Learning from ‘the man and the beast’: amazing Picasso exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

Conversation with Picasso

“Go and do the things you can’t. That is how you get to do them.”

Things I have learned from Pablo Picasso:

– keep an open and curious mind – it will inform your creativity
– be open to change
– keep exploring and learning, don’t get stuck in your ways
– be free in your expression, don’t censure yourself
– be succinct and clear
– reduce to the max

Conversation with PICASSO

“I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else. ”

Conversation with PICASSO

“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.”

Conversation with PICASSO

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

“Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) remains one of the most celebrated artists of all time. Contemporary art critic Robert Hughes wrote: “No painter or sculptor, not even Michelangelo, [was] as famous as this in his own lifetime.” Picasso was a champion of abstract art, which has come to define the avant-garde in the 20th century.

A Spanish-born artist who spent his adult life in France, Picasso’s artistic production spans over six decades, making him one of the most prolific artists of the modern era. His celebrated Blue and Rose Periods (1901-1906) marked his first decade in Paris. These early canvases are known for their deep, cool palette, often featuring people from Picasso’s circle of friends, while the Rose Period brought warmer, brighter hues of orange and pink, with figures from the theatre, ballet, and circus.

Cubism in its Analytic and Synthetic phases (1909-1919) developed when Picasso joined forces with French artist Georges Braque, and the two began experimenting with the composition of the object and picture plane. As they dismantled and re-assembled forms into various states, often with multiple perspectives and angles, Cubism was born.

While embracing elements of Classicism and Surrealism in both artistic and literary circles into the mid decades of the last century, Picasso never stopped exploring new themes and techniques in his art. His total artistic output is estimated in the thousands, including paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and ceramics. He married twice and had four children by three women.” (Source: WAG)

For more information about the amazing exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) – ‘Pablo Picasso, man and beast’ (May 13 until Aug 13, 2017), click here.

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Seen and liked: Blue Whale exhibition and Henry Moore Sculpture Centre

 

 

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Toronto

The Art Gallery of Ontario is known for its extraordinary collection of Henry Moore works. The Henry Moore Sculpture Centre opened in 1974 to house Moore’s original gift to the AGO, now totalling more than 900 sculptures and works on paper.

The collection of the AGO includes more than 80,000 works spanning the first century to the present day. The gallery has 45,000 square metres of physical space, making it one of the largest galleries in North America.

Click here to read more about the Henry Moore Sculpture Centre.

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Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Toronto

In 2014, nine rare blue whales became trapped in ice off the coast of Newfoundland and died. Their loss represents about three percent of the Northwest Atlantic’s blue whale population. Blue whales usually sink when they die, but in an unusual occurrence two of the blue whales washed ashore in Trout River and Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador, offering an unprecedented opportunity for research.

Working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Research Casting International and the local communities, scientists of the Royal Ontario Museum de-fleshed and recovered the bones of this endangered species, transporting them to Ontario. After a two-year process where the bones were buried in manure, and de-greased, one of these awe-inspiring animals is now displayed at the ROM.

Click here to read more about the exquisite Blue Whale exhibition.

The beauty of cast drawing

I never thought I could enjoy spending hours and hours sketching or painting a cast. Being an aries, accepting slow progress has not really been my forte. However, since becoming a student at the Academy of Realist Art in Victoria, founder and teacher Noah Layne has taught me an important lesson: slow progress is still progress.

“Cast drawing is a wonderful way to work on one’s ability to see and record shapes and sharpen one’s eye”, says Noah. He rightly insists that if you manage to sketch or paint one square cm or inch perfectly, you will be able to do the same on a canvas the size of a skyscraper – it’s just a matter of focus, perseverance and time.

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My third semester at the Academy was amazing, using both comparative measurement and sight-size techniques, then starting to capture a cast of my choice in oil paint.

I never thought I would say this, but I loved it. Every second, every square inch!

Thanks, Noah!

