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The Pleiades by Oscar Echeverri.

Exhibition: Starry Nights at Shenkman Arts Centre

By Brian Carroll on July 15, 2017

I have seen an art exhibition of such beauty, wonder and variety that I stared in amazement. I had seen a preview of some of the pieces in the show in digital projection, but computer displays only hinted at the beauty of seeing these works of art in person.

The show in question is Starry Night, on display in the Lalonde + Doyle Exhibition Space of the Shenkman Arts Centre. This display of 24 works by local and national artists celebrates the night sky. Rather than trying to describe the entire show, let me tempt you with some examples of why I think this exhibition is worth the trip to Orleans.

Heavenly Veils, Noctilucent Clouds over Yellowknife by Stephen R Bedingfield.

Heavenly Veils: Noctilucent Clouds over Yellowknife by Stephen R Bedingfield.

Heavenly Veils: Noctilucent Clouds over Yellowknife by Stephen Bedingfield is a striking example. The centre of the piece is a building, on a water shoreline, bathed in a mix of dusky sunlight and artificial light. The building and the water reeds in the foreground are in sharp focus worthy of Group f/64 (which included Ansel Adams). Bedingfield contrasts the wispy “night shining” clouds with the sharp edges of the building, both of which are reflected in the foreground water. Stunning!

Like most of these artists, Eric LeMay hails from Ottawa. The colours of his two large (3’ x 2’) acrylic prints of the Crescent and Horsehead Nebulae explode in bursts of blues, golds, reds, oranges and blacks. The sharp definition of the stars and interstellar dust features amazed me. Computer reproductions pale by comparison.

Remember by Colin Chatfield.

Remember by Colin Chatfield.

Colin Chatfield’s Remember shows off the Northern Lights of winter outside of his home town of Saskatoon. This 10-second exposure captures a magnificent display of an aurora over a crystal-sharp landscape surrounding a frozen reflecting pond. Chatfield captures the curtain features of the aurora with a hint of motion in the focal centre. See it now before the exhibition closes. It’s already been sold.

Rick Wagner’s two and a half hour exposure of Witch’s Broom and Pickering’s Triangle contrasts faint threads of pastel nebulosity against a lush dense star field. The nebulae look so delicate they appear to be floating away. Wondrous.

The Cygnus Wall in the North America Nebula by Paul Klauninger.

The Cygnus Wall in the North America Nebula by Paul Klauninger.

Apt613 readers may be familiar with Paul Klauninger’s scientific photograph of a distant galaxy. He’s chosen to display two of his artistic photos. His Thor’s Helmet Nebula and The Cygnus Wall in the North America Nebula juxtapose rich colours of translucent gas clouds against sharp images of background star fields. The metallic pearlescent photo stock on which they’re printed makes the images glow.

Not all of the exhibit is photographic. And only one work contains the human form. Gordon Webster’s pointillist triptych, Nocturne, in colour pencil, shows a swimmer entering the ocean in the light of a rising moon. The soft colours and pointillism evoke the warmth of summer. The triptych connects humanity, the ocean, the moon and the tides.

Ptolemaeus Rupes Recta Fra Mauro region by Mike Wirths.

Ptolemaeus/Rupes/Recta/Fra/Mauro region by Mike Wirths.

Mike Wirths’ two photos of lunar features, Ptolemaeus/Rupes Recta/Fra Mauro region and Sinus Iridum region present remarkably crisp images of lunar features. Photographed near the sunlight terminator, they render three-dimensional detail with shadows putting features like crater walls in sharp relief. Printed on aluminum, they show extra clarity and sharpness.

Narrowband Bubble nebula by Andre Paquette.

Narrowband Bubble nebula by Andre Paquette.

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Andre Paquette takes artistic licence in his Narrowband Bubble Nebula. Some digital photo sensors translate invisible infrared light emitted by hydrogen as visible red. Instead, Paquette has chosen to show hydrogen emissions as green, sulphur as red, and oxygen as blue. The resulting false-colour image presents a ghostly other-worldly apparition. The canvas on which it’s printed emphasizes the gossamer nature of the nebula.

Relic by Colin Chatfield.

Relic by Colin Chatfield.

Two Milky Way photos relate our galaxy to the stardust that formed our planet. Colin Chatfield’s Relic presents an abandoned wooden grain elevator backed by the Milky Way. Brian Christmas of Oakville has dark northern pines silhouetted against the Milky Way in Kiss Me Goodnight. Both capture an unspoiled night sky that many city dwellers rarely see.

Andre Paquette’s large (3’ x 3’) photo print on canvas, Hi-def Cocoon Nebula, presents a pastel-like rendering of the soft luminosity of this nebula in pinks and reds against a background of black dust clouds, surrounded by dense star fields. The large print has a physical presence that draws the viewer into the image.

The Pleiades by Oscar Echeverri.

The Pleiades by Oscar Echeverri.

Oscar Echeverri of Ottawa and Sherry Campbell of Edmonton display different views of The Pleiadescommonly known as The Seven Sisters. Echeverri’s large (36” x 22.5”) photographic print on canvas shows the ephemeral luminescent gas around this star cluster, while capturing the many stars in the background with a 110-minute total exposure. Campbell’s digital illustration is an artistic rendering of the translucent wisps the eye sees at a telescope eyepiece. The photographer in me likes the former. The observer in me prefers the latter. You decide.

The Pleiades - digital illustration by Sherry Campbell.

The Pleiades – digital illustration by Sherry Campbell.

Imaging bright objects like the sunlit Earth or moon against a background of stars is a huge challenge for photographers. The single exposure settings of cameras either underexpose the stars or overexpose the sunlit bodies. Whereas the retina of the human eye can adjust to see both at the same time. Janet Tulloch reinterprets NASA’s famous Earthrise photo by adding the constellation Orion and the Hyades star cluster in her Earth Rising in the Cosmos, executed in textiles, stitching, beads, and dry needle felting on raw canvas.

There are too many other fine works in this exhibition to mention here. But I do want to finish this list with the most imaginative piece in the exhibition – Sharon Johnson’s Dark Matter Mystery. Dark matter holds the galaxies together, but emits no light. How do you represent something you can’t see? Scientists use dark matter as gravitational lenses into the far visible universe. They have also mapped dark matter based on evidence of gravitational lensing. Johnson has translated this use of gravitational lensing to investigate dark matter into art using beads, fabric, canvas frame, tube and metal support. She portrays a lens of dark matter that is magnifying yet more dark matter.

Janet Tulloch, Gordon Webster and Paul Klauninger have curated this collection from a call for submissions by members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). The exhibit opened as part of this year’s General Assembly of the RASC.

Starry Nights – the Exhibition, curated by Janet Tulloch, Gordon Webster and Paul Klauninger, is on display in the Lalonde + Doyle Exhibition Space of the Shenkman Arts Centre (245 Centrum Boulevard) until July 25. Admission is free. See the Centre’s website for location, hours of operation and directions.