Douglas Williamson: Urban Theology
April 25 to May 9, Wallace Galleries, Calgary
By Margaret Bessai
In the western art historical tradition, there are many ways to read a painting, including a language of symbols embedded in naturalistic representation. Urban Theology, new works in oil by Douglas Williamson depict sumptuously painted birds in gritty cityscapes. The titles invite us to meditate on a subtext based in biblical metaphor: Turn or Burn, Nineveh, Between Two Thieves. Animals and birds in stories and art function as symbols, and meanings vary by culture and are created through a mix of observation and projection — clever as a monkey, free as a bird, memory like an elephant. In painting, depictions of animals often hide a symbolic subtext (dogs in historic portraiture signify marital fidelity, the crow is a highly social bird, adaptive, intelligent and caring; the crow archetype is a trickster). Williamson came to painting after graduating in sculpture from the University of Calgary, and he studied with the American portrait artist David Leffel. The result, seen in this show, blends strong visual concept with a mastery of traditional painting techniques.