Shawn Serfas | Re-Picturing the Landscape


This is the first in a number of exhibitions which will examine and celebrate the wealth of artistic talent currently living and working here in the Okanagan Valley. The purpose of these exhibits is to document the vast number of artists and the diversity of the artwork currently being produced in the valley today. I am excited to not only see the results of these exhibits but also the public reaction to the work of these artists, some of which are well known while others will be an entirely new discovery. With this objective in mind, it is with great pleasure that we kick off our 2013 exhibition schedule with the mid career retrospective of Shawn Serfas who was until recently a well regarded professor of painting at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus.

To take pause and look back at an artist’s creative output, tracing the development of their work over an extended period of time, is both a luxury and a privilege. Laid out in chronological order, the work is the artist’s DNA, giving clues and providing insight into the evolution of their creative process while at the same time illuminating the common threads. An opportunity such as this also serves the artist as it provides a rare opportunity to review the road map of their creative journey, allowing them the chance to check in and take stock on where they have been, where they are at currently, and potentially, insight as to where they may go next.

For Shawn Serfas this mid-career survey clearly illustrates the evolution of his visual art and contextualizes his current work with that which has come before. Growing up on Canada’s prairies where an endless horizon equally divides the expansive landscape from the sky above, it’s not hard to imagine how the relationship between the ephemeral and the tactile has imprinted itself on his psyche. Casting a shadow against this backdrop is the enduring legacy of Clement Greenberg whose ghost still haunts this vast expanse and the art and the art history of North America for the past fifty or more years.

Since the time our country was first populated our very existence has been defined by its landscape. This body of work will only add to this continuing dialogue and will further refine and define our collective understanding of the land on which we live and the planet we all inhabit.

From the earliest examples of art found in archeological sites, to the enigmatic pictographs left by the earliest inhabitants, artists have not only identified with the land, they have tried to define it and pass this knowledge and deeper understanding along to all those who followed them through their art and markings. To us,  these seem like abstract notations but to those who know the language of the land these are the road signs to a greater understanding and insight into the world.  Like these early artists, Shawn Serfas draws upon an innate understanding of the landscape and these paintings serve as a map of the world as he sees it.

It’s a delicate balance to try and tame nature and in doing so transcribe its mysteries through one’s visual art. Over the course of his career Shawn Serfas has been working on the development of his own visual equivalent of the natural world though an ongoing process of artistic exploration. Through the continued development of his own non objective idiom, Shawn is seeking to better define his own voice and firmly establish his place in Canadian art history.

Shawn Serfas was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and grew up exploring the northern reaches of his home province’s lakes and river systems. Prince Albert is located in the broad valley of the North Saskatchewan River near the geographical center of the province where the agricultural prairie of the south and the rich forest belt of the north meet. It is often called the gateway to the north. It is close to the famous Emma Lake artist's school where many influential artists have lived and worked.

Currently Shawn is an assistant professor in the Visual Arts Department at Brock University and resides in the historic and picturesque community of Welland, Ontario. Although initially drawn to an academic career in the Environmental Sciences, Serfas pursued Fine Arts and Art History degrees in Saskatchewan as well as a Master of Fine Arts degree in Alberta. He has taught at the University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia. His research interests include contemporary painting, drawing and printmaking practices concerning relational abstraction, environmental aesthetics, religion, the landscape as well as issues bordering abstraction and representation.