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Saskatoon artist wants to create awareness through her paintings

Kas Rea aims to further promote the important role of wildlife in our society
Bunkhouse Kas Rea
Local visual artist Kas Rea poses with two of her art pieces, one of which is Malcolm the mountain lion that had to be put down early this month due to old age.

SASKATOON — For local artist Kas Rea, the city’s Artists in Place: The Bunkhouse Project helped her learn the stories of some of the animals that are being cared for by the staff of the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo. The 29-year-old, who enjoys the outdoors by kayaking and hiking, joined fellow visual artist Julia Million and stage actors Drew Mantyka and Sammy Ramsay in the program that ran from Sept. 1, 2020 to April 27 this year.

Their exhibition should have been held after they finished the almost year-long artist-in-residence program organized by the City. The pandemic, however, delayed the exhibition but with the province lifting health restrictions last month the four artists earned the chance to share what they have worked on.

Rea told the project gave her the opportunity to grow more as an artist and provided new challenges.

“The residency allowed me to paint regularly during the weeks, and through this continuous practice, my own skills in representational art were improved.”

“I researched the SFFPZ, learned about the values and the stories of the animals and I combined these learnings into this series. As a result, I have become more passionate and interested in the connection between art and activism, and animal habitat preservation,” added Rea, the fourth-year art major at the University of Saskatchewan.

That’s why Rea chose the zoo animals that were endangered or at risk of being endangered as the subject of her paintings that were on exhibit last Saturday.

[I want] to highlight the importance of natural habitat preservation. I hope that this series encourages people to think about the important roles wildlife provides in our interconnected web of life.”

“I also hope these paintings encourage people to take action to help protect these animals and their habitats so that they will continue to exist for future generations. With our current climate crisis, we are seeing mass extinction across the globe, and this series speaks to those larger issues.”

Among her paintings was Malcolm, the mountain lion that was rescued with his brother in Saskatchewan more than a decade ago and had to be humanely euthanized early this month due to old age. She has also decided to donate 10 per cent of the amount of every sale of her original painting to the zoo.

Rea said that participating in the Bunkhouse project opened up new things for her.

“It was a great opportunity to have access to studio space and to participate in a residency here in my hometown. Overall, the residency was a wonderful experience, and I made connections with other artists, SFFPZ, and more.”

The pandemic, however, delayed some of her plans.

“I was no longer able to attend university classes in person. Since I am an art major, this also meant I could no longer access studio space on campus. Exhibition receptions and art-related events were put on hold and I suddenly felt disconnected from the community.”

“However, with the use of technology, I have been able to adapt and participate in online events and stay connected during difficult times. Fortunately, I got accepted into the Bunkhouse residency program and had access to a large studio space, along with three other artists. Due to the pandemic, each artist had to use the Bunkhouse at separate times."

And having that alone time at the Bunkhouse also worked to her advantage.

“My experience at the Bunkhouse was quiet since I was often alone. I still managed to find joy in painting in solitude, and I was very productive during this time.”

Rea, who is also into yoga, said she plans to expand her series of animal paintings with the possibility of including it on her graduation exhibit when she finishes her last year at USask.

“Additionally, I have already expanded this series to include other animals in Canada and abroad. I have family connections in Bolivia, South America, which inspired me to include endangered animals from the rainforest.”