The latest display at the Okotoks Art Gallery, Light Horse Tales of an Afghan War, is an exhibit by Edmonton-based artist Al Henderson featuring stories of war veterans.
Light Horse Tales runs until Feb. 28, and includes sculpture in various mediums – bronze, marble, copper, and metal – as well as a number of tablet drawings depicting soldiers’ tales.
Henderson, who attended ACAD from 1981 to 1983 as a print major before turning to sculpture, decided to create the exhibit when friends and colleagues began going to Afghanistan, and returning with both heartwarming and harrowing stories.
“These pieces represent very moment-to-moment things,” Henderson explained in an interview.
“The prints hang right to left, to represent the way they read in that part of the world, because the format of the drawings is meant to relate to the pamphlets the soldiers used to hand out to locals, to connect the two different cultures.”
A four-panel series of five-foot by two-foot lightjet prints on aluminum is entitled ‘Rob’s Story,’ and offers an account of one particularly memorable day for one of Henderson’s best friends, who narrowly escaped death when a rocket struck the vehicle he had been riding in just moments earlier.
The day resulted in the deaths of many civilians and military personnel, and the bloodshed and terror are depicted in Henderson’s prints.
Stories of three other soldiers are also presented in the form of single prints on tablet and aluminum, and include more general experiences in the Afghan wars, and interactions with local culture.
Henderson’s collection drew the attention of many attendees at the exhibit opening and artist’s reception on Jan. 16.
Taliban heads, weapons, and local children carrying treads or operating turrets are brought to life in bronze.
“Bronze sculpture has an assumption of tribute to it,” Henderson said.
“And marble has a connection to things very old.
“I enjoy working with different mediums to help tell the story and add a detail to the depth of my art.”
One of the most interesting sculpture mediums included in the exhibit is copper-jacketed lead, to symbolize the bullets and shells that scattered across the Afghan landscape.
This medium is used to cast images of innocent civilian children.
“Kids would go behind the shooting targets in the hills and collect bullets between shots or after a day of shooting practice, and carry them for miles to sell as raw materials,” Henderson said.
“So their stories became copper-jacketed lead sculptures.”
Guests at the artist’s reception were captivated by the exhibit, and many asked Henderson to tell them the stories that accompanied each individual piece.
Allan Boss, culture and heritage manager for the Town of Okotoks, was pleased with the positive reception for Henderson’s work in the gallery, though he never doubted the impact it would have on visitors.
Henderson’s exhibition was chosen by a jury from more than 75 artist applications.
“We can only accommodate 10 or 12 shows in a year,” Boss said.
“Al submitted to us, and right from the first jury selection there was no question we would be including his Light Horse Tales in our calendar for 2015.”
Mary-Beth Laviolette, a Canmore-based artist and curator, admired Henderson’s works with tears in her eyes.
“There is something very raw and masculine and emotional about how the Afghan conflict has been portrayed here,” said Laviolette.
“He handles it in a completely elegant and sensitive manner.
“It’s never been done like this before.”