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More information: Noah Layne Academy of Realist Art

 

 

 

 

 

Intuition, Experience and Blind Faith: Morley Myers and Clem Crosby collaborate for the first time to make sculpture

Being an artist can sometimes be an isolating experience. Even though some say that collaboration means giving up your individuality, I believe in the power of collaboration. Having a team of people united in one effort can bring about amazing results. “A partner’s different perspective is valuable’, Astronaut Ron Garan once said, ‘but the very fact that it is different means that it will require work, humility, time, and resources to incorporate that perspective. At times, this will require checking one’s pride at the door.”

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When I ran into sculptor Morley Myers a few weeks ago, he introduced me to his friend Clem Crosby. The London-based painter, whose art has been exhibited at the Tate Modern and the UC Berkeley Art Museum – to name but a few – is working at the radical center of a growing circle of painters who accept the accumulated legacy of art history and contemporary culture in their work, but ‘without any traces of the irony that characterized a generation of appropriation’. (1)

‘Are you working on a project together?’ I asked.

‘Yes, we’re working with raw emotions’, Morley said.

‘Rather than calling it ‘raw emotions’ I prefer to call it intuition’, Clem added.

Morley and Clem – who grew up on the same small base in Suffield, Alberta, where their fathers were posted with the Canadian Forces and British Forces in the Seventies – decided to spend 10 days focusing on a collaborative project at Myer’s home on Salt Spring Island after having talked about it for years.

‘Clem’s approach to creating art is very different to mine’, Morley Myers says, ‘which is why I was very interested in seeing this process at work.’ Clem, in turn, was very receptive to the idea of creating sculptures as he had done little 3D work up until this point.

Morley, can you tell us more about your artistic collaboration with Clem? 

Morley: Clem’s approach is much looser than mine. He is constantly looking to turn convention on its head. For instance I would be setting up a starting point – usually involving a recognizable figure – and then Clem would start to deconstruct the piece.

We used a lot of foam for the armatures and built upon that with plaster, cloth and sticks. It had a sense of fort building, the stuff I did when I was a boy. We basically used what we had on hand, and then let ‘it’ happen.

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Clem, you have never made sculpture before. Can you tell us more about your artistic collaboration with Morley? 

Clem: I have been painting for over 25 years so I guess it’s important to recognize the experience an artist accumulates from making something from nearly nothing. But let me start by saying that being on an island – Salt Spring Island – is both a blessing and a possible hindrance. The place is ridiculously beautiful so in my mind there is little point in trying to record nature through paint or otherwise – it already exists. Secondly, I was away from any distraction and overt criticism so I felt a certain liberty to fail, make mistakes and have fun making a mess with a good old pal and super artist Morley Myers.

We decided pretty much immediately that we would try and keep it loose, not get too technical – lucky for me! We literally grabbed some paper towels a couple of bags of quick drying plaster (important because less time to pontificate) from Morley’s studio and twigs and sticks from the yard.

The first pieces were modest in size, neither abstract nor representational although they did have an anthropomorphic quality. Morley would slap the plaster on an armature fashioned out of styrofoam and twigs then I would step in and do the same.

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Only when we decided to push the scale did Morley’s preference for the figure become apparent. He would start by carving in to the foam and i would do my best to undermine the emerging form by skewering the foam with sticks and having Morley’s outline disrupted only for him to then start again.

Sounds like the actual figure is not necessary for Clem?

Morley: That’s right. He is just interested in raw emotion and has a way of expressing that in the true abstract.

Clem: I prefer to call it both intuition and experience. I think ‘raw emotion’ makes the way I work sound like it’s coming from nowhere, I prefer to call it a mix of intuition and experience. Also, I wouldn’t say that my painting is truly abstract in the concrete sense of the term, for example, it’s not just about the materials I use.

I read that Clem Crosby works in relentless cycles of revision, corrective erasure, and overlay, ‘mixing topical concerns with reference to the past as seamlessly as he mixes colour and drawing’. The resulting paintings have been described as ‘at once emotional and yet rigorously intellectual, improvised and yet painstakingly considered’. What theme did you choose for your sculpting project and why? 

Morley: If there was a theme, then it was to disregard how we had been working up until this point. The project was mostly an exercise for both of us – an exercise for me to loosen up, and an introduction for Clem to sculpt with real hands on.

