Jim Westergard’s keen eye for detail often leans toward the eccentric, even downright bizarre, as evidenced by his woodcuts of eccentric insects and strange, contradictory people.
Whatever its subject, Westergard’s art is created with an extraordinary level of technical skill. This can, perhaps, be more widely appreciated when weirdness is taken out of the equation.
In a class of its own, at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery, is a collection of large figure drawings made by the now retired Red Deer Polytechnic art teacher in the 1980s. Delicate works began as classroom demonstrations, with Westergard sketching alongside his students. Then, to maintain his own artistry, he would bring early sketches home and spend more time developing them in colored pencil and pastel.
His male and female nudes, depicted in a reclining or seated position, have all the accuracy and detail of Westergard’s best-known woodcuts, but have apparently been interpreted in a softer, gentler way.
The dreamy “light” falling on these figures is actually the cream-colored paper that shines through – and this use of negative space fascinates Kim Verrier, the museum’s exhibits coordinator, who marvels at “the flesh tones and the angles it captures…. and the way the light plays with the shadows in the tarp.
Fully realized hands and feet – the bane of many artists – are shown bursting through folded paper in one of the drawings – with sharply observed shadows fading slightly along their edges.
Guest curator Joanne Gruenberg believes that Westergard’s masterful interpretations of the human figure speak to his artistic talents. “Jim captures the human figure with sensitivity and technical excellence,” which must have greatly benefited his students, she added.
The life drawings in Jim Westergard: In a Class of His Own are just a small part of the great gift of artwork given to the museum by the artist. In 2020, he donated around 200 works of art to MAG. In addition to these drawings, his gift included various series of his woodcuts and other works that will provide a comprehensive understanding of Westergard’s career as an artist and teacher, Verrier said.
Born in Ogden, Utah in 1939, the artist was educated at various colleges and universities in California, Arizona, and Utah, where he earned his BFA and MFA in Utah State. He moved to Red Deer in 1975 and taught at Red Deer College as a professor of printmaking and drawing until his retirement in 1999.
He became a Canadian citizen in 1980 and has worked as an artist for 40 years in Alberta.
Besides his high technical skills, Westergard’s art also became known for his wit and humor. His books of prints include see what i sayits visual interpretation of original English words and phrases, and Mother hen Eggshis black humor on nursery rhymes.
The exhibition In a Class of his Own continues at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery until November 19.
Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery