Artists taking realism to new level

Carole Morris-Underhill
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Group of three forging ahead with show, plans to offer expert advice

Three premier Nova Scotia artists are about to take the spotlight in Halifax for a month-long show at the Public Archives.

David Howells, of St. Croix, Kristie Sheehy, of Avondale, and Al Bergin, of Fall River/Waverley, are the founders of Three Faces of Realism. The trio are hosting their first combined art show Oct. 5-29 in the Chase Exhibition Room.

Howells says it's a way to promote realism in fine art to the public, showcasing the talents of leading local artists that generally ship their work out of province to achieve professional development.

The trio met in 2006, quickly forming a friendship. Recently, they decided it was time to showcase their work.

“We've always been aware of how our works worked together and complimented each other,” said Howells.

Sheehy says the show is intended for “art lovers of realism.”

For those unsure of what realism is, Sheehy and Howells said it's basically art that looks like the subject.

“Realism is if you know what you're looking at when you're looking at something — it's not abstract — it's representational art,” said Howells.

The realism the trio creates is considered amongst the highest forms of realism — meaning they create the most lifelike art.

Howells and Bergin specialize in paintings while Sheehy focuses on sculptures. All three are accomplished artists. In 2009, one of Bergin's works was selected as a painting for Ducks Unlimited's national fundraising venture. Bergin, a retired physical education and geography teacher, is known for often donating proceeds from his limited edition prints to support animal rescue centres.

One of Sheehy's sculptures, a life-sized version of Evangeline, tours throughout the United States as part of a travelling Acadian exhibition. Her work captures a moment in time, telling the subject's life story.

Howells, who has earned international recognition, has had his work reproduced and marketed in 48 countries through Canadian Art Prints. His work is described as straddling the boundaries of contemporary realism and romantic realism.

The grand opening of the art show will be Oct. 5 from 7-9 p.m. Avondale Sky Winery will provide the complimentary wine, while speciality chocolates created by the chocolatier at Just Us! will be served. Classical guitarist Matthew Martin will provide the music for the evening event.

As of Oct. 5, the show will be open to the public Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except for Wednesdays, when it will be open until 9 p.m. The show is also open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

The artists will be selling some of their originals, and there will be limited edition reproductions available. The reproductions will be state-of-the-art, Howells said, as they use giclee — a printing technique that takes 45 minutes to create a high-end version of the original.

For Sheehy, whose work is difficult to reproduce, she's created several miniature sculptures that Howells likens to a painters sketch — something to be cherished but doesn't contain the same amount of detail as a final product.

Another feather in their collective cap, Howells said, is being part of this year's Nocturne festival.

“It's almost like an art equivalent to bar hopping. It's gallery hopping,” said Howells. The show will be open from 6 p.m. to midnight on Oct. 15.



Professional opinions available

But the Three Faces of Realism is offering more than just a month-long annual showcase. The group hopes to provide critical art insight to media outlets in order to help the public better understand fine art.

“The original idea was for us to stage a major annual show together all about realism, about the magical blend of our work,” said Howells.

Then, as they discussed the upcoming event, they determined the group needed a purpose.

“We realized the group had to trump the name of the show,” said Howells.

“(Otherwise) you could be any three artists having a show. The group really doesn't mean anything,” said Howells.

The group wanted to do something to elevate realism and respond to the criticisms expressed over artistic endeavours.

“It always seems to be sensational and controversial. Most of the time, or at least a lot of the time, it seems to be things that outrage the public,” said Howells of the coverage art often receives.

“All of my life, I have heard so many people say 'his is a squiggle, or a couple of stripes on a canvas' and it's getting major media attention and winning major awards and invariably, friends will ask, 'David, why is that art?' or 'why is that good art?' and then I have to go through this elaborate thing – what is the academic argument for why it is art and what's an even stronger argument for the problem with that argument,” said Howells.

The group will work together to provide an authoritative voice of artists in the mainstream media's coverage of arts.

“We would like to be invited as a group of accomplished professional artists, practising full-time, to respond to some of the more controversial events happening in the art world. Ultimately, we would like to be the media's go-to people for anything in the fine arts in Nova Scotia,” said Howells.

Sheehy agreed, noting that voice is often missing. People don't hear what full-time artists think of the latest art offerings.

To learn more about the show, the artists and their credentials, visit their website at

Organizations: Ducks Unlimited, Avondale Sky Winery

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Halifax, Fall River United States

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