art: Exhibit Homeward Bound opens at the Okotoks Art Gallery this weekend
Wednesday, Jan 08, 2014 08:33 am
A Hanna artist has a knack for capturing the rural night life of southern Alberta motorists through his series of paintings.
Service stations and fast-food restaurants pop out of dark skies in Greg Pyra’s collection of life-like oil paintings titled Homeward Bound. The paintings will be on display in the Okotoks Art Gallery’s small gallery from Jan. 10 to Feb. 22.
“People are drawn to the service stations (at night),” he said. “It’s black, there’s a few stars and here is this refuge on the highway.”
With so many rural citizens commuting to work, Pyra said many travel the highways at night and can relate to these familiar landmarks – some of which are still beckoning motorists while others are just a distant memory.
“What I started thinking about is I couldn’t believe how quickly these places of refuge are changing and being closed,” he said. “It’s amazing how quickly rural Alberta is changing and the migration to the cities in the past 10 years.”
The Hanna resident has come to appreciate the lifestyle of remote community living and is sharing that with others through his paintings.
“I hope they get an appreciation for the non-typical parts of Alberta,” he said. “That means the rural isolated areas where, unfortunately, many buildings are decaying and where what’s left of towns is disappearing.”
It was during evening walks Pyra really thought intently about rural life at night.
He recalled an evening when he and his son lay on the ground looking up at the black sky, lit only by the northern lights. He said they couldn’t see the ground or sky, just the colourful lights dancing above.
“It was like floating in space,” he said. “The horizon and the sky dissolve into one.”
On the highways Pyra noticed a sense of loneliness and isolation as motorists drive to their destinations – many times alone in their vehicles.
“There’s a significant amount of isolation and loneliness in our society,” he said. “People in cars are isolated. They are by themselves.”
The lit service stations and fast-food restaurants every few miles on the highway act as a beacon to motorists - a place of refuge, he said.
This is the interpretation he portrayed in his paintings, but those of his audience might be different, he said.
“People can interpret them literally as representations of places of business, which is great, or as expressions of our culture, which is terrific,” he said.
Pyra’s paintings are done in oil, a medium he has come to love.
“I painted 20 some years with acrylic,” he said. “I couldn’t get the kind of blending and colour changes I needed with acrylic so I switched to oil. It’s a beautifully flexible material that allows infinite techniques and possibilities.”
His skill for drawing began at a young age.
Pyra won his first art contest in Grade 2 and took numerous art lessons and achieved a masters degree in art.
“It was something I was completely fascinated by from the beginning,” he said. “I love the quality of paint, all of the colour.”
Many of Pyra’s paintings are featured in the Masters Gallery in Calgary, but it was his wife Nancy Wright who made the connection with Okotoks. Wright lived in Okotoks before moving to Hanna in 2006 and taught music at Turner Valley School.
Wright felt Pyra’s paintings would connect with foothills residents on the same level of those closer to home.
“Because he paints what people here know, he really connects with people,” she said. “People are very comfortable with his work. It’s almost like a security blanket.”
During an event at the Masters Gallery in Calgary, Wright said a group of women walked up to his painting of downtown Hanna and one woman recognized it immediately as the town she grew up in.
“People are just blown away by his work,” she said. “He just finds the beauty. He finds it in the sunrise, he finds it on the highway, the lights coming towards you shoot up into the sky. It makes you realize what you’re actually seeing.”
Heading homeward bound this week, Wright said she is eager to reconnect with old friends during the opening reception of the exhibit at the Okotoks Art Gallery on Jan. 10 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.
To learn more about Greg Pyra go to www.gregpyra.com