New Art For The New West

The Calgary Stampede Art Show, running July 5 to 14, showcases a wide variety of Western art, redefining what Western art is all about.

Depicting a grove of trees with a herd of cattle in the centre, the painting of Hereford and Angus mingling at the edge of the water, and a rider in a yellow slicker minding them is considered a classic Western art image. 

Contrast that to the contemporary, bold, abstract imagery of Edward Mitchell. Slashes of diamond dust across backgrounds of Alberta tar dominating huge modern canvases. These too are considered Western art.

No matter what your art aesthetic, there is likely a Western art piece that will speak to you. And just where can you find every kind of Western art there is? Look no further than the Calgary Stampede Art Show, the largest show of its kind in Western Canada. Running through the Calgary Stampede from July 5 to 14, the hidden gem, tucked into the northwest corner of the brand-new BMO centre will show and sell the work of over 200 artists, photographers, sculptors, jewellers and artisans who once again challenge what defines Western art. 

The show has evolved over the years, ebbing and flowing with the influx of local, area and visiting artists, ranging from those born in the beltline to those hailing from family farms tucked into distant rural corners. Defining and characterizing what “Western” means becomes artist specific or does it? What does Western Art mean anymore? 

The overarching premise is a connection to nature. How can there not be with the stunning scenery of the West, begging to be immortalized in yet one more way. Even the most artistic luddite reaches for a phone to take a picture of wildlife, the Rockies or, yes, even a cow. 

However, one could argue that nature can include urban notes. Familiar spaces and landmarks that make up the “scapes” of the new west are commemorated in all manner of mediums. The new and emerging artists shown in the Art Gallery section of the show are particularly good at pushing at these boundaries. Unapologetically contemporary in their mandate, these artists bewitch us with new-to-us-frontiers. Bold colours, mixed media and unique subject matters that still feel achingly familiar as Western art.

Additionally, we need to give credit to the rise of social media propelling an army of new artists to document their environments. It has helped propel an interest in photography, which is reflected in the Western Photo Gallery and Competition. Even the music coming from the Window on the West stage could be folk, bluegrass, western or any combination of all.

Finally, don’t forget to take stock of the artist booths that create the main part of the show. Artists of mixed media, sculpture and soaring canvases sit side-by-side with more classically trained artists. There are new as well as familiar faces, as artists not only get their start at the show, but return annually, bringing new works for sale. Pieces go quick, and those in the know, visit early during the event.

So it’s obvious that there is a blurring of the definition of Western art – it changes every year with the artists participating. Yet it always feels right, leaving each of us to seek what we need from art, and find a new piece to place in our homes.

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