Clem: I think it helps if you know your collaborator because you have to be able to let go of preconceptions. In London, I never have anyone near my studio when I am painting so I knew this would be difficult enough.

The maddening thing about Morley is that he is so talented, he fixes old bikes and cars, he’s always known about nature and incredibly informed about almost anything, he’s the most self deprecating fellow I know and he makes amazing work. There is no doubt that if he were living in London he would be showing! And he’s as funny as hell so I knew it would be a great, creative atmosphere. At the very least if it didn’t work we could throw it all away and have some beers.

We added plaster, wrapped the paper around the styrofoam, pushed in the sticks, cut the foam, pulled out the sticks, added more plaster….and on it went, trying not to make ‘art’ but to go out there and make that ‘something else’ happen. Sometimes we talked a lot whilst working, sometimes we said very little. Then these wonderful, raw, immediate, unfussy, figurative/abstract sculptures emerged.

I think that the last piece we made is amazing, so too the are the first couple and i’m thrilled that we pulled something out of the experience. I learned a great deal about having an object sit in space, to make a convincing ‘thing’ that has volume and that one can believe in.

Then the beers did come out…….
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The history of art, music and literature is filled with many unusual partnerships, or at times stormy, passionate affairs between creative spirits – like Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat in the Eighties. What did Clem and you accomplish together that you would not have been able to do alone?

Morley: The finished work – some of which is very good – would otherwise never have happened. I have the luxury of living with the fruits of our labour and have been enjoying their presence in my studio. There is a freedom in the way Clem works that I had the chance to experience and internalize.

IMG_2084What was the most inspiring moment during your collaboration?

Morley: I think some of our walks together. As Clem comes from London, I wanted him to experience my environment on Salt Spring Island. I wanted him to see what living in the pines is all about, and we talked about the importance of being healthy and connected to the earth through exercise and food. I have been dealing with cancer for a while and don’t know what my time line is, which brings an urgency to who we are and what we do as artists.

Morley Myers and Clem Crosby, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and insights with my readers.

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About Morley Myers

Morley Myers was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1956, and grew up primarily in the Medicine Hat region. A self taught sculptor, Morley has been working with stone since 1991 and has been involved in exhibits on the west coast and has displayed in galleries in New York, Vancouver, Victoria, Tofino, Salt Spring Island, Calgary, Winnipeg and Medicine Hat.

About Clem Crosby

Clem Crosby is a British painter living and working in London, UK and is represented by the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London

Crosby’s work is represented in the following Tate Archive, London, UC Berkeley Museum, USA, and the Microsoft Collection, USA amongst others.

He recently exhibited his paintings at the Armory, NY (2016) with Houldsworth and is being featured in an interview with the artist Ian Davenport in Turps Magazine (July, 2016)

Other collaborative projects in the art world

The history of art, music and literature is filled with many unusual and passionate partnerships, and at times stormy, love affairs between creative spirits.

– Painter Dalí and filmmaker Luis Buñuel were still relatively unknown in their fields when they created the classic surrealist short film “Un Chien Andalou” back in 1928.

– When in 1949, LIFE staff photographer Mili went to visit the Picasso at his studio in France, the painter became so fascinated with Mili’s light painting technique that he suggested to have pictures of him taken as he painted in the air.

– After meeting Warhol in 1980, Jean-Michel Basquiat entered into a collaborative relationship with the artist that lasted until 1985 and created many products of the admired and refuted 1980s Pop art.

– Abstract expressionist Robert Rauschenberg contributed this “money thrower” to an installation for an exhibition of Tinguely’s work in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art.

Creative couple collaborations:

The following couples dared to mix business with pleasure, establishing compatible relationships on both a personal and professional level. Their professional collaboration often produced extraordinary results: the intellectual souls Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre; the Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera; Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock – two of the best known American artists of the 20th century – and the poets and writer Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

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Recent work by M. Myers

 

 

Morley Myers – Sculpting the shape of the human condition

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Morley Myers and ‘Blink of an Eye’

An interview with the B.C. artist by Daniela Herold

Morley Myers, as a self-taught sculptor, you have been working with stone since 1991. One of the most common purposes of sculpture in history was some form of association with religion, or an expression of politics. Why do you choose to create sculptures?

