Kiarra Albina is easily one of the most prolific underground artists in Calgary right now. With a month-long residency at The Arbour Lake Sghool under her belt and numerous group shows, the former ACAD student is completely dedicated to her art. Constantly created, re-created and cleverly coloured, her work reads like beautifully illustrated diary pages along with all of the honest emotions and feelings that many artists choose to leave out. Love and hate are common things in her work, and she has inevitably created her own art language with her hand-drawn typography. Personal slogans such as “True Thing”, “Magic For Yr Love”, and “Dream Kill” are used repetitively throughout her work, linking one piece to the next. Never using Photoshop or Illustrator to edit her artwork, Albina painstakingly re-draws pieces she or clients are not satisfied with. This noble and patient trait of a long-lost age of graphic artists and illustrators, is found within this effervescent artist.
When I found out Albina was having a solo show at Artlife in conjunction with Beatroute’s 4th Anniversary Party, I knew something amazing would come out of this evening. Walking into the sparse and simple Artlife, your eyes are immediately drawn to the explosions of colour that inhabit the intense illustrations pinned to the wall. Each piece is individually eye-catching with the bright pinks, reds, and aquas and the powerful subject matter that invokes the viewer to step up a little closer to the image to inspect every tiny detail. Albina uses varied materials for each piece: pen and ink, think illustration papers, watercolours, coloured pencils, markers, pastel, and more. Her collection of work featured at Artlife has strong characteristics of warmth and calmness contrasting with a sly undercurrent of tension not only through the use of colour but the texts that unite each piece. Her style is quite feminine and womanly but not overly feminist. This work could be quite challenging for men to relate to on first inspection, by means of the immediate subject matter. Once one realizes that the emphasis on relationships and twenty-something-angst is a common thread linking the collection, personal recognition become apparent.
Anne Mry Skips Rope (2008) is the first piece that I was im
mediately drawn to. The colourful surrealist landscapes meld with the tense, toothy faces that appear throughout the drawing. The beautiful hand-drawn type, Anne Mry Skips Rope wraps around the top of the piece and brings forth a question regarding the Canadian pseudo-icon. Albina counters, “This one’s called “Anne Mry Skips Rope”, bridge over troubled water style. I’m not a fan, trust me.” Albina’s illustrations always appear to float beautifully above the carefully selected papers; the compositions perfect. Anne Mry Skips Rope features a single red line seemingly dripping from a pinky red eye allowing the viewer to leave the page, as if a map leading the viewer to the next piece of the show. The imagery of Albina’s often comes across as light-hearted and fun, yet some after closer inspection are darker than you think.
Untitled (2008) Kiarra Albina
The next piece I discover has similar elements to the Anne Mry in the way it effortlessly flows across the off-white paper. Lacking the rainbow of colours of the previous piece, this Untitled work features a rich turquoise mixed with numerous black and brunette heads, some of which appear to be spewing a speckled brown stream into the ether. Once again a thin black line drips from the main composition, creating interest for the viewer off the page. A solitary wolf-like head is among the dark-haired beauties in the left hand corner, perhaps suggesting a relationship to the lone wolf archetype, which many artists are looped in to. This piece is extremely successful in both technical skill and imaginative quality, and the crowd that gathered around it during the opening could easily attest to that.
Albina’s work his fairly comprehensive to anyone without knowing her artistic background or themselves having a history in art. Its pop art colour connotations and hand-drawn design would to appeal and be understood by many, while more time spent with the work leads the viewer drawing conclusions on what the work means to them and how they react to it. Another piece, also Untitled, is apparent typography-practice-page-turned-masterpiece, features several texts of more controversial nature. “ I f***ing hate boys. I love f***ing boys” is stated across the top of the page in an agitated flurried font. Meanwhile a drippy red type declares “Period Eater” at the bottom. At first glance and read, this piece could obviously make an average viewer feel uncomfortable, but when Albina puts the piece into the context of her life, it comes across more as a auto-biographical exercise, “One morning during a snowstorm in Suburbia, I drank a bottle of wine and worked on my fonts. Later at a Shearing Pinx show, I danced my hate away”.
This Beatroute Party also featured three musical acts, including Calgary’s WOMEN and Indiensoci and Los Angeles act, Abe Vigoda. The buzz surrounding this concert was quite anticipated, yet it never overshadowed the art component to the night. While Albina’s show was only a two-day exhibition, I am sure that her work left art lovers and unsuspecting scenesters wanting more and waiting for her next body of work to emerge. +++
Albina, Kiarra. Personal Interview. 23 July 2008.