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Foothills gallery exhibiting compelling abstract landscapes

"Night Lights: The Wonder of the Northern Lights" by Billie Rae Busby uses hard-edge abstract painting to evoke the emotion of witnessing the Aurora Borealis.
SCENE-Leighton Billie Rae Busby BWC 0735 web
Artist Billie Rae Busby poses with her works on display at the Leighton Art Centre on Sept. 10.

An artist known for painting evocative abstracts of prairie scenes will be exhibiting at the Foothills’ most scenic gallery.

Alberta artist Billie Rae Busby is holding her first solo exhibition at the Leighton Art Centre with Night Lights: The Wonder of the Northern Lights, bringing her distinct style of hard-edge abstract painting into new territory.

“It was really rewarding for me to come up with new ideas on how to show the Aurora Borealis in a hard-edge abstract way,” Busby said. “It was actually a bit of a challenge, because the Aurora is so beloved, so it felt like there was a bit of a weight on my shoulders to try to represent it in a new, exciting way.”

Instead of trying to capture photorealism, she used the power of abstract to evoke the emotion of seeing the phenomenon.

“Often when you see it with the naked eye, it's very subtle and we kind of get treated to seeing the Aurora in photos now and they're often very edited, very high saturation and very colourful, but when you see the Aurora with your naked eye, most of the time it's very subtle and very quiet,” Busby said.

“So instead of me trying to depict what we see, I was trying to depict how it makes me feel.  

“It still feels so, so amazing to see that there's just something in your body that it just creates this excitement, and you feel so lucky and grateful to be able to see it.”

Of those that employ the hard-edge abstract painting, Busby is one of only a handful, she said, that incorporate a representational aspect.

“Anybody who's kind of used to the prairies, there's long drive, there's some mountains, there's the big skies that we're used to out here,” Busby said. "I think growing up in Saskatchewan and much of my adult time in Alberta, it's for sure influenced what inspires me.”

The path wasn’t direct, but acknowledging the cliché, Busby spoke of growing up in a home that nurtured her creativity.

“I grew up in a house where my mom was very crafty, so she was always working on cross-stitch or crochet or crafting,” she said.

“Both my parents were very supportive. I had a little art desk in the living room with glitter and glue and paper and, you know, anything a little kid would want to, to draw and play with.”

A self-proclaimed art nerd all through high school, even garnering awards, Busby took a different path, studying kinesiology with an aim of going into sport management.  

Still, she continued to grow those artistic talents, and painting became a focus of Busby’s artistic pursuits around 15 years ago, when she began taking classes through the Alberta College of Art and Design, now the Alberta University of the Arts.

“I was taking night classes through them and really learned how I wanted to move away from drawing and play with abstract paint and how colour could really be super powerful for painting,” she said.

The unique abstract style for which she is now known began to take form around 2007.

“My mentor Christopher Willard saw I was interested in hard edge and personally taught me that style,” Busby said. “And over a couple years I perfected how to make those edges perfect and playing with how colour works.”

It took a trip back to her roots to cement that foundation.

“It was in 2007 that I was heading to Saskatchewan to see my mom that was ill, and on the way back in the road trip I saw the landscape in those linear lines,” Busby said. “I could see the horizon line, I could see the shapes in the linear geometric where before I'd never noticed it that way and it was really a light bulb moment.

"I got back to Calgary and the next art class I started painting a landscape with hard edge, and my mentor almost fell over he was like, ‘That's it.’”  

Her artwork has even been graced by the late Queen Elizabeth II, when it was on display as a carpet in Canada’s embassy to the United Kingdom in 2015.

Busby was contacted by Foreign Affairs Canada through the Leighton, requesting submissions for artwork to be used in the newly renovated Canada House, the Office of the High Commission in London, U.K.

“One of the first Northern Lights paintings I had created, and they liked that design and wanted to create that into a large scale, tufted carpet,” Busby said.

Her chosen design was then crafted by a custom carpet company out of Toronto and installed at Canada House.

“I happen to be watching the news that day and see the Queen getting a tour of the whole entire building which is quite large, and the last shot was the Queen walking on my carpets,” Busby said.

“It was a huge highlight for me to know that my carpet was in a very high-profile location, but also you don’t expect someone as world famous as the Queen to be interacting with your piece.”

The exhibition runs at the Leighton through to Oct. 23. For more information visit

For more information on Busby’s work, visit

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