Shana Wilson, Peter Robertson Gallery

review an photos by Dawson Black

Viewing art/galleries has always feel slike an intimidating field to access if you aren’t familiar with the mastery of the craft. I have always struggled with stepping into the world of galleries, as I felt that, as someone who isn’t an artist, I didn’t have the right knowledge to appreciate or understand the photos, displays, or exhibits that come through local art galleries.

The first weekend of November, I decided to challenge myself, and step out of my comfort zone to experience the local and Canadian art that Edmonton has to offer.

Edmonton is home to some hidden gems when it comes to the arts and cultural community. The city often associated with hockey, festivals or food and things like art galleries and exhibits seem to slip through the cracks if you aren’t actively seeking them out. I wanted to explore the art that Edmonton has to offer beyond the well-known AGA (Art Gallery of Alberta) by checking out some smaller, lesser-known venues.

I scoped out a handful of galleries mostly from word of mouth and other Edmonton blog recommendations. 124th Street in Edmonton was mentioned as home to some of Edmonton’s top galleries, and makes for an easy day of walking between each location.

I was overwhelmed with the number of galleries within a two-block radius. Instead of doing the recommend gallery-hopping along 124th street, I set out with three galleries, a manageable amount to get done in one morning: Latitude 53, Peter Robertson Gallery, and West End Gallery.

I started with Latitude 53. This gallery was not on 124th street. Its little home is actually a bit hidden just off 106th street, a short five-minute drive from the other locations. I’ve heard of this downtown space through other local businesses and some friends that are more in touch with the arts community. I figured it would be a welcoming space for a far-stretched art connoisseur like myself.

This gallery proudly labels itself one of the “most interesting, risk-taking public galleries” in Edmonton. It’s known for supporting local, up and coming artists who are engaged with contemporary culture. This for me meant that it would be more accepting of a space for someone with little experience of viewing art and would also potentially be a great Instagram opportunity (an absolutely shameless part of me is always seeking out places for an aesthetic picture).

Kasie Campbell Schmoozy

The first visit with the gallery was a little disappointing as I had arrived between the takedown of one exhibit and the setting up of another. I was able to catch the end of their Schmoozy exhibit- a signature annual fundraiser they put on to help promote and fund artists and the community. Most of the pieces were already auctioned off, so I only caught glimpses of some pieces by Kasie Campbell, Kim McCollum and Zachary Ayotte.

Kim McCollum Schmoozy

I will also admit I felt a bit out of place during my first visit. The space was large, and mostly empty and I wasn’t sure how much time I should spend staring at an individual piece of art. I was intrigued with the type of modern, risk-taking pieces I caught a glimpse of and was determined to come back to experience a full exhibit.

I returned only a couple of days later and was instantly taking back the former griefs I had had with this gallery. Mark Clintberg’s exhibit, ‘Portal’- the exhibit that was just starting to be set up during my first visit- was completed. The exhibit wasn’t super overwhelming, meaning there wasn’t a hundred different things happening and every piece was connected to the next. There was a nice flow and peaceful presence with this exhibit.

One thing that really stood out with Latitude 53 was the local connection to artists and how each exhibit takes up a large portion of the space. Every visit comes with a new opportunity of experience one or two artists whole collection of pieces rather than just one or two pieces by ten or fifteen artists. This allows for stories and connections to be built throughout the gallery, a nice alternative to other galleries.

My next stop was the Peter Robertson Gallery (PRG).

The PRG was by far my favorite stop of my day. It’s an open-concept gallery with large windows allowing for passers-by to experience some of the art that is faced to the street. All three galleries were quiet, and I got the space to myself, but there was something insanely peaceful that came over me when I was left to take in the paintings at PRG.

I was welcomed into the space by the owner himself, Peter Robertson, and was encouraged to ask any questions I had. He then left me to my own devices to take in and appreciate the art that was displayed.

The first section of the gallery had paintings that fell more into the realm of realism. Artists such as Kirsty Templeton Davidge (who was one of my two favorite artists from the day), Gavin Lynch, Tim Okamura, and Tim Merrett lined the walls with art that ranged from flowers, nature/landscape to portrait style renditions of people and other objects. This side of the gallery felt ‘darker’ and really didn’t spark any questions or emotions with the exception of Davidge’s works. Davidge’s paintings (below) resembled something that I could see hanging in my own home. They were modern enough that I felt they weren’t too overpowering, but at the same time were fulfilling my love of fashion, faces, and color palettes.

