Extraordinary steel sculptures on a nuclear theme at Centre 64

Review of Atomic Rays and Scattered Light exhibition at Centre 64

The current exhibition in the main gallery at Centre 64, which opened July 3 and runs to July 28, is really two complementary exhibitions with a partially overlapping theme. That theme is war, nuclear war, although when you first walk into the gallery and get your first glimpse of the sculptures and the majority of the paintings the theme is not immediately evident, such is the beauty of the artwork.

Atomic Rays is an exhibition of 13 steel sculptures by Salmo artist Howard Roo. Each symbolizes nuclear war by the inclusion of such iconic symbols as the Doomsday Clock, the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, doves of peace, or atomic clouds which he created by ionizing water to produce steam. Howard commenced his career as a sculptor in steel just 5 years ago, having spent his previous years building steel gates and fences. He slowly became an anti-nuclear activist after reading and studying about the effects of the atomic bombs on Japan in World War 2, the years of the Cold War, and the continued stockpiling of nuclear weapons to this day. Dissatisfied with his ability to explain himself in words, he spent the past 3 years using his craft as a worker of steel to express his ideas in sculptural artforms.

Although war is ugly, Roos’ sculptures are beautiful. They are balanced compositions of intricate, intertwining forms, arrived at inspirationally by the artist who does not draw plans to work from. So fascinating are the designs that this viewer found it difficult to absorb the somber message of the war symbols they contained, entranced as I was by the beautiful designs of the sculptures.

The free standing sculptures on plinths or on the floor are backed up by the colourful, paintings on the walls by another Salmo artist, Tova Main. The title of her display, Scattered Light, refers to the qualities of light she explores in her acrylic landscape canvases which fill three of the gallery walls and an easel or two. But four canvases that hang on the fourth wall in the raised alcove are of a much different, much darker mood. Each depicts a word and an image that symbolize war. Working with Howard Roo in 2015 she was infected by his passion in what he believes and so developed the four paintings in relationship to Howard’s work. Perhaps the most telling image is of a scorpion, the only creature to have survived a nuclear test explosion in the USA.

These four paintings are in stark contrast to her newer landscape paintings, counterbalancing the destruction of war with images of things that endure. Says Tova, “Art is the capturing of light” and that is what her paintings do, particularly an imaginary landscape in moonlight with a solitary figure that greets visitors as they enter the gallery.

While Main and Roo exhibit their work mainly in and around Salmo, this exhibition will again be displayed in Cranbrook in October. Before then, work by both artists can be seen in a group exhibition in the old schoolhouse at Ymir during the Columbia Basin Culture Tour in September. However, given the space provided in Kimberley’s beautiful gallery in Centre 64, this may well be the best place to view this unique exhibition.

The gallery is open from 1 to 5 each Tuesday through Saturday afternoon and admission is free.

Mike Redfern


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