By Haley Bassett, November 25th 2020
Last week, I took a trip to the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie to take in Carmen Haakstad’s Domino VI and anne drew potter’s Age of Innocence, two unique shows that I highly recommend experiencing. I was given a tour of Haakstad’s exhibition by the artist himself, where he generously gave me comprehensive insight into his oeuvre.
Raised on a farm near La Glace, Alberta, Haakstad is a thoroughly all-Canadian artist of the Peace Region. He was able to pay for his arts education through a hockey scholarship from the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Both his upbringing on a farm in Northern Alberta and his lifelong relationship with hockey have become major components of his work.
The domino figures prominently as well, having been at the core of a chance occurrence in Mexico that prompted the artist to pursue art as his life’s passion. After juggling his art practice and non-profit work for decades, Haakstad had reached a crux in his life and had been searching for direction when a small wooden box labelled ‘DOMINO’ washed up on the beach at his feet. A deeply spiritual person, Haakstad took this unassuming box to be the sign he needed, and thereafter started work on a series of exhibitions titled Domino I through Domino VI.
These bodies of work trace the development of a personal mythology inspired by nature, the artist’s faith as well as the confluent relationship of all things. In his latest, Domino VI, Haakstad has solidified this visual language to communicate his beliefs through sweeping landscapes, Christian and Buddhist iconography, and towering, cathedral-like paintings of trees with the Northern Lights framed within their branches like stained glass windows. Nature and faith are again blended in the recurrent figure that Haakstad calls the Seeker. A mysterious, saintly character ensconced by trees, the Seeker represents the artist’s drive to uncover the sublime in all experiences.
Haakstad’s absorption with the metaphysical is reminiscent of the visionary Hilma af Klint, a Swedish artist who was active in the early 20th century and whose abstract works also seeks to describe the divine. Both artists speak to the spiritual self in all of us, and strive for universal truths. Through years of self-reflection and existential pondering, as evidenced in his Domino series, Haakstad has by his admission reached an epiphany in this sixth and final iteration. And he invites us to discover it for ourselves.
Guest-curated by Deb Courvoisier, this multifaceted exhibition is on display at the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie until February 1st 2021. Tune in next week for my conversation with master ceramicist anne drew potter about her show Age of Innocence.
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