It’s a mix of the past, present and even the future in Love This Land, the current art exhibition at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre.
Love This Land is Gary Haggquist’s first solo show in 19 years, and the first time exhibiting in the O’Connor Group Art Gallery.
When he heard the Cultural Centre was looking for artists for its gallery, his initial reaction was “no way.” There would be no opening reception and strict physical distancing measures would be in place.
“This is the worst time to hold an art exhibit,” he recalled thinking.
“But after sitting on the idea for a few days, and realizing that the Cultural Centre had lost all programming, including its scheduled theatre productions and art exhibitions, I concluded that this was actually the best time to stand up for the arts and for community.”
The solo show by the Cultus Lake artist features pieces from throughout his entire life as an artist, and even includes one unfinished piece. It was one of three he’s worked on during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the world went into lockdown, I took many long solo walks in the forests surrounding my home at Cultus Lake. Once back in the studio, refreshed from my walks, I retreated to a subject matter that has always been my sanctuary – the natural world,” he said.
The partially painted piece that’s in the show is of a vintage car. It’s as though the car is being viewed through a layer of fog with muted red and yellow hues that make up the old, abandoned vehicle.
“Because it’s unfinished perhaps it speaks more than other paintings about this moment in time we all find ourselves in – as we are all in limbo anticipating a future that is uncertain and open ended.”
He won’t touch on the future plans for that painting, but he said he likes the idea that viewers can guess which direction the piece will take, much like how the world is left guessing about the global health emergency and economic crisis we are all experiencing.
“The unfortunate reality is, considering that I am someone entering an age group hit harder by the health impacts of this novel coronavirus, maybe this painting will never be finished,” Haggquist said.
The inspiration for the majority of his work comes from nature – like the water, trees and mountains surrounding him.
Love This Land includes paintings of Lindeman Lake, Cultus Lake and sunsets, as well as a punk Mona Lisa, and issues such as climate change, pipelines and fish farms.
One piece that some may be familiar with is the largest one he’s ever done, ‘In the Rainforest.’ Painted in 1993, it’s a scene of three boys in the forest standing among a collection of rusted oil drums and old growth stumps with springboard notches.
“For me, this piece seems to have more and more relevance as time goes on, as our country continues to grapple with vital issues surrounding fossil fuel expansion and climate change.”
For the first time in his career, Haggquist will be displaying some paintings on loan from private collections, including pieces from the beginning of his career that even he hasn’t seen in decades.
He explains his style of artwork is a “kind of heightened realism.”
“Images appearing firmly grounded in physical reality, at the same time somehow go beyond the surface appearance – tugging the viewer into the realm of memory and dream,” Haggquist said. “I like to think there is still the opportunity for magic in this world.”
Gary Haggquist’s solo art exhibition, Love This Land, is at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre now until Oct. 4. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Friday (closed on holidays). Admission is free. Strict physical distancing protocols are in place. Face masks are required.