Wilf Perreault: In the Alley

27 September 2014 – 1 February 2015

Wilf Perreault: In the Alley | Dans la Ruelle

September 27, 2014 ­– January 4, 2015 | 27 septembre 2014 – 4 janvier 2014

Presented by Greystone Managed Investments.

A major retrospective of one of Saskatchewan’s most celebrated painters, Wilf Perreault. Best known for a single subject – the everyday back alley, this exhibition features over forty paintings and watercolours, tracing the development of this unlikely urban icon. The exhibition will be marked by the unveiling of a major new installation: a 150-foot wrap-around panorama of back alleys. This exhibition is accompanied by a 30-minute documentary film, a bilingual hardcover book, and a limited edition print.

Une grande rétrospective de l’œuvre de Wilf Perreault, un des peintres les plus célèbres de la Saskatchewan. Cette exposition d’un artiste connu surtout pour peindre le même sujet — la modeste ruelle — présente plus de quarante toiles et aquarelles qui retracent l’évolution de cette improbable icône urbaine. L’exposition sera marquée par l’inauguration d’une nouvelle installation d’envergure : un panorama de ruelles de 150 pieds de long. L’exposition s’accompagne d’un documentaire de 30 minutes, d’un livre relié bilingue et d’une gravure à tirage limité.

For forty years, Regina painter Wilf Perreault has wandered up and down back alleys recording a thousand fleeting impressions in a thousand memorable images. The effect has been cumulative. Recording alleys at every time of day and in every season, he has produced a living four-dimensional portrait of a familiar, but overlooked world — one that lies just beyond our back doors.

In the Alley celebrates Perreault’s achievement through an exhibition of paintings, watercolours, and prints spanning the length of his career. The selection traces the development of an unlikely icon that is now inseparable from the artist who first brought it to light.

A special feature of the exhibition is Ruelle d’amour — a journey of love, a new 150-foot mural which is dedicated to the artist’s two loves: art and his late wife, Sandi. The wraparound format was inspired by the oval rooms which display Monet’s Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. The panorama encompasses a number of significant sites from the couple’s life, including alleys where they grew up (Saskatoon), vacationed (Phoenix), and raised their family together (Regina).

Poem and Novel

The bottom half of the painting is like a poem, the top half is like a novel. This literary metaphor helps explain one of the defining features of Wilf Perreault’s back alley paintings. In a typical Perreault, the bottom half of the painting offers a space of poetic reflection. Here we are invited to lose ourselves in the play of reflections in water, be lulled by the dance of shadows across fences and pavement, and to lap up the flickering light of windows and garage doors at night. By contrast, the top half allows the eye to project into the distance and command the deep space of one-point perspective. Here the scene is set with novelistic perfection. The transition between these two modes of vision — one belonging to colour field abstraction, the other to traditional landscape painting — defines his aesthetic.


Wilf Perreault’s alleys poignantly record an overlooked transition in our cities. Since the 1960s, the old street and avenue grid has steadily been replaced with bays and crescents that use easements, not alleys, to separate lots at the back. Perreault’s paintings remind us of the loss of an understated sense of community that the alley helped sustain: a space of chance encounters with neighbours, of unorganized communal play among children, of a belief that car and driveway were not the defining elements of civic life. As the alley fades deeper and deeper into its own afterlife, so Wilf’s paintings have moved away from the factual insistence of the photograph toward a quieter, nocturnal vision, a process that started in the early 1990s and continues until this day.


“There is a light inside the work. It doesn’t really matter if it’s day time or night time — there’s a light that comes from within. I think the light is actually life. Somehow my job is to take that painting and make it live and breathe and exist beyond the photograph or beyond me. A photograph is the starting point and I’m only a part of the whole process. Sometimes I have to give it mouth-to-mouth, sometimes I pump the chest of this painting and bring it back to life….I fumble a lot. I don’t know where it’s going, but I have the strength and the faith that it will be okay.” — Wilf Perreault


Through the medium of printmaking, Wilf Perreault’s images have found their way into the homes of literally thousands of individuals over the years. Many of the prints were created for school, sports, and charitable organizations in support of fundraising efforts or as recognition gifts. On an aesthetic level, printmaking has allowed Perreault to experiment with materials and techniques — many of his recent screenprints are printed on Lexan, a flexible polycarbonate material that lends a translucent depth to his images. Known for his wit, Perreault often inserts a subtle note of humour into his prints, such as the duelling tree silhouettes in Fencing Shadows or the hidden prairie sunset in Elevated Alley.

Organized by the MacKenzie Art Gallery and presented by Greystone Managed Investments, this project has been made possible through a contribution from the Museums Assistance Program, Department of Canadian Heritage. Sponsored by Harvard Developments with Grasslands and Harvard Communities and generously supported by Donald & Claire Kramer Foundation. Promotional design by Brown Communications.

Organisé par la Mackenzie Art Gallery et présenté par Greystone Managed Investments, le projet a pu être réalisé grâce au Programme d’aide aux musées du ministère du Patrimoine canadien et au généreux soutien de Donald et Claire Kramer. Design promotionnel par Brown Communications Group.

Image: Wilf Perreault, Guiding Light, 2002 (detail), acrylic on canvas, 182.8 x 305.3 cm, Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, purchased with funds donated by the Barootes family in honour of Betty Barootes.


Opening Reception: Friday September 26, 2014 – 7:30 pm, Free Admission, Cash Bar.

26 septembre – Réception d’ouverture 19 h 30, entrée libre, bar payant.

Artist & Curator In Conversation & Book Signing: Saturday September 27, 2014 – 2 pm
2 – 4 PM, Free Admission. A conversation with artist Wilf Perreault and Head Curator, Timothy Long. Reception and book signing to follow in partnership with Coteau Books.

27 septembre – Conversation artiste – conservateur et séance de dédicaces
14 h – 16 h, entrée libre. Une conversation entre l’artiste Wilf Perreault et le conservateur en chef du musée, Timothy Long. Suivie d’une réception et d’une séance de dédicaces en partenariat avec Coteau Books.