Artist Chris Cran’s Explore exhibition highlights Canadian explorers

Whyte Museum showcases prominent fellows of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society

  • Apr 10, 2023
  • 418 words
  • 2 minutes
Explore will be on display from March 31 to June 11, 2023. (Photo: Josh Segeleski)
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Our perceptions of the past can be easily skewed by the lens through which we view it. Details blur together, leaving pieces of our history lost in the haze.

But step back, focus and look at Canadians who have shaped our nation. Spend some time and those blurred details can come together to create a cohesive image — both in our eyes and in our mind’s eye. That is the beauty of Chris Cran’s unique collection of portrait art.

Housed in the Whyte Museum of the Rockies in Banff, Alta., Explore by Cran, a Calgary-based artist who plays with illusions and manipulation, consists of 23 optical illusion pieces depicting prominent Canadians and fellows of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Using lines and lighting to shift how the works are understood, Cran ensures that what the viewer sees is completely dependent on how willing they are to challenge their own perceptions.

Chief Perry Bellegarde, honorary president of RCGS, standing next to his portrait. (Photo: Josh Segeleski)
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“The subjects reflect the diversity of our Fellowship which is broadening dramatically as the Society transforms to reflect the changing times and landscapes of this country,” said Chief Perry Bellegarde, honorary president of RCGS, at the opening reception of the exhibition.

Capt. Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, who established Canadian sovereignty across the Arctic Archipelago; Alice E. Wilson, Canada’s first woman geologist; Louie Kamookak, a leading Inuk expert on the lost Franklin Expedition; and Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman to go to space, are among the 23 explorers, academics, scientists and adventurers whose faces appear “between the lines.”

The first 10 portraits of Cran’s stripe-work first appeared at the RCGS headquarters in Ottawa in 2016, and the ongoing series only grew from there. The artist said he aimed to make the viewer an active participant within the exhibition, forcing them to move around and play with different angles in order to get the full effect of each piece.

Chris Cran standing amongst his Explore exhibit at the Whyte Museum of the Rockies in Banff, Alta. (Photo: Josh Segeleski)
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“Up close in a gallery, these images are abstract; people must shift between the making and what has been made, the representations of these Society founders and builders,” Cran said.

As an RCGS fellow himself, Cran reminds us that while Canada’s vast geography is eye-catching, it is the people with equally wide-ranging perspectives who have helped to form the country into what it is today. By shifting our bodies, bending with the light, and maneuvering around the lines, we can grow our appreciation for those who have come before us and those who are in our presence.

Cran’s Explore series is on until June 11, 2023.


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