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Diana Thorneycroft, "Tripod," 2013, mixed media (altered plastic horse, clay, gesso, graphite, coloured pencil crayons, charcoal, rice paper, G.I. Joe leg), 9" x 10" x 6".
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Diana Thorneycroft, "Conjoined Twins," 2014, mixed media (altered plastic horse, clay, coloured pencil crayon, embroider thread, human hair and skin), 12" x 8" x 5".
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Michael Boss, "Black Ruby," 2013, oil pastel on paper, 40" x 60".
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Michael Boss, "Elmwood Boy," 2014, acrylic and china markers on panel, 60" x 40".
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Michael Boss, "Panhead," 2014, oil pastel on paper, 48" x 72".
DIANA THORNEYCROFT and MICHAEL BOSS, Hogs and Horses
Gurevich Fine Art, Winnipeg
Oct. 3 to Oct. 25, 2014
By Sarah Swan
From earliest times, horses have been mythologized as possessing exceptional, magical properties. They are seen as noble and intelligent, elegant and muscular. Of the horse, Russian writer Nikolai Gogol famously asked “is there a sensitive ear, alert as a flame, in your every fiber?” For some, like Winnipeg artist Michael Boss, the same might be asked of a Harley Davidson, although Boss focuses here more on power than elegance.
His large-scale drawings of motorcycles are detailed – every brake cable, spark advance and gear shift is there. But step back and it’s easy to see how each is more than the sum of its parts. Rendered in oil pastel, a medium chosen for its position between drawing and painting, each ‘hog’ exudes a concrete, masculine presence. In the engine of Panhead gorgeous black smudges are reminiscent of grease, and Black Ruby has been built in layers both playful and controlled.
Occasionally, Boss moves from homage to deeper content. Elmwood Boy, for example, part personal memoir and part portrait, examines the contradictory nature of traditional male narratives. In soft greys and rich blacks, it depicts a boy sitting on a motorcycle with an older man. “Don’t start a fight,” the accompanying text reads. “But if you get in one – finish it. Be tough. Be tough. Be tough.”
Meanwhile, Diana Thorneycroft sets an altogether different tone. Known primarily for photo-based work, she has shifted her practice to include sculpture. Melting plastic toy horses in the oven, she began to disfigure their bodies in strangely beautiful ways. To alter them further, she severed limbs and added prosthetics.
Tripod, with his mouth sliced off and a jointed G.I. Joe leg acting as prosthesis, looks tortured and demonic. The vibrant red Conjoined Twins wear youthful, almost sweet expressions as they try to balance the weight of their heads on wobbly legs. There are horses with small flies pressed into their skin, horses with bird claws and porcupine quills, horses with protruding nails and barnacle-like sores. Each has its own personality, eliciting empathy, awe and aversion. In short, they are a spectacle.
These contradictory feelings are precisely what Thorneycroft felt when she encountered people with horribly disfigured bodies begging in a market in Shenzhen, China, when she and Boss spoke at symposium there. It was the impetus for this work, leading her to explore ideas about visual difference. For her, the horses are also personal talismans, filling a similar role as the carved figurines that West African cultures once used for protection.
Thorneycroft acts in two roles; she has both artfully maimed and compassionately healed her horses, turning what was ordinary and common into the fantastically diverse.