Skip to main content

Artist Features

I Am YEG Arts: Aeris Osborne

September 14, 2023

Since immigrating from Hong Kong to Canada, self-taught artist Aeris Osborne has connected with her new home by exploring Alberta’s landscape, culture and heritage through her art practice. While serving as Alberta’s Artist in Residence/​Arts Ambassador in 2021/22, Aeris travelled to historical places province-wide in preparation for her most recent painting series. In this week’s I Am YEG Arts feature, Aeris tells us about how she got her start as an artist, the debut of her residency project, Alberta Old Buildings with AR (Augmented Reality) Experience, currently on exhibit at the Jubilee and what’s next for her.

Tell us about your connection to Edmonton and what keeps you living and working here. 

Before I landed in Edmonton in 2007, I visited twice between 2005 and 2006. In Hong Kong, I was a social worker and when I moved here, prior to the pandemic, I worked in the social services field. What I love most about Edmonton are the very friendly people and the extensive river valley trail system. The whole landscape is very different from where I came from where it’s all concrete high rises and more densely populated. Here nature is a major part of life and I have a lot more space. 

Sometimes you need a dramatic change to give yourself the opportunity to explore. My heart is curious, and I like to know more. It is sometimes a culture shock. Hong Kong has a lot of contemporary and colonial British buildings. Canada is on a much bigger scale, but the structures are more often wooden structures than concrete or stone. That kind of difference makes you want to explore something you’ve never seen before. 

How did you get your start as an artist? Was it always plan A for you? 

When I was in school, I always liked sketching. When I moved here in 2007, I was newly married, and I was still applying for permanent resident status. My husband bought me an easel set and it was a life-changing gift. I was learning from online workshops and books. Around 2010 my style was very realistic. My first time participating in the Whyte Avenue Art Walk was in 2013. I was so lucky to be selected as one of four artists whose work was included in the promotion for the Art Walk. My painting Café in Revelstoke was chosen. 

Over the pandemic was another big stage, I started thinking about creating something Edmonton-themed and started on a more serious project. Since then, I’ve continued exploring, and art is my major focus. I apply a lot of the emotional learning that I acquired while working in social services to my artistic projects. As a social worker, I was trained to have more of a connected way of thinking about society that influences my art practice. 

Fortunately, while creating my series YEG Old Houses during my artist residency at the McLuhan House artist studio I got a Canada Council for the Arts grant in 2021 and then I got a bigger grant for the Alberta Old Building series in 2022

Tell us about your solo exhibit, Alberta Old Buildings currently on display at the Jubilee, and how it combines art, heritage and technology. 

It took over a year and a half to create this exhibition. When I started as Alberta’s Artist in Residence and Arts Ambassador, I was finally able to bring my concept to realization. Since I went from a visitor to a permanent resident to a Canadian citizen, my perspective is almost like that of an international traveller. I chose to paint some locations that were familiar and some I didn’t know. I wanted to highlight different elements across Alberta. The buildings I chose to highlight are all meaningful to society, and have meaningful purpose, even though the purpose may have changed from its original intent. I included buildings from northern, central and southern Alberta. I named the paintings first with the year the building was constructed, then the city location and the building name. I want people to get to know these places and on my website, I have historical story pieces on each building. 

I travelled more than 3000 kilometers around Alberta last year to the ten places I painted, and along the way, I also visited galleries and museums. I’m thankful for the support of the Arts Branch at the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the connections they helped me make, I got to meet so many different people. I took a lot of great photos, some even of places not available for the public to visit. 

In 2023 I decided to use augmented reality (AR) to depict my painting progress. Using the free app Artivive, you can scan my paintings to see my painting process. You normally just see an artist’s finished project, but I wanted to share the progress. If you zoom in on the sketches in the exhibit, you will see photos of the actual building, on the inside and outside. I wanted to use technology in a way that allows people to gain deeper insight into my artistic vision and motivations. Because I’m self-taught, for me the whole thing is like an experiment. I like that as a self-taught artist in some ways you’re not moulded into a form or shape. I’m really glad that I have this kind of platform to make my own interpretation. 

People can visit my website or grab a postcard at the front door of the Northern Jubilee Auditorium entrance to see the listing of buildings highlighted. The exhibition will also travel to Lougheed House in Calgary and the Viewpoint Gallery in Red Deer. 

Throughout your body of work, capturing Alberta’s heritage is a common thread. What is it about Alberta’s heritage that inspires you and keeps you returning to this subject matter? 

When I travel, I love the cities, they are the coolest historical part. Preserving heritage is very challenging but really valuable. Whereas it’s very easy to destroy. For example, the Lake Agnes Tea House is quite special. The first time I hiked up there, I didn’t know I’d have to hike for almost two hours! The owner told me only some of the foundation, windows, and furniture are original from when it was built in 1901. In 1981 the owner’s mother purchased it to serve the community and since then they have walked in to prepare before 5:00 a.m. And also, the Sylvan Lake Stone House Café has an interesting history, was a residence, a spa and now it is a café. I want to support small businesses when they are using and preserving this kind of heritage building. 

Tell us what you’re currently working on and what you’re hoping to explore next. 

I want to do another heritage places series, maybe in the Rocky Mountains area. Currently, I am working on some spontaneous abstract paintings to express my thoughts. I’d also like to explore more Asian stories because I feel Asian voices are somewhat less represented in our society because Asians are raised differently. It’s more about discipline and obedience. To be able to do that would be meaningful. 

Aeris’ exhibition Alberta Old Buildings with AR Experience” is on at the Jubilee Auditorium Kaasa (Lower) Gallery until December 7. For the AR experience, download the free app, Artivive to get a glimpse of the creation of the paintings and to view photos of the historical buildings. On September 19, you will have a chance to meet the artist at the Alberta Culture Days at the Jubilee event; doors open at 4:30 pm and Aeris will present at approximately 6 pm. Want to hear more from the artist? Radio Active host Jessica Ng recently stopped by the Jubilee to chat with Aeris.

About Aeris Osborne 

From 2021 – 2022 Aeris Osborne served as Alberta’s Artist in Residence (AiR) and Arts Ambassador. She is a self-taught visual artist and a registered social worker, she moved from Hong Kong to Edmonton in 2007. In 2022 as Alberta’s AIR, she traveled over 3000 km and visited over 30 Alberta galleries and museums to meet up with directors, curators, staff and volunteers who support Alberta arts. 

Alberta Old Buildings is her most recent project and was the focus of her Alberta AIR, it received 10 media interviews from Alberta to Vancouver. Her previous YEG Old Houses” project during her first artist-in-residence at McLuhan House artist studio in Highlands, was awarded a 2022 grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. 

Since Aeris moved to Edmonton, Alberta started a new life with her husband, the change in living environment, landscapes, and nature inspired her in every aspect to be a true artist. It created unique opportunities and freedom to stimulate her creativity by using the visual medium to express her vision and observation.