Hat neighborhood inspires Esplanade art exhibit by MHC alumna
For Theresa Eisenbarth, the River Flats neighborhood of Medicine Hat is a special place that serves not only as a symbol of her childhood, but as inspiration for the paintings she’s created for her Walking the Flats exhibition.
Eisenbarth is an alumni of the Visual Communications program (now known as Art and Design) at Medicine Hat College (MHC) and is the latest artist to occupy the Art Gallery at the Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre.
The exhibit features vibrant acrylic paintings of varying sizes, created from photographs taken by Eisenbarth herself.
“I grew up in the River Flats neighborhood, so this collection is a depiction of my story. As you walk through the gallery, you follow the routes I would take when I walked to school and other significant locations when I was younger,” explains Eisenbarth.
“The paintings are of local, neighborhood landmarks specific to the area. I started with 568 photos, narrowed it down to 56, and have painted 35 portraits of houses, store fronts, and street scenes – the people and places I interacted with – that are of relevance to my childhood experience.”
She applied for the gallery over three years ago, unbeknownst to the significance the concept would have following the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The presentation comes at a time where people are encouraged to stay close to home, yet have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and exploring their local neighborhoods with their families.
“When I was younger, it was all about supporting and enjoying your community. We spent a lot of time outside and did our shopping at the neighborhood mom and pop shops. I think the pandemic has been a good reminder of the importance of supporting our local businesses and embracing what our neighborhoods have to offer, as they are an integral part of our community.”
Eisenbarth’s creative career first began at MHC, where her studies were focused on photography and print-making, along with a couple of painting classes. Since then, she further pursued a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Calgary, and has found her passion painting full-time as her profession.
“I always wanted to paint. I had this nagging feeling to paint and I decided to follow that feeling,” says Eisenbarth. “My work includes gallery collections, commission projects, and hosting painting workshops.”
Her style is unique in that she begins by laying out her paintings using black gesso on wood cradleboards built by her husband. She then uses many layers of acrylic paint and mixed media products to get the colours and look she envisions.
Self-proclaimed as a non-traditionalist, Eisenbarth says she does not follow the rules when it comes to painting.
“I believe an artist’s style is dictated from the materials, products and colours they use. For example, I layer, not mix the colour in my work. I am set in my colour palette – vibrant colours – and I paint all of my pieces using the photographs I’ve taken personally.”
A unique trait to her work is that each piece contains an old key disguised in the painting, covered by colour. She sees keys as a symbol of opportunity, with significance to her beginnings as an artist.
“When I initially started painting, I used to paint the front doors of stores downtown that were vacant. My first studio was in the basement of Studio San Paolo, formally known as St. Paul’s Lutheran church on Bridge Street in the Flats, and I found a box of old keys there. I liked the idea of reusing and repurposing things, so I started incorporating the keys and other pieces of door hardware into my work. Now people drop off their old keys to me and I use those,” explains Eisenbarth.
Another distinct attribute in an Eisenbarth painting is an often barely noticeable piece of text. Each year, she says she picks a word to accept and incorporates that word and its definition into the painting. Looking back, she is able to tell which year the piece was finished. For the paintings she does for others, they have the opportunity to pick a word with personal significance to them if they wish.
When it comes to finishing a piece, Eisenbarth describes herself as an intuitive artist.
“For me, the painting time varies for each one depending on how I am feeling. Sometimes I can do four in one week and sometimes it’s only one, but on average I would say I complete two or three per week. I paint until it’s finished, and I’ll know it’s done because I’ll get an intuitive feeling to stop.”
Image courtesy of Theresa Eisenbarth
As part of her exhibition at the Esplanade, Eisenbarth is live painting a piece for the Walking the Flats collection and the public is invited to come down to watch her work. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, visitors are asked to reserve a spot on the Esplanade website to limit the number of people in the gallery at one time.
A first for the Esplanade, a 3-D virtual tour of the exhibition can also be viewed online, giving those who are not able to visit the gallery in person the opportunity to see and enjoy the collection.
Paintings from the Walking the Flats collection are available for purchase. For further information on the Esplanade exhibition, as well as Eisenbarth’s other work, visit www.eisenbarth.ca.
The public is invited to participate in a Walking the Flats Walking Tour lead by Eisenbarth on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. Space is limited and tickets can be reserved here.
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