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EXPLORE by Chris Cran Marks New Partnership: Whyte Museum and Royal Canadian Geographical Society

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On March 31st, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society celebrated the opening of EXPLORE by Chris Cran, marking the beginning of a new partnership between two organizations with a common goal: connecting Canadians to nature. With the opening of this exhibition, we have signed a memorandum of understanding that reflects the many ways in which our two organizations overlap and serve Canadians.

"Every hiking pole, painting, warden map, Indigenous story, and archival ski photo speaks to the passion felt for the mountains for thousands of years," said Donna Livingstone, CEO of the Whyte Museum.

"As a 'national treasure in a national park,' the Whyte offers meaningful experiences that encourage visitors to explore the changing landscape with fresh eyes - and to take responsibility for it."

EXPLORE is a series of 23 optical illusion portraits by Calgary artist Chris Cran, featuring contemporary and historical Canadian explorers who have helped shape our sense of geography and the world.

Gallery 1

Known for his ability to play with illusion, Chris Cran fuses traditional artistic genres and contemporary movements, from pop art to abstraction and photorealism. Cran has been a prolific and influential artist presence in Canada for decades.

A graduate of the Alberta College of Art + Design, where he was an instructor from the 1990s until 2018, he has helped shape generations of new visual artists. In addition to the permanent collections of the National Gallery and the Art Gallery of Alberta, his often satirical and self-referential works appear in galleries and private collections across Canada and internationally.

In 2016, he was the subject of the major exhibition Chris Cran, Sincerely Yours, featured by both the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Alberta. In 2018, the first 10 portraits in his ongoing Explore series were exhibited at Canada's Centre for Geography and Exploration, the Ottawa headquarters of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

The historic figures and living luminaries celebrated in this series all of them closely associated with the RCGS, of which Cran is also a fellow - have been rendered by Cran in his iconic "striped" style, which creates an impression that changes depending on distance and perspective.

"I've always been fascinated by how crude lines can produce photographic images," he says. The aim is to create something in which the viewer is an active participant- both in terms of meaning and the physicality of moving back and forth. "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."

Featured RCGS fellows include Louie Kamookak, one of Canada's foremost Inuit oral historians and a leading expert on the Franklin expedition, which had met its untimely end in the vicinity of his home on King William Land. And Mario Rigby, an advocate for inclusion and diversity in the outdoors and sustainable, human-powered travel, who has undertaken several impressive outdoor endeavours to raise awareness of these issues, including cycling across Canada in 2019.

The function of the portrait is to commemorate. The portraits of the RCGS fellows do more than this. They celebrate their subjects and call them to remembrance in the individual memory. In the context of the EXPLORE series, as a group, they serve a larger purpose as well: they take part in shaping the collective cultural memory.

Check out the recent media coverage of EXPLORE by Chris Cran:



Gallery 1: Spring 2023 exhibition opening at the Whyte Museum. Photos by Josh Segeleski.


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