Artist’s paintings take viewer on prairie road trip

Artist David Thauberger celebrates the Prairies by showcasing some of its most endearing and iconic images.

From looming wooden grain elevators to his grandfather’s farmyard, and from false front stores on main street to clapboard houses and community halls, he focuses on what he knows well.

The Saskatchewan artist’s work is currently on a national tour, Road Trips and Other Diversions, which includes stops at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon and MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina.

The exhibit provides an overview of his 40 plus year career, which in-cludes about 70 paintings, prints and ceramic works.

Sandra Fraser, curator for the Mendel, said people are surprised at the range of his work and subject matter.

“It expands their understanding of what he’s achieved,” she said.

“The thing that people respond to is the kind of pop art aesthetic with this prairie imagery. The combination of that has given him a particular voice.”

Thauberger, who grew up on the family’s wheat farm near Holdfast, Sask., said the idea of pursuing art never crossed his mind. Playing hockey and baseball were more important.

“I really didn’t know that I had any interest in art at all until I happened to take a summer school class at first year university,” he said.

“I got really excited and it sort of grew from there,” he said.

That led to studying art in California and Montana.

He and his wife, Ronnie, returned to Saskatchewan to raise their family.

Thauberger credits Saskatchewan folk artists like William McCargar for helping shape his style and reinforce something learned during his formal art education.

“The thing they teach you in art school is to paint what you know. I took that more or less literally and felt that I should make some paintings of what I knew,” said Thauberger.

He said the subject matter used by folk artists depicted similar or stereotypical prairie landscapes of railroad tracks running to a horizon line where grain elevators sit under a big sky.

“For me, this was really reinforcing the idea of, could I make art that had real relevance to being here, to living here and that was about here,” Thauberger said.

For two decades, he avoided painting grain elevators.

“I think in large part that was be-cause they’re so endemic in our consciousness and in our visual world,” he said.

Over the years and through many prairie road trips, he became aware that his sense of place and direction disappeared as the elevator did.

He captured images of wooden grain elevators and eventually these photographs became fodder for the straight-on approach of his paintings.

“If you actually get out of the car, that’s the way that you confront them. They’re right in your face,” he said. “These things have a monumental presence when you’re walking past them or encounter them.”

Fraser said Thauberger’s paintings feel closer to modernism, which deals with a two-dimensional medium using pigment and shape with more direction towards abstraction.

“He’s trying to give enough information that it’s really quite clear what you’re looking at and you supply the rest of the information based on your own experience,” she said.

Thauberger said he’s not trying to make paintings that fool the eye.

“Hopefully when it’s working in the right way, it brings your imagination to the making and construction of it but also into your own personal experience about this place or places like this,” he said.

Art is most successful when it is enjoyed.

“The point of all art I think when it raises questions is the raising the question,” he said.

“Art doesn’t provide the answer.”

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