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"Full Circle 1"
Peter von Tiesenhausen, "Full Circle 1," photo-etching/paper.
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Peter von Tiesenhausen, "Prairie Sky," 2009, mud, tar, and ashes/board.
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Peter von Tiesenhausen, "Stamina," 2008, whitewash/charred wood.
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Peter von Tiesenhausen, "Morning," 2008, mixed media/board.
PETER VON TIESENHAUSEN, Mud, Tar and Ashes
Willock & Sax Gallery, Banff
February 5 to 11, 2009
By Mary-Beth Laviolette
Spanning a dozen years of Peter von Tiesenhausen’s work, between 1997 and 2009, this exhibition echoed, not so much in an aural sense but with a reverberation between many of the works on display. Even without knowing much about von Tiesenhausen’s work, it was possible to see how one idea has sparked many outcomes, and can be expressed in different media with different results.
In the very fine and unique portfolio of seven prints titled Ether (2002), four of the seven prints were inspired by a life-size boat hull on von Tiesenhausen’s property, north of Grande Prairie, Alberta. Laboriously made, years ago, of bent willow, sections of the boat’s weathered hull were photographed and then translated into photo-etchings on rich black paper. The addition of chine collé in aluminium foil for texture and colour completes the print. The effect is ethereal and delightful — akin to peering at a spider’s web woven in silver.
Another of the Ether etchings is based on Wall of Water, an important wall-straddling sculptural relief, recently acquired by Calgary’s Glenbow Museum. As a smaller-scale echo of the original, and only a representation of a small section of the wall, the etching still has impact on its own as a silvery splatter depicted on a sharp diagonal.
In terms of scale, Mud, Tar and Ashes reveals another dimension about an artist who, over the years, has become best known for his large, even monumental, installations. Many of the artworks in this show were small and even tiny, as in the 5" x 7" or 5" x 8" oil on panel works, and the deceptive bronze sculptures, easily picked-up by hand. The ideas, or concepts expressed, were deep and metaphorically tied to the human condition. With titles like Martyr, Trial, Cross, Sunken, Requiem — Acts of Resistance, Untitled — Landscape as Muse, Forest, Way and Edge, the mood and even the palette of rich browns, greys, blacks and blues was a sombre one, perhaps connected to the artist’s environmental concerns about the fate of the Peace River country where he lives.
As for the mud, tar and ashes, they too sprung from the environment of northern Alberta and found their way into the artwork, as materials but also carriers of metaphor. The aspen-poplar forest as timber product was poetically expressed in Residium Series Drawing #10 featuring a phantom tree conveyed simply but effectively in watercolour — concocted from ash — and drawn on paper made from aspen pulp.
In general, it was the smaller pieces that seemed to stand-out with some of the larger works, especially the oil on canvas, lost in a swirl of heavy paint. But, there were always exceptions. One of largest, the rectangularMorning, mixed media on board, is a Turner-esque landscape of a farm field, heavy in atmosphere with a thin ochre-yellow horizon. It is a sunrise full of hope, or maybe something more insidious.
Speaking the most eloquently, though, about this artist and his 20-year preoccupation with the land and the environment, was another photo etching, Full Circle. With his homesteader knack for bent willow, the artist photographed a large intertwined circle of willow branches he had made and then installed high in the bush. Now, covered with snow, it was not hard to imagine some allusion to suffering and adversity in the image with its Christian-style ‘crown of thorns’ made of willow. Whatever its intent, the picture struck a nerve in this soulful exhibition, with its suggestion that this is an artist who has come full circle in his practice.