Expressionist painter out of the ordinary

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 09, 2014 08:53 am

Fluid Nature, a series of abstract acrylic paintings by Calgary artist Mali Vargas, is displayed at the Sheep River Library gallery throughout July. An artist’s reception will take place July 19 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Fluid Nature, a series of abstract acrylic paintings by Calgary artist Mali Vargas, is displayed at the Sheep River Library gallery throughout July. An artist’s reception will take place July 19 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
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The latest artist featured in the Sheep River Library’s art gallery is not your stereotypical southern Alberta painter.

While the region boasts a plethora of artists inspired by the landscape and nature that make the area so beautiful and unique, Calgary artist Mali Vargas gets her drive from colour.

The abstract artist hopes her series of acrylic paintings on canvas, called Fluid Nature, will give art admirers an appreciation for a medium that’s out of the ordinary for the area. Vargas’ work will be on display at the Sheep River Library in Turner Valley throughout July.

“The one thing that I noticed is there isn’t much understanding of actual abstract work here in Calgary,” she said. “There is the belief that because this is a western province the only appreciation for art is horses and flowers and landscapes.”

Vargas said these beliefs were verified when she contacted the Sheep River Library about displaying Fluid Nature.

“They saw a little bit of my work prior to the artwork arriving and one of the comments was it was so exciting to have some modern art come here because all we get are landscapes and horses,” she said.

Sheep River Library manager Jan Burney said most of the art featured in the gallery are landscapes in photography, oil or watercolour.

“Most of the art that we get here is not abstract,” she said. “It’s more expressionism than impressionism type of work we get here.”

Burney said having Vargas’ exhibit on display offers something quite different.

“It will be interesting to see how our patrons that come in respond to it,” she said. “It’s very bright and colourful and the pieces are quite large.”

The Sheep River Library has offered various forms of art in the past such as fibre art, but Burney admits most of the art does fall into the landscape and nature category.

“I think we can always broaden our horizons as far as what we show at the library,” she said. “We try not to be restricted and expose people to as many different things that are there as we can possibly get.”

Vargas said there seems to be a belief in the Alberta art culture that viewers can only handle or understand landscapes and nature, but she doesn’t believe that’s the case.

“I don’t necessarily think that it’s society not being ready, but just kind of a misconception,” she said. “I do think that one of the responsibilities of an artist when you are pushing something that is “different” is to educate because you can’t expect people to understand it if you are not willing to talk about it.”

Part of that education comes with showcasing her art in public art galleries, said Vargas.

“The public gallery focus is education and that is something that is very important to me,” she said. “In commercial galleries there’s a transactional approach, where the public galleries are there to educate the public. They just lend themselves to a more educational content.”

Vargas plans to do some of her own educating during an artist reception at the library on July 19 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“I hope they are willing to expand their art dialogue with the artwork so it’s not just an immediate recognition of an image, but they can actually allow themselves to experience the work, take the time to look at it and just thinking about what is happening there, which is very different from a narrative,” she said. “A lot of times we use the material, but we don’t really think of them having their own properties. We think about what we can do with them, but not what their nature does. That is what I’m exploring in this series.”

Vargas graduated from the University of Texas with a bachelor of fine arts degree in studio art and delved into pop cubism, which mixes the perspective art of cubism and with the intense colours of pop art, before moving into more abstract expressionism art.

“That seems to be a normal transition for people to start with cubism and go into abstractism or expressionism,” she said. “I’ve been more and more interested in colours and materials. I’m more of a colourist.”

Vargas is a member of the Society of Canadian Artists, Alberta Society of Artists and Artpoint Gallery and Studios Society in Calgary.

She is also the founding member and program coordinator for Betzalel Arts at the Calgary Jewish Community Center, served on the provincial council for the Alberta Society of Artists and the board of directors of the Women’s Art Museum Society of Canada.

Vargas’ work currently resides in private collections in Mexico, Switzerland, the United States and Canada.

To learn more about Vargas’ work go to


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