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Laara Cassells _after

Updated: Apr 16, 2019

By Anne Ewen, Curator of Art & Heritage

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Laara Cassells, Jessica Day and Empress Elisabeth Alexeievna (after Louise Vigée Lebrun), 2015, acrylic on dibond panel, 31.5" x 45", Collection of the artist

April 13 – June 9, 2019

Main Gallery

This exhibition is one of three new spring exhibitions currently on at the Whyte Museum. The others include Carl White: Carousel and Susanne Aaltonen: Knowing How Little I Need Her Now.

Working with digital reference material and live models, Cassells re-stages and combines historic portraits painted by respected masters from the past 600 years with a contemporary young person who is choreographed to resemble and interact with the historic subject. Her accomplished and captivating paintings unite past eras with current contemporary culture. Portraits by such illustrious artists such as leading British painter George Romney (1734 – 1802), American socialite favourite John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925) and Edwardian Societies Sir William Orpen (1878 – 1931) and numerous others join her galaxy of interest. Skills acquired from her previous career in set and costume design have served Cassells well. With attention to colouration and stylistic qualities, she seamlessly attires contemporary individuals to match their historic counterpart. Applicable props add contrast to her present day doppelgänger importing each set with powerful contrast and drama. For instance, in Jessica Hayward and Grace, Cassells’ (see below) young model gazes at the viewer with a cell phone positioned at her ear while William Orpen’s sitter stares steadily, with a gloved hand resting against her silk chiffon wrap. Two blue-eyed beauties, attired in black and adorned in straw brimmed hats bridge the distance between Post-Impressionism and digital rapidity. For many, the doppelgänger effect requires a double take.

Laara Cassells, Jessica Howard and Grace Orpen (after William Orpen), 2015, acrylic on dibond panel, 28" x 39”, collection of the artist

Painting with acrylics on canvas, Cassells considers herself a contemporary realist, or a conceptual realist stylistically. She explains, “When I am working on a series, I generally have a theme and underlying concept that I am exploring through each of the individual paintings using a realistic approach to representation.” However, when working on commissioned portraits she says: “I try to represent my model as accurately as possible. Beyond depicting the observed subject, I am always looking for that invisible, ethereal quality that I perceive clearly but is so hard to articulate.”

Born in London, England, Cassells and has traveled extensively living in New Zealand and the United States before settling in Canada. She holds a Business Management Degree, an Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from Cranbrook Academy in Michigan and an Master of Fine Arts in set and costume design from the University of Calgary. Previously a professional theatre designer, in the past 25 years, Cassells has focused exclusively on her fine art career and has exhibited internationally. Her work is held in numerous public and private collections world-wide.

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