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"Joe Fafard with Valentina"
Joe Fafard with Valentina.
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Joe Fafard, "Old Salt," laser cut metal sculpture.
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"The V series"
Joe Fafard, Small-scale horses from "the V series."
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"Van Gogh in bronze"
Joe Fafard, "Van Gogh in bronze," Jasper Avenue at 113 Street in Edmonton.
JOE FAFARD'S VISCERAL ART
By Jennifer MacLeod
Joe Fafard laughs easily. A gentle, mirthful laugh that fills a few seconds and then sits on idle. Ready to resonate with the next delightful thought or curious insight. That’s the way Fafard interacts with the world…one bemusing discovery to the next.
One of Canada’s most beloved and successful artists, Fafard is in a comfortable place. He turned 60 on September 2. His work is in demand and is admired in collections and exhibitions across Canada and internationally. He lives on a 72-acre property just outside Regina, Saskatchewan, where he built an 84' x 44' studio. He employs his nephew to run his foundry, Julienne Atelier Inc., which is devoted to the production of his own bronze sculptures.
Fafard’s recent work involves three-dimensional horses ranging from seven inches to nearly five feet in height, each with a unique, richly coloured patina and each with the same graceful turn of the head. They stand, calm but watchful. The largest horses gaze knowingly, sure of their own beauty, engaged in silent communication with the humans in their midst. The smaller ones flirt, proud of their form, drawing each human into their small circle of light.
In his notes, Fafard ponders questions of scale. “Does a work become more powerful with an increase in size? Less intimate? Is a sculpture sensed with a different part of our body depending on its size?”
It would seem so. Small objects are more private, he suggests. Larger works share space with the viewer. “It seems that an additional sensing apparatus comes into play…we feel a presence comparable to that of another person in the room.” Maybe sculpture is not just a visual art, he concludes. Perhaps it is a visceral art.
After 40 years of ceramic and bronze sculpting, to Fafard such questions remain as compelling as ever. Every sculpture offers the opportunity for new investigations. “I try to educate myself, to discover the world around me…I’m hoping others discover something too.”
Fafard was born in Ste. Marthe, Saskatchewan, to a French-speaking farming family including five brothers and six sisters. He learned early on the value of a good laugh. “My mother and father loved to laugh,” he says. “They were subsistence farmers, relying on nature’s provisions; it was very hard work.” That thread of good humour, combined with an earthy perception of reality, is infused throughout Fafard’s art.
After completing a BFA at the University of Manitoba in 1966 and a Master of Fine Arts at Pennsylvania University, State College, in 1968, Fafard began teaching sculpture in Regina at the University of Saskatchewan where he progressed from the kinetic pieces he was doing at the time to ceramic sculpture. He left teaching in 1974, settled in Pense, Saskatchewan, and has since devoted himself to creating art full time. His satirical ceramic portraits of the Pense townspeople and farm animals gained him widespread recognition.
He began working in bronze in the early 1980s and is best known now for his bronze bovines; seven of his cows rest comfortably in an outdoor installation entitled The Pasture in Toronto’s financial district. Over the years, he has also focused on horses, a series of whimsical tables and chairs incorporating animals, and portraits of famous painters in ceramic and bronze. In the early ‘90s, he started doing two-dimensional laser cutouts in bronze such as the bison on view in Calgary in front of the Shaw Court building.
“The laser is just another tool,” says Fafard. “I find great satisfaction in any format.”
When Joe Fafard steps out of the home he shares with his wife and two children, ages 6 and 8 (he also has three older children in their 20s and 30s), he is 400 feet away from a purpose-built studio that features a 14 ft ceiling, large windows, white walls, ample storage space and a generous work area. Surrounding him is a hay field, a pasture for his five horses, and a nature reserve that is home to racoon, deer and coyote. Beaver have damned a creek that runs through the property.
“The impulse to create” is what keeps him going to the studio each day. “The excitement is in the discovery,” Fafard says. “It’s the emergence of being… giving ‘life’ to something.”
Fafard begins each sculpture with a small shape, the idea, the gesture. He then creates the full-size piece in a special heat-sensitive clay that sits over a welded steel support. The clay becomes soft when warm, and allows him to go back to the sculpture as much as he wants over a period of weeks or months.
When he’s happy with it, the clay model goes to the foundry. There a rubber mold and wax replica are made; molten metal replaces wax and the bronze sculpture emerges. Fafard returns at this point to create his masterful patina finishes. “I do some visualization to start,” says the artist. “But it may change direction.” Working with a torch to heat the bronze, he applies liquid patina with a brush, sprayer or other instrument. Using white, black, yellow and red only, Fafard layers and mixes the colours to achieve the intense earth tones that complement his subjects.
The important thing to Fafard is to work to his own satisfaction. “Each piece reveals itself. If you know what the piece is going to be, you don’t have to do it. If a piece is successful and expressive it will relate back to me,” he says. “I am a member of the human race, so if a sculpture triggers something in me, it will trigger something in others.”
The notion of empathy between species figures heavily in Fafard’s work. His horse and cow sculptures exude compassion and admiration. “I delight in their beauty and peacefulness.”
Joe Fafard is represented in Regina by the Susan Whitney Gallery where