University of Calgary

Merging art and architecture

UToday HomeDecember 14, 2012

By Heath McCoy

Michael Abel, winner of My First Professional Exhibition, showcases his work this month at ArtPoint Gallery. Photo courtesy of the Department of ArtMichael Abel, winner of My First Professional Exhibition, showcases his work this month at ArtPoint Gallery. Photo courtesy of the Department of ArtIt was through his passion for architecture that Michael Abel came to discover the other great love of his artistic life ― painting ― so it makes perfect sense that the 22-year-old’s first solo art gallery exhibition would be built on an architectural foundation.

The exhibition, entitled Monumental Contradiction, is on view through to Dec. 29 at Artpoint Gallery & Studios with the opening reception on Friday, Dec.14 from 5-9 p.m.

The young painter, who is currently working towards his Masters of Architecture at the University of Toronto, won the exhibition opportunity earlier this year, while completing his BFA (’12) from the University of Calgary.

As a student in the Department of Art, Abel entered the My First Professional Exhibition competition, which offered a showcase at Artpoint Gallery and grant support generously provided by long-time University of Calgary supporters George and Susannah Kurian. The five-year program is intended to help young students make the steps they need to produce a body of professional work, exhibition-ready for the public.

The Artpoint exhibition finds Abel painting some of the most iconic buildings in North America, including the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles, Boston City Hall and the One World Trade Center in New York City. The twin towers of the original World Trade Center, destroyed by terrorists on Sept.11, 2001, are also part of the exhibition.

This theme is certainly fitting for Abel, who originally studied art at the University of Calgary because he saw it as an ideal jumping off point to his chosen career as an architect.

But Abel became equally passionate about painting and that can be seen in the richness and conceptual depth of his work in Monumental Contradiction.

Incorporating pop art and abstract expressionism into his paintings, Abel says, “I’m almost trying to distract the viewer, while grabbing them at the same time.”

The iconic buildings he portrays are rife with history and political symbolism, and Abel doesn’t shy away from portraying controversial aspects. But he also playfully distracts his audience by adding a “pop touch” – notably with the basketball motif, which runs through many of the paintings.

“I’ve painted these iconic structures in the theme of each city’s NBA team,” he says. “The point was to lighten things with these pop culture references. And a basketball team arguably represents a city just as much as its architecture. So you can look at these paintings as being very simple one-liners. Or, if you want to look deeper, you can find there’s many more underlying meanings and layers.”

Abel still paints regularly, in a shared studio space in Toronto, and he intends to continue applying for exhibitions. He adds that he’s grateful for the doors opened to him by the My First Professional Exhibition competition. “It allowed me explore this whole new body of work,” he says.