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Sundre-area artist one of two grand prize winners in New York-based competition

Laara Cassells was among an international talent pool of hundreds of creative individuals who submitted their work to a New York gallery

SUNDRE – A local artist’s work will later this month be displayed among international talent in a New York gallery as one of two grand prize winners in an exhibition called New Realism/Altered Reality.

Laara Cassells, a retired art instructor who calls home a ranch north and east of Sundre toward Eagle Hill, had previously submitted an application that featured two pieces she had completed as part of her _after series that depicts a pairing of the old masters juxtaposed with a more modernist flair of students from Medicine Hat College.  

In July, the painter received an email from the organizers informing her that following the judging process that involved hundreds of entries from talented artists worldwide, she had been selected as a grand prize winner alongside photographer Tom Potisit, who was born in Thailand.

“I was thrilled actually because it’s quite a well known worldwide organization for rather contemporary art rather than traditional,” Cassells told the Albertan on Aug. 2 during a phone interview, explaining that while her artistic style tends to lean more toward the traditional, her idea for the _after series was a more modernized twist on today’s lifestyles.

“In a way I was a little bit surprised that my stuff got in because it’s a traditional approach of painting. It’s just that the idea was a little more off the wall,” she said.

“I was excited because it was a bit of a chancy application.”

When she had seen the exhibition was being promoted under the theme of new realism and altered reality, Cassells felt the work she had previously completed in her 21-piece _after series might fit the bill.

“I was thinking that when I had done that series, it was contrasting old masters with current lifestyles. Although the Medicine Hat students, I picked them because they looked very similar to the old masters, so they look like they could be sisters,” she said.

“So, I felt that was an appropriate response to both new realism and altered reality,” she said, adding her series depicts old masters ranging in history dating back from 1460 to 1906.

“I have a varied, wide background in arts history; I was able to think back and do research about various old masters,” she said. “And really, picking them was based on whether I could find a student that looked like them, so it was not very scientific; it was quite intuitive on how that worked. But I was really happy with the conclusion.”

Apparently, the judges were also quite satisfied as they selected the two pieces of her _after series that she had submitted.

“You had to submit your application and then kind of keep your fingers crossed that they thought your work was appropriate for the subject matter,” she said.

Presented by an organization called See|Me, the New Realism/Altered Reality opening reception takes place Aug. 16 at Gallery 23 in New York City. Due to an unfortunate overlap with the gallery’s bookings and a subsequent scheduling conflict, a date that had originally been set for Aug. 4 ended up having to be postponed to later in the month.

So, while she had initially intended to attend the showing, Cassells said she ended up opting out. However, she added the organizers had confirmed her prize-winning pieces she’d shipped had successfully arrived for inclusion in the exhibition.

Not one to twiddle her thumbs for long, she still has plenty of paths to pursue.

“I’m still working on Wolves and Wildlife,” she said about the latest series she’s been working on.

Additionally, Cassells said she has also been included in a large show that will be hosted in May 2024 by the Woolaroc Museum in Oklahoma. She anticipates sending five or six paintings for that exhibition.

“They would like western art,” she said. “I was going to send wolves, but I noticed Oklahoma doesn’t have any wolf population.”

While some of the artists will likely be submitting landscapes of western vistas, Cassells said she’s considering featuring some of the cowboys she’s become acquainted with over the years. But she also has options including numerous paintings of equine as well as a piece featuring a local barrel racer from another series highlighting exemplary local youths dubbed Sundre Girls that she completed prior to the pandemic.

But since the exhibition in Oklahoma isn’t until next year, she also plans to build up her bank of reference photographs over the coming weeks and narrow down a selection to about half a dozen of the best shots that will help guide her brush as she applies paint on a fresh canvas.

“That’s my new series,” she said. “It’s going to be a bunch of western paintings.”

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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