Morley Myers: I started sculpting as an unconscious attempt to explore my self. I hate to call it ‘art therapy’, but it does have that quality at times. What I do would be a combination of religion, and possibly gender politics as well as the broader form of community or national politics.

In your mid twenties, you were enrolled in the Humanities program working towards a degree in social studies.

Morley Myers: We all had to take classes in Ethics, Political Science, Sociology etc, and I chose to also do a class on Religion – is there a God or a proof of divine existence, that sort of thing. It all fed me well, giving me a lot of grist for what I have come to do later in life as an artist.

Over the years I have done bodies of work investigating my relationship with God or a spirit world. Another body was investigating the relationship of spirit and sexual identity, or the lack of. My ideas of what it means to be a man within the constraints of our culture, or my thoughts on this push to have our own children and what it might mean to be a woman or a man desiring to have children.

Human experiences as the basis of your work?

Morley Myers: Indeed. These explorations have helped me to get an understanding of some of the cultures that influenced me, for instance First Nations art from all around the world.

Do you find that the process of creating can be an end in itself?

Morley Myers: Absolutely. There is a joy that is difficult to explain, that you experience when you are in the groove. Once you have experienced this ‘bliss’, you tend to chase it. It is possibly one of the closest things to a spiritual experience I know. In a way, it has become an obsession for me – with the next piece being the cure.

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Male Torso as Armour

When I had the opportunity to visit your studio, I had the impression that your work evolves from a direct encounter with the material itself. You told me that you often start with the fault line or some other perceived defect when creating a sculpture from a raw block of stone. Why?

Morley Myers: Yes, it is a questionable approach to engage the faults and then move with the dialogue from there. This approach is something I tend to do when I am stuck, when the flow has stopped or when I am forcing my will and it all grinds to a halt. At times I have taken a piece of stone and saw large cuts in it creating a challenge that helps move beyond the impasse. Similarly our relationships with others often are deepened when we experience the imperfections of ourselves or others, creating new directions and understanding.

Do you prefer subtractive carving techniques – when removing material from an existing block of stone or wood – or rather modelling techniques to shape or build up your art from the material of your choice?

Morley Myers: When I started sculpting, it was to some extent a reaction to what I was doing as a builder. I had been working for years as a carpenter and found little to no outlet for my own expression as I was building other people’s dreams. I also wanted to get away from the noise of the power tools that I was using all day long, so I started working with hand tools on soft stone, moving slowly and quietly towards my own inner vision.

I worked subtractively for sometime, then slowly introducing power tools as i began to see the images quicker and wanted to speed up the process – ironic, isn’t it? It took me about 10 years before I was comfortable enough to move onto modeling or additive work. Starting with foam and plaster, then moving into steel assembly work.

Does additive work feel different to you?

Morley Myers: There is a wonderful freedom with additive work. You can continue to work and rework the image, adding and or subtracting at will. This is very different to stone work where you can also rework a piece, but it will get smaller and smaller until you end up with a pile of dust.

Both techniques work for me at this point and I find myself comfortably moving between them.

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Linear Thinking

For a sculptor, the classic materials with outstanding durability are usually metal, especially bronze, stone and pottery. What ways and materials do you seek to make art?

Morley Myers: I work in stone, foam, plaster, wood, steel and bronze. And as I mature, I see the possibilities of other materials or dimensions, having done a body of second work playing with colour and texture a few years ago. As an artist who is interested in exploring ideas you are not limited. We can go back to the likes of Picasso who did it all. He helped to set us free.

It has been said that ‘your work is meticulously composed, but open’. How would you describe your style?

Morley Myers: Interesting – I find this description both flattering and mildly confusing. I personally would describe my style as direct and strong, almost a 3D form of drawing.

What I do is definitely meticulous as I come from a line of perfectionists. So when we set ourselves to a task, we look closely at the details. I have a difficult time with ‘wishy-washy art’ – by that I mean art that doesn’t say anything or is too soft and round. I like sharp lines and clean intersecting planes.

