Collection of TransCanada Pipelines Ltd.
John Brocke, "Nikki and Julie"
John Brocke, "Nikki and Julie," 1982, oil on ash plywood, 48" x 42".
JOHN BROCKE: Myth Making
Glenbow Museum, Calgary
June 6 to Sept. 13, 2015
By Lindsey V. Sharman
It is the enigmatic gazes of Nikki and Julie (1983) that catch your eye and draw you into this exhibition of John Brocke’s mannered pointillism. When engaging with the monumental paintings of this widely unknown artist, the viewer’s mind may whirl with real and imagined allegory. Everything becomes a character rife with meanings and lesso ns. I wonder as much about the relationship between a washing machine and an armchair, and what it could teach us, as to that between figures lounging together on a couch.
John Brocke, "Errol and Alice"
The exhibition is presented in a rough timeline, which also separates the works, more or less, into interior and exterior scenes. The curation by Travis Lutley and Douglas Maclean is subtle and clever. The work of both a visiting and an in-house curator is apparent and key to the strength of this exhibition – one can only hope it signals the end of the trend of Calgary art institutions disregarding curators. A painting of the artist’s father playing the violin for an indifferent wife faces off with a painting of Pan fluting for an indifferent bull. Had the architecture allowed, the title wall would have been symmetrically flanked by the paired sentinels of the two young girls in Nikki and Julie and the two empty chairs of Basement Suite (1985) , complementing the Wes Anderson-esque symmetry of both pieces.
John Brocke (1953-2009) "Epoch"
John Brocke (1953-2009) "Epoch" Oil on Linen, 72” x 180”, 1991/92
Epoch (1991-1992), a sprawling forest scene proposed to be the artist’s masterwork , is placed at the far end of the gallery . Four horsemen, one with a ram’s skull tucked behind the saddle, amble across the 15-foot wide canvas through a partially charred forest, oblivious to a hovering rescue helicopter. When confronted by Epoch after viewing Brocke’s earlier works – where a naked girl runs past a peacock whose tail morphs into an imposing tree, or a bear saunters behind a coquettish woman in a city park – I was taken aback by the conspicuous allusion to a society riding headlong and naïvely into destruction. The artist’s shift from creating fables manufactured by his own psyche to presenting real-world critique is hinted at in Via La Butte (1986-1987), where Pan’s erect phallus is echoed cheekily by an ascending cargo jet – “man’s” hubris is simultaneously minuscule and menacing.
Collection of L’Arche Calgary.
John Brocke, "John, Dovie, John"
John Brocke, "John, Dovie, John," 1985, oil on linen, 84" X 101".
The final work of Brocke’s life, cut tragically short by a car accident in 2009, brings the trajectory of both artist and exhibition into sharp focus. Unfinished, World Tree, begun in 2004, presents a figure laying an animal’s skull before the gnarled altar of a tree. It’s a stark contrast to the ambiguous mysticism of Brocke’s earlier works. The loss of the pleasure of overlaying one’s own narratives on his lush and enigmatic images becomes palatable only because of the pressing apocalyptic warnings of the later works – warnings we would do well to heed. If the artist was beginning to stoke his work with environmental morals, we truly lost him when we needed him most.
John Brocke, "Barb/Barbaros"
John Brocke, "QOL/Voice"
Click HERE for interview with Douglas Maclean and Brocke's widow Anna Gardner.
130 9 Ave SE, Calgary, Alberta T2G 0P3 View Map
Mon Closed (September - June); Tues to Sat 9 am – 5 pm; Sun noon - 5 pm. Adult $14, Seniors $10, Students $9, Family $32; Members and under 6, free. Glenbow Shop open Mon to Sat 11 am – 6 pm; Sun noon - 5:30 pm.