CANMORE – Creativity saved Alexis McKeown.
When the world came to a sudden stop in March 2020, the Canmore-based artist saw her work as a portrait studio photographer disappear overnight.
McKeown channelled her creativity over the past year-and-a-half into self-portraiture and still life, eventually building up a large enough body of work for her first solo exhibition.
Her exhibition, Isolation Studies, opened to the public on July 1, at the Sideshow Gallery, located in the Harmon Building in Banff.
It features 10 self-portraits that blur the lines between portraiture and still life in a surreal and whimsical manner.
“Isolation Studies was basically born out of having to close my studio down and not being able to work,” said McKeown. “It came out of a need to fill the space with something so I didn’t freak out. My personal and more artistic work always took a back burner to my business and that was one of the silver linings that came out of all the lockdowns.”
“It was the first time I got this concentrated amount of time to grow and try new things and challenge myself as an artist.”
McKeown said each piece in the exhibit has its own unique story, but the overriding theme of the collective body of work is the power of imagination and creativity.
“I hope people can make up their own story about each piece and I hope it ignites their own imagination. I think our culture does not encourage adults to be creative and imaginative in a dream way … We lose the practice of make believe, so I hope when people see my work they can dream for a little while,” said McKeown.
After getting an idea for a new self-portrait, McKeown would start off by sketching her inspiration on paper. Then, using what was at her disposal in her studio, she would photograph individual pieces, including herself.
She explained a lot of the pictures have a surreal element to them, and they couldn’t be captured in just one image. Using Photoshop she combined individual elements of the picture to create the finished image.
“People have a misconception about Photoshop. As an artist, I see it as a really powerful and magical tool. As a photographer, I’m not a painter or an illustrator so being able to do something surreal with my camera and Photoshop is so fun to me,” said McKeown.
Aside from the creativity, McKeown also credits the process of creating the images as a saving grace during the lockdowns.
“The making of them was so silly. I was laughing at myself – it was ridiculous – like throwing dirt in my own face and doing all these things that we’re so awkward.”
The colourful and whimsical self-portraits will be on display at the sideshow galley until September 26.
In lieu of an opening, the gallery is hosting two events so viewers can meet McKeown and have a chance to hear more about the work in the show. The first is a drop-in meet-the-artist day on Friday (July 9) from noon to 5 p.m.
The second event is a Zoom artist talk and Q&A with McKeown on July 29 at 7:30 p.m. Attendees can register through Eventbrite.