As far as the statement goes that my work is trying to project – I like that to be clear, however this is where the “open” part might come into play. Since my statements tend to be about our human experience, each viewer will respond to it with mild to massive shades of difference.

When I travelled through the Netherlands last year, I visited the sculpture garden of the Kroeller-Mueller Museum in Otterlo, which opened in 1961, and has since become one of the most renowned in the world. Situated on carefully chosen spots on 25 hectares of woodland, sculptures ranging from work by Rodin to that of contemporary sculptors can be enjoyed by visitors. Where in North-America, do you think, come visual art, nature, architecture and garden design together in perfect harmony?

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Red Face

Morley Myers: I can’t come up with one place that is the ultimate, rather many possibilities. I am a country rat by nature and have never been overly comfortable in large cities, so my preference would be something in nature, preferably something here on the west coast.

I have seen wonderful sculpture ‘gardens’ in city landscapes as well in the country, above ground and below water. I do not think it has to be limited to one place or type of environment, be that urban or rural. But there needs to be an openness to the experience, to both the art and place.

Your career is long and eventful – what influenced your evolution as a sculptor?

Morley Myers: Living within a community of artists here on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, has had a large impact on what I do and who I have become as an artist.

– Firstly, when the mystery of being an artist was dissolved, closing the gap between artist and mortal.

– The opportunity to see things differently and to start engaging within the creative process with endless encouragement. From here the art world started to open to me and fearlessly I stumbled into it (and for the most part continue to).

– Meeting new artists who point me in different directions, giving me new views of the world and other voices to investigate.

Within this ‘one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-approach’ there have been satori moments, awakening moments. Like the ‘Aha-effect’ when something becomes clear. For instance when a friend invited me to watch a movie showing Picasso in motion and I was watching Picasso’s creative process flowing through many possibilities until there was this sense of completion. This is the moment of freedom I spoke of earlier.

“Our relationships with others are often deepened when we experience the imperfections of ourselves or others, creating new directions and understanding.” Morley Myers

Who of the following artists has inspired you and why? Barbara Hepworth, Picasso, Henry Moore, Jean Arp, Marta Pan, Constantin Brâncuși or Henri Gaudier-Brzeska.

Morley Myers: Of these artists, my primary influences are Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Picasso and Constantine Brancusi.

It is hard for me to separate Hepworth and Moore as their work was very similar on many aspects, eg their explorations of space or void, or the same sense of flow and statement. Their work gave me an understanding of negative space or void.

Picasso demonstrates the freedom to explore dimensions and materials, the easy flow from 2D to 3D and back again, often within the same piece of work.

Brancusi is the start of the language all the moderns base their work on. His break from Rodin and access to the influences that were coming out of Africa at that time were the start of the language that my work is based on.

How do you see and understand public space and the role of art in public space?

Morley Myers: I think that public spaces can do many things. They can open our eyes to different ways of seeing the world and our place within it. Don’t they represent a chance to explore ourselves and others through many forms of art? As they provide a space for artists to realize their visions, they give space to their voices. Public spaces also create an opportunity for us to experience beauty for its own sake or give a visual voice to the injustices that surround us.

These parks can also reintroduce us to the natural world that we are apart of or re-frame our urban environments so that they are no longer just a place of survival or opportunities to merchandise. We can regain a sense of who we are as a species in relation to our environment. They can create an opportunity for profound change or simply function as a great place for family picnicking.

How do you deal with issues surrounding your art involving interior and exterior, solid and void, time and space, weight and weightlessness?

Morley Myers: I don’t give much conscious thought to these issues, I rather feel or intuit. It is similar to knowing when you are finished with a piece – there is a sense of completion, a feeling similar to a satori moment. A recognition from within.

What are you currently working on?

Morley Myers: At the moment I am looking at the next phase of my career as I am soon to be 60 years old and looking at who I am or becoming.

