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Viewing Room

Optical Wonders: 

Velma Foster & Katie Ohe


Curated by Mary-Beth Laviolette

November 25  – December 22, 2023

Extended to January 20th


Curator’s Statement

The inception of “Optical Wonders” is connected to the two-year Glenbow exhibition series “Made in Calgary”. Featuring a decade-by-decade exploration of Calgary artists active in the city from the 1960s to the 2000s, it was a cross-generational undertaking – almost epic in scale. As the curator of “Made in Calgary: The 1960s”, I wanted to show how the decade was a creative breath of fresh air involving a younger generation with new ideas about how to make art.


Two of that generation were the young ambitious Katie Ohe and Velma Foster whose geometric abstract prints fit right into the innovative cultural spirit of the Sixties. With limited means and little in the way of printmaking facilities in Calgary, both young women were artistic pioneers and as fellow artist Derek Besant recently observed “markers that staked out that 1960’s era of hard-edge printmaking so associated with serigraphy at the time”. In New York, think about Andy Warhol’s engagement with silkscreen images of famous personalities. In Alberta, with their clear-cut shapes and bold flat colours, consider Foster, Ohe and her boyfriend – soon to be husband in 1969 – Harry Kiyooka.

Now fifty years later following a 2019 visit to the ‘ghost town’ of Bresaylor where Velma has resided since 1978 is this exhibition “Optical Wonders”. An art reunion featuring eight prints each from the two artists who both graduated from the Alberta College of Art (Alberta University of the Arts) in 1960 (Katie) and 1961 (Velma). Both would go on to teach at the Calgary Allied Art Centre and Alberta College of Art, and at one point shared a house on 17th Avenue.

Made in the late 1960s, these prints including Velma’s one-of-a-kind monoprints with screen printing on an acrylic background, are handmade with flawless surfaces. On viewing, there is a sense of movement of things not being quite ‘still’. The eye is optically teased by recurring shapes, exacting side-by-side colour, rhythmic patterns, colour combinations that seem to vibrate, and confusion in some prints about which is the foreground and which is the background. Beyond their opticality and amazing precision as skillfully made works of art, these prints are a beautiful moment in the lives of two young aspiring artists. They were part of the hard-edge trend in modern abstract art then popular at the time but also on the cusp of a new era for the Calgary art community.


My thanks to Katie and Velma for their time and consideration and Deborah Herringer for her energy in making “Optical Wonders” a reality.

Mary-Beth Laviolette

Katie Ohe_Spring Green_1968.jpg
Velma Foster_Untitled(Yellow Circle)_19x28_1966.jpg
Velma Foster_Untitled (Pink)_19.25x27_1966.jpg
Third Movement.jpg
Velma Foster_Untitled(Stripes)_18x24.5_1966.jpg
Velma Foster_Untitled_16x16_1966.jpg
Velma Foster_Untitled_23.5x19_1966.jpg
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Square Unfolding_1968.jpg
Velma Foster_Mirror_Mirror_1967.jpg

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