The Whitemud (also known as “The Frenchman”) is a river valley, close to Eastend in the very southwest corner of Saskatchewan, tucked between the Grasslands and the Cypress Hills. It is a physically and historically emotional landscape. A place where artist Leslie Corry’s grandparents settled and had a ranch; the place where her father grew up living an idyllic childhood, and a place that Corry has only recently begun to get to know and understand through family reunions and trips to scatter her aunt’s, and, then, her father’s ashes.
A landscape of strata, emotional, familial, cultural and geological with layers of history from dinosaur skeletons (which sit on the layer of white clay found in the geological strata), to the remnants of “teepee” circles and to what remains of the lives of early settlers like Corry’s grandparents.
Through the years Corry’s work has often had a focus on loss and grief and “The Whitemud”” is no exception as she explores and grieves for passed on relatives, the cruelness and insanity of the Bison slaughters, the forced removal of the native peoples from their land, and the passing of a more simple way of life. To this end the bison, or buffalo, features strongly, appearing in prints and in paintings as well as cut out forms superimposed on the landscape. These shadowy silhouettes appear as if ghosts, reminders of when the grasslands shook to the power of the herds and before the non-aboriginal settlers chose to change the dynamic, forever, with their disdain for the importance and mortality of the natural world.
Corry’s task in her exhibition at Mahon hall is to bring this unique landscape to life for those who have never been there, whilst imbuing the paintings, prints, sculpture and installations with layers of her own emotions and the cultural changes and devestations that have coloured her thinking on the area. She does so by using and accumulating a huge variety of objects: bone, paint, fossils, clay, wood and more; all are used to give the hills, sky, wildlife, characters, history and sorrow of this corner of Saskatchewan a meaning for the viewer.
It is an immensely powerful collection and representation. Corry first started this work with an artist talk at the Point Gallery 3 years ago and it is still in development, as Corry discovers ever more layers to her emotions and thoughts on the many elements of “The Whitemud”, and what they mean to her.
It is rare to have the chance to explore an artist’s explorations so viscerally, and to come away informed and excited, but not directed. A true landscape of discovery for both artist and viewer.