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WENDY ELLIOTT: Remembering a life that mixed sincere art and activism

Wendy Elliott. File
Wendy Elliott. File - SaltWire Network

Kings County lost a unique resident when Hans Albarda died suddenly late in March — only days before his inaugural solo exhibition opened. It went ahead as planned at the Hardware Gallery in Kentville. Entitled ‘Painless Abstractions,’ the show will run in memoriam until May 4.

I never knew Hans, who lived outside Wolfville, as a working artist but that quiet preoccupation was somehow not a surprise.

He must have told Sasha Nelson at the gallery that his art making brought him joy. Sasha quoted him saying, “For me, art-making is not a science, it is an adventure. I purposely use ambiguity and contradiction to create images which hopefully have some life, some movement.”

A former art professor at Georgian College in Owen Sound and Barrie, Hans had lived off grid since 1971. After a vacation in Nova Scotia, he and his wife, Catherine Stanley who died of cancer almost three years ago, decided to move east. They designed and built a solar-powered house facing the South Mountain.

That’s how I met him. There was the slightest buzz beginning then around solar power and I asked for a tour. They had used passive solar and the solid warmth of a woodstove to make a cozy home for their two daughters.

South light and big storage batteries are what I remember — and his patient explanations. After that story ran in the paper, Hans began funneling his activist concerns my way.

For one thing, he was seriously opposed to twinning Highway 101. Of course, being a native of the Netherlands, Hans knew the benefits of public transport. He questioned the amount of spending “to accommodate our ever-increasing addiction to the car,” especially in the light of climate change.

As a key figure in the Valley-based Safe Alternative Future Transportation group that aimed to plan for transport needs, Hans was always quick to point out that safety meant both for people and the planet.

In the same vein, he voiced concern about nuclear safety issues. In 2015, Hans called on Ontario to store nuclear waste in downtown Toronto rather than bury it underground near a fresh-water supply

“Location, location, location (even for 'low' and 'middle' level wastes.‚ The other, more sensible solution, is not to allow the burial of nuclear waste whatsoever,” he wrote. “These wastes should be kept where we can see them!”

To return to his art making, Hans was a weekend student as a youth at the Ontario College of Art. After a decade of study, he became a successful printmaker and instructor. Meanwhile, his interest in the environment, particularly energy issues, led him to become co-director of Citizens for Renewable Energy and to be appointed as active member of the Ontario Hydro Nuclear Environmental Advisory Group.

Sasha Nelson has noted, "Hans' art seems to elaborate on and express the natural motions and materials of the universe we inhabit, translated through the conduit of an artist's honest life experience."

Hans once said, “The work which I produce is abstract art. This type of work is often very hard for the novice to understand. This may even be hard for the artists themselves to understand. Actually, we've all missed the point. 'Understanding' all this is irrelevant. Picasso said, ‘It is not necessary to understand the song of a bird’. It is possible to enjoy the notes, textures and tones, on their own merit. I approach abstract art with that same attitude. I enjoy the lines, textures, values, etc., on their own merit. I hope that you can approach my art within the same attitude in which it was created.”

‘Painless Abstractions’ features artwork Hans made of maple, oak, walnut, elm, and plexiglass, along with photographs and pencil drawings. It is an exhibition worth visiting.

Former Advertiser and Register reporter Wendy Elliott lives in Wolfville.

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