I am experiencing big life changes. My father, 90, is in the throws of Alzheimer’s and will soon be gone. This is a big moment in our lives, the loss of a parent, which forces deep reflection. It is in a way bringing me closer to my family, giving me a sense of continuity as I experience or visualize my father throughout the time frame that I have memories of him. I have been very unsettled by this experience as this last part is bringing my own demise well within view. I have a keen sense of how much time I have left, wondering what I will do with it.

I also have a much better understanding of my connection to all things at this point in my life. A wonderful place to be as it provides an endless realm of possibilities to create from.

Daniela Herold:  Morley Myers, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with my readers.

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ABOUT:

Morley Myers was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1956, and grew up primarily in the Medicine Hat region. A self taught sculptor, Morley has been working with stone since 1991 and has been involved in exhibits on the west coast and has displayed in galleries in New York, Vancouver, Victoria, Tofino, Salt Spring Island, Calgary, Winnipeg and Medicine Hat.

Artist website:
morleymyers.com

CONTACT:  Studio – Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment.
128 Graham Drive, Salt Spring Island, Canada. V8K 1J5

Credits / photographs copyright: David Borrowman

Christen Dokk Smith on the art of contemporary Viking carving

For my eight birthday my father had carved three little masks out of pine wood – a man with a pipe, a smiling woman and a little angel singing – the three of us, our small family. One evening I asked him whether he would show me his carving tools, expecting him to refuse as the polished blades were sharp as knives. “Of course,” my father said. “But be careful when handling them as I don’t want you to get hurt.” And then he patiently explained to me how to use a straight and a skew chisel and helped me carve a few lines into a chunk of wood.

I remember my father’s skill when I meet the European carver Christen Dokk Smith on Chesterman Beach in Tofino.  I notice the carver working in the historic ‘carving shed’ on the beach and ask whether I may have a look at his art.

“Absolutely, come on in!”, he says.
“This must be your calling!” I am looking at the most intricate patterns of his stunning art, fascinated by the precision work and beauty of the pieces.
 “It is”, he smiles.

me_carving Christen, you were born in Norway, where you grew up in the countryside outside of Oslo. How did you get introduced to Bjarte Aarseth, a master woodcarver at the Vikingship museum in Oslo?

Christen: I was attending a meditation workshop and we just happened to sit next to each other on the last day. We started talking and connected, and Bjarte told me he was looking for an apprentice.

You were working in the military as an officer at that time: Had you ever thought of becoming a woodcarver at all?

Christen: No, but told him that I would accept his offer to visit him at work. When I stepped into his workshop at the museum a few months later, full of the scent of wood, I immediately knew what I was meant to be doing in life – wood carving; it was like coming home.

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Art work by Christen Dokk Smith

You work in the realm of contemporary Viking carving and sculptures. Are there many European or North American artists like you today who still learn this kind of art?

Christen: Not to the extent that I did. My teacher was the 4th woodcarver at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, and has since taught two others, myself included. There are other woodcarvers that are inspired by the Viking era and Viking art, but there are only a few that have the in-depth knowledge of Viking carving that I do.

During your 4 year apprenticeship, what did Bjarte train you in?

Christen: I was given a thorough classical education in woodcarving, where knowledge is passed down from master to apprentice. Bjarte had high expectations of me and not only did he want me to learn the different styles of carving but he wanted me to master them. My main focus was making high precision replicas of the Viking artifacts for the museum, but I was also taught Norwegian Medieval style, Baroque acanthus, Rococo and sculpture.

Can you tell us a bit more about the classical European way of carving?

Christen: From my perspective, the European way of woodcarving has always focused on architectural decorative elements, which was used on castles, cathedrals, churches and other grand public buildings. There was more of a craft approach than artistic approach to carving and the craftsman were bound to the rules of the era, with no consideration for artistic input.

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Carving by C. Dokk Smith

Your carvings are intricate – they must take months to produce. Is there any room for error when you work with wood?

Christen: When I worked for the museum, there was no room for mistakes. But as we had plenty of time, we never carved if we had a bad day or felt stressed. Bjarte always emphasized being mindful and focused on what you were doing. If we had made a mistake we would have to start over again.

As an artist I still try to maintain this approach to carving; of course when I’m not bound to making a replica of something I have the advantage of adjusting the design should I make a mistake.

