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Rough Country: The Strangely Familiar in mid-20th Century Alberta Art

In this exhibition of art made in Alberta, things are not always what they seem. To quote John Snow: “A lot of my works are interested in the psychological feelings of a woman and a child, or a family and their possible problems. I do not paint the problems, [instead] I get the feeling of tension.”

Throughout the exhibition ROUGH COUNTRY, the world is not depicted as it objectively appears. In the featured artworks, everyday or even banal subject matter become strangely familiar – altered by the artist’s emotional and subjective response. With this focus, this exhibition considers the resonance of expressionism in the artistic practice of five Alberta artists: Maxwell Bates, Laura Evans Reid, John Snow, W.L. Stevenson and Dorothy Henzell Willis.

Evocative of the postwar social climate, the perspective these artists offer can be unsettling, sometimes uncanny or even downright disturbing. All born before 1918, they bring a perspective of the province and its people that belies the myth of Alberta as a land of prosperity and simple beauty. With an impassioned approach to their subject matter, their works are beautifully composed; executed with strong colours and distorted space, as well as other features associated with expressionism.

The artists are moved by the hardships of modern life and its contradictions; in their works, melancholy contrasts with the vibrancy of everyday life. Mothers and children are featured in this feast of the strangely familiar, as are still-lives and landscapes. There are spectacles of clowns, fortunetellers, nightclubs and circuses. Ghosts, scarecrows and life-like dolls make an appearance.

Taking its title from John Snow’s print of the same name, the exhibition ROUGH COUNTRY reflects the connections between Alberta artists and artistic practice in Europe. It also traces the circulation of ideas between themselves and other artists across North America. This occurred through their own travels, publications such as Highlights Magazine, Canadian Art, Saturday Night, as well as touring exhibitions in which these artists both participated in and visited. Their endeavors did not grow out of a desire for a strictly regionalist practice, but are embedded in a larger discourse that is both local and international.

This unique exhibition features works from both private and public art collections. ROUGH COUNTRY represents ongoing research into artistic practice in Alberta and is an example of the AGA’s lively and ongoing commitment to Alberta art of the past and present.

Co-curated by Ruth Burns and Mary-Beth Laviolette. Organized by the Art Gallery of Alberta. Presented by Westmorland Coal Company.


Monday: closed
Tuesday: closed
Wednesday: closed
Thursday: 11am-7pm
Friday: 11am-5pm
Saturday: 11am-5pm
Sunday: closed


'Pay what you May' admission for all essential service workers and our friends in the arts and culture sector.

AGA members
Youth 0-17
Alberta students 18+
Out-of-province students
General admission
Seniors 65+


2 Sir Winston Churchill Square
Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T5J 2C1