Kirsty Templeton Davidge

The other side of the gallery had a lighter feel to it. The paintings were more vibrant in color and were displayed mostly on white walls which gave a brighter, happier feel. The artists displayed on this side included Shana Wilson, Erin Loree, and Steve Driscoll. These artists shared a love for bright, illuminating art. Of this side, Shana Wilson’s art made up the other half of my favorite pieces.

Wilson’s pieces struck me in their contemporary connections and feminist interventions. Displays such as the ones of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the “Don’t Call Me Old” paintings were beautiful and portrayed strong women, something I look for and am personally attracted to out of appreciation and admiration.

Shana Wilson Don’t Call Me Old

I wasn’t familiar with any of these artists before I entered the gallery. Once I left, I googled Wilson and Davidge to look at more pieces they have done and came across Shana Wilson’s website. She explains how every piece of hers has the ability to inspire and create social change – with a special interest in trail-blazing women. I felt a deep appreciation for Wilson’s work after my visit at PRG. I felt closer to a painting when it’s a portrait of a powerful women. There are role models and stories behind each of Wilson’s pieces that brought her art to life for me.

Davidge and Wilson both had me considering dropping the $5000 I did not have, to bring home and be able to call their paintings ‘mine’.

After a long hour or so of viewing, I found myself not wanting to ask Peter too many of my pressing questions. I feel art is something that should be left to be determined by the viewer themself, so instead, I asked some simple questions regarding the gallery and exhibits themselves.

Peter informed me that they switch out the displays every three weeks or so to make sure that they all receive adequate time to be looked at and to allow for people to come back and be able to experience something new. He also mentioned that, unlike Latitude 53 where paintings go by bidding, these paintings are sold at the asking price – so if you like something you don’t have the fear of losing it.

Peter also mentioned that the gallery is also known to host other events and more interactive exhibitions, but because of Covid regulations, they are left with only being able to do simple displays. However, I am intrigued to go back when things are allowed to start again to be able to meet some of the artists, and watch their presentations of their pieces and what each piece means to them.

I left PRG feeling enlightened and more in tune with appreciating art. With this new profound appreciation of art, I made my way to my final stop of the day – West End Gallery.

I will admit, after having such a profound experience at Peter Robertson, I was left a little disappointed when entering the West End Gallery.

Only a block away from the second location, the West End Gallery was easy to get to and was empty and quiet like the others when I entered. One thing that sets this gallery apart from the others is its display of glass-blown art and sculptures. It was nice to see a different form of art, one that requires intense skill and patience, lining the entrance of the gallery.

The West End Gallery also didn’t feel as welcoming as PRG either. The gallery felt much more crowded, with pieces being set up close to one another. The workers made it feel like it was more business-oriented than art-focused – it felt like I was supposed to be buying the art, not just looking at it.

That isn’t to say that there weren’t still beautiful pieces to be seen here. Displayed across the back wall of the gallery was a set of three pictures that I found myself staring at for longer than any of the other paintings. They were all painted by Aleksandra Savina and made me long to be in New York and to be able to stand in a downtown quarter bustling with people. They were beautiful and were most definitely my favorite pieces at this gallery.

Aleksandra Savina

Despite the negative feelings of the space itself, I was impressed with the very ‘Edmonton-esque’ paintings that were displayed on the wall facing the entrance. One of these was even one of our very own University of Alberta buildings (painted by Fraser Brinsmead) and made me nostalgic to be back on campus.

There weren’t nearly as many artists from this gallery that I felt as attached or touched by as I did with the PRG gallery. I think it comes down to everyone have different styles they like, and for me PRG had displayed exhibits that highlighted areas of personal interest to me.

Fraser Brinsmead Arts Building, University of Alberta

I finished my morning of art viewing by stopping by a local cafe and googling each artist with whom I had felt a connection through their paintings. Not only did I discover new spaces and local art, but I also found a new appreciation for the way art can make me feel and can ignite some intense reactions.

With the galleries being so close to one another, I would recommend taking a full day to check out a couple of them. Each gallery has different artists and exhibits, but the space is also limited so fitting in 3 or 4 galleries is manageable and can make up a large chunk of your day, similar to an AGA visit.

These spaces were all unique and inviting for anyone who wants to look at or connect with art, and I would strongly recommend spending a morning or afternoon staring at paintings.

Latitude 53
10242 106 St, Edmonton, AB T5J 0J2
(780) 423-5353

Peter Robertson Gallery
12323 104 Ave NW, Edmonton, AB T5N 0V4
780) 455-7479

West End Gallery
10337 124 St, Edmonton, AB T5N 1R1
(780) 488-4892