What are the differences between Viking, Medieval, Baroque and Rococco carving?

Christen: That is a big question that could be the theme of a book. In short: the difference lies in the time period the carving was made, and the design elements employed during that time.

We regard the Viking era to be between 750 – 1050 CE. The carvings are intricate, often depicting disjointed creatures that bite or hold onto one another. Viking carving is often mistaken for Celtic design.

Isn’t there a strong resemblance between them?

Christen: Yes, but Celtic carving is symmetrical, whereas Viking carving is very asymmetrical.

In Norway, the medieval era started when Christianity was brought to Norway (around 1050CE), earlier on the continent. Today, we have a couple of wooden churches – called Stave churches – left from that period. The carving became a bit more symmetrical during this period. It usually depicted serpents and dragons, again intertwining and biting each other. Later on in the era the animals were replaced with flowers on long stalks intertwining.

The Baroque lasted between 1600-1700CE and is characterized by a very strict construction of the decorative element and was often built around the Acanthus plant, a Greek broad leaf plant with sharp edgy leaves. This particular style of carving was brought to Norway by a Dutch carver, who was hired to decorate the cathedral in Oslo when it was built in 1694CE.

The Rococo period replaced the Baroque era and lasted to the end of the 18th century. The period was a reaction against the Baroque and was more playful and used more asymmetrical designs and curves. Often incorporating a shell.

What kind of wood do you use and why?

Christen: I use all kinds of wood. I tend to prefer the harder types of wood like birch, maple, oak, wood from fruit trees, and walnut. Lime wood is a very soft wood but takes details well. Working for the museum we always used the same wood as the original artifact we were replicating (mainly oak, birch, ash and beech).

After relocating to BC, I began using a lot of yellow cedar, alder and some red cedar. Even though it is not always possible I try to source salvaged wood for my projects. Regardless of preference, the wood I use has to suit the product. If I were to make a piece that is meant to be outside, I would have to use wood that can withstand moisture and does not rot easily, harder wood is preferred for products that are meant to be used or will be touched a lot.

CDSmithIs the art of making high precision replicas for the museum still being taught today?

Christen: There has not been another apprentice at The Viking Ship Museum since I left. I have yet to come across another museum that has a woodcarver employed for that reason, though I am continuing to look!

Tell us a bit more about the subjects you choose and the materials you work with. When you received a scholarship at the City and Guild of London Art School, you started focusing on your big passion – sculptures.

Christen: Yes, I have focused on making portrait work. I have replicated several sculptures. At the City and Guild of London art school I made a bust of Michelangelo’s David. My last project in Norway before I moved, was making a copy of a 13th century Madonna with child. The Madonna was carved out of one piece of oak, 4 feet tall. I have also done several sculptures of live models or bust portrait work.

One of my main projects this year is a sculpture of “a boy in wonderment of the world” in maple for the OneTree Project. The show will take place at the Robert Bateman centre in Victoria in November 2015. I’m also in the planning process for a series of sculptures that are inspired by my inner growth and personal development, where I will use myself as a model. The series will probably be in red cedar.

Chesterman Beach

Chesterman Beach

In 2012 you moved to Tofino. Have you been working a lot First Nation carvers? If so, who has inspired you the most?

Christen: My introduction to First Nation carving came on one of my first trips to BC, prior to moving here. I had been put in contact with a First Nation elder – Levi Martin – in Tofino. In our time together he guided me to create Pok Mus maks (Wildman mask). The most important thing he taught me – which still remains part of my practice today – is to sit with the wood and listen. To let the wood speak.

When I moved here, I met Joe David who became my mentor and friend. Joe taught me to respect the old way and techniques and we meet on a regular basis to discuss what we are working on and wood carving in general. I am very inspired by First Nations art, not necessary their form line, but more the presence and energy that some of their art work has. It has opened me to another dimension in carving.

IMG_2613You have been carving from the “Carving Shed” on Chesterman Beach in Tofino ever since you moved there. What’s the story behind ‘the shed’?

Christen: “The Carving Shed” was built by a Spanish/ Swedish carver named Henry Nolla, who came to Canada in the 50s. He was allowed to build a shed on the McDiarmids land in exchange for taking care of their house in Tofino. When they later built the Wickaninnish Inn, Henry did all of the decorative adze work and the front doors to the Inn.

Henry was that type of person who attracted other people, so when he passed away 10 years ago his fellow carvers continued to work form there. The Inn saw the opportunity for a mutual beneficial relationship where their guests could experience an authentic work shop on the beach, listening to the story of Henry Nolla, and we – the carvers – would have an amazing work place.

As Feather George, the caretaker of the shed, really liked my work, I was invited to join him. So, today it is only the two of us working there.

You have participated at the carving in the Edge Festival in the past, is that right?

Christen: Yes, the Edge Festival is a local woodcarving festival here in Tofino for the last two years. Both presenting my work and giving a talk. The first year I talked about Viking art and carving, and last year I talked about my journey.

Any upcoming events? You will participating at the OneTree Project in Victoria in November this year!

Christen: Yes, the oneTree exhibit project will promote the fascinating interrelationship between art and nature by celebrating the past, present, and future of one particular Bigleaf Maple tree by salvaging its wood, making functional art from it, and recording the creative process. It is going to take place at the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria BC this November.

 

Christen, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with my readers.

 

About

Christen Dokk accepts commissions related to decorative carving, portrait and sculptural work.

Christen Dokk Smith

Viking Ship Museum in Oslo

OneTree Project at the Bateman Centre, Victoria BC 

 

Photo Credits: C. Dokk Smith / Daniela Herold

 

Contemporary Art from North North America – Oh Canada …

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‘Uncharted galvanized hut’ by Chris Millar, 2008.

Curiosity. Humour. Absurdity. 

An epic art exhibition is taking over Calgary: Comprised of more than 100 artworks by over 60 artists and collectives from across the country,  Oh, Canada: Contemporary Art from North North America, is vast in scope and size – so big that no one gallery space in Calgary is large enough to host the entire exhibition. The exhibition, organized by the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), is the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced outside Canada! In order to bring this ambitious survey of contemporary Canadian art to Calgary, four local art institutions have partnered to co-represent it (Esker Foundation, Glenbow, Illingworth Kerr Gallery and Nickle Galleries).

Oh, Canada is huge in both scale and scope: 61 Artists. 4 Galleries. 1 Exhibition.

“Over 800 artists from every province and territory were initially considered for ‘Oh Canada’. Following 400 studio visits, 62 artists and collectives were selected, focusing mostly on those less known outside Canada”, says Denise Markonish, the Curator of ‘Oh Canada’. “These artists hail from as fas west as the Yukon, as north as Nunavut and as east as Newfoundland and Labrador; they cross multiple generations, and wok in all media, from painting to performance.”

The overall selection is fabulous! I particularly enjoyed Chris Millar’s work, as the natural born storyteller draws us into his ‘own private universe of wondrous tiny details’, holding our attention while unfolding his outrageous tales and phantasies. Millar’s paintings are dense mixtures of images and phrases, whereas his sculptures are sprinkled with visual clues for the viewer.

Does Oh, Canada define a country as large and intricately layered as Canada? “Not really”, says Markonish, “though it provides insight – through more than 100 artworks – into some of the country’s most noteworthy art practices and ideas, including a deep and continuing interest in the land, craft and identiy politics”.

As for me, a new Canadian since December last year,  Oh, Canada  is but one snapshot among many possibilities, intended to encourage dialogue, debate and a deeper exploration into the breadth and excellence of Canadian art today.

 

 

ABOUT the museum:
Glenbow is Western Canada’s largest museum, with over one million objects in the collection including works of art, cultural artifacts from around the world, and photographs and documents relating to the history of Western Canada. The exhibitions, programs and events are designed to create memorable experiences for all Calgarians.

About Chris Millar
Born in Claresholm, Alberta, Chris Millar grew up in Sherwood Park. He completed a fine arts diploma at Grant MacEwan Community College in 1998, and a bachelor of fine arts in painting at the Alberta College of Art+ Design in 2000.