Art centre takes on unique challenge

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Visual arts: Exhibit focuses on figuratives, portraits at Leighton

Patrons stepping into a remote gallery northeast of Millarville next month will fix their eyes on a rare sight.

Award-winning Calgary figurative artist Aaron Sidorenko, who grew up in Okotoks, is curating Bodies of Work, an exhibition by 25 city artists who have captured the essence and complexity of the human form in two and three-dimensional mediums, at the Leighton Art Centre March 3 to April 14. The public can meet the artists at a reception March 3 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“This is the first time we’ve done a purely figurative and portrait group show and the fact that it’s being curated by an artist outside of the Leighton Centre is different, too,” said Stephanie Doll, centre curator.

“We chose to work with Aaron not only because he’s an unbelievably talented artist, but he’s a long-term supporter of the centre. We are really excited to be able to utilize his expertise.”

Bodies of Work has more than 100 paintings, textiles, sculptures and mixed media portrait and figurative pieces, which Doll said is rare for the Leighton Art Centre.

“We really wanted to do this because our entire year of events is focused on landscapes,” she said. “We thought it would be interesting to throw in a wild card exhibition and fit in artists whose work doesn’t fit into any of our themes.”

Doll said many of the featured artists have never exhibited at the centre so it’s an opportunity to make new connections.

“It’s not only going to benefit us, but our artist members,” she said. “It will connect them with these artists they might not have seen before.”

Sidorenko, an Alberta College of Art graduate and recipient of the 2015 Healing Through the Arts Award, said the exhibition is a cross pollination of talent ranging from comic book artists to photographers.

“The artists are full time and not your typical weekend artists,” he said. “We are very fortunate we have not only some of Calgary’s greatest figurative artists, but even some that have gone international. It’s artists of fantastic quality that I’m really happy to have and they are thankful to get it.”

Sidorenko is the founder of Calgary’s People’s Portrait Prize, which promotes hundreds of portrait and figurative artists each year. Their art is judged in various categories and visitors can also vote for their favourites.

“It’s so under-represented other than the occasional community show,” he said of figurative art. “Even then it goes to landscapes and cows.”

Collections of Sidorenko’s work can be found at the Calgary Golf and Country Club, Canadian Pacific Railway, City of Calgary Municipal Collection, Alberta Foundation for the Arts and Alberta College of Art and Design.

He’s also exhibited in solo and group shows at the Okotoks Art Gallery in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Sidorenko hopes his genre of work will be well received at the Leighton.

“I’m always concerned about how a show reads as a cohesive body even though there are different artists,” he said. “I’m hoping people will see the spectrum. A good painting will always transcend its subject. I’m hoping people will be open to see that.”

Sidorenko said working in figurative and portrait requires more risks than mainstream genres.

“Everyone knows if a nose looks wrong,” he said. “If a tree has a branch that’s too low, no one would know. It’s very demanding in the sense that everybody judges a little harder with figurative work.”

Sidorenko just hopes to get people talking.

“I want to get people to look at it and see what they think of it,” he said. “Whatever that looks like it doesn’t matter, as long as they’re looking. People like building a dialogue on imagery of ourselves, whether it’s beautiful or horrid.

“What makes the Leighton Centre unbelievable to me is they’ve never had a figurative show there ever. It might be more risk for them because it’s very conservative. We are not preaching to the already converted.”

The Leighton Art Centre is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is no admission fee.

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