Breaking barriers

Hnatiuk’s art battles depression and convention

You might remember Graham Hnatiuk from such sidewalk chalk art demonstrations at Old Market Square, Manitoba Hydro Place and Assiniboine Park, during the latter of which he narrowly escaped arrest.

Lately, Hnatiuk’s taken his passion for activism and ecology indoors in preparation for his debut solo visual art exhibition. Co-Existence boasts a collection of sketches and paintings that pose questions about our future in response to our “eroding connection” with the natural environment. The result is an imaginative exhibition that is both visually and conceptually intriguing.

Co-Existence is on display until March 22nd at Artbeat Studio (4-62 Albert St.) Artbeat provides studio space and six-month art residencies to people living with mental health issues.

“People with mental health issues have all sorts of other barriers, like lack of motivation or anxiety about being in a group setting,” Hnatiuk, who did a residency at Artbeat in 2011 after being diagnosed with severe depression, says. “There are tons of stories from Artbeat. This was a stepping stone for my career. This let me build a body of work and make some connections. I was able to use this as a launch pad.”

Hnatiuk’s artistic style includes a remarkable level and variation of textures. He says he learned to experiment with texture from a colleague at Artbeat. 

“I watched him do it and it broke the mold in my brain,” Hnatiuk says. “He used house paint and his hands, whatever was around, whatever he needed to make the effect. I was like ‘Hey… there’s no rules to art. Scrap all this bullcrap.’ And I started a new process.”

The exhibition’s flagship painting demonstrates that “no rules” ethic. 

“That is born out of mistakes,” says Hnatiuk of the painting. “It’s just mistakes layered over mistakes. The result is this really rich, complex texture.”

Hnatiuk’s technique is as unconventional as his art education. 

“I learn by doing things myself, more of an autodidactic approach than a rigorous study schedule approach,” Hnatiuk says with a grin. 

Hnatiuk also writes poetry, which inspires his visual art as well as his lyrics as frontman for local band (and recent Uniter Fiver finalists) Hearing Trees.

“There are inevitably images that come along with [writing poems]. Those images I will eventually turn into drawings or ideas. These all mostly started in a notebook somewhere,” the artist says as he displays a thick notebook full of informal sketches, poems and doodles.

Another particularly interesting Co-Existence piece is framed in recycled boards from Hnatiuk’s uncle’s fence.

“The world map is inspired by the map of lights from space at night,” he says. “People think those are beautiful images and that it looks really pretty, and I look at it and say, that’s light pollution. You can see how much of an impact we have, literally changing the face of the Earth.”

Published in Volume 68, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 12, 2014)

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