Monday, February 25, 2008

Of horses and cows

If you ever get interested in what contribution horses and cows have made to modern sculpture, there is one show and one show only that you should see. It's the Joe Fafard retrospective, currently on display at the National Art Gallery.

I'd viewed Fafard's creations before, in art magazines, but never actually seen them, first-hand, until yesterday.

The artist has devoted four decades of his life...and scultping objects out of clay, ceramic, and increasingly bronze and steel. He has sculpted people, too, but really found his stride with the animals. Some of the works are small, quirky and almost intimate, while many of the recent ones are huge, verging on heroic. If cows and horses can be heroic, that is. And funny. And twisted. And beautiful. And dead-pan, straight up realistic, too. Joe Fafard is someone who has grown up around and amidst farm animals, so he honors them by constructing their striking likenesses. Some of it is high-tech stuff: laser cut steel sheets and large scale (think life size and bigger) poured bronzes. There is also a 25 minute film created spcifically to give one a sense of the tremendous process that goes into creating these sculptures. I mean, the man works in conjuction with a foundry...yes, a foundry in a small Saskatchewan town.

In some ways, this show struck me as the most Canadian of all art objects. Our country was opened up largely with the help of horses and our fields tilled by farm animals, for generations. In some provinces, the rural economy still shows vestiges of that not-so distant pioneer era. It takes a small-town Prairie artist to tap into all of this, then mix it up, inject it with a good dose of Pop art, add a pinch or two or humour - and you have Joe Fafard, abridged version.

Go and see the show. Much like the Ron Mueck exhibit last year, it'll be worth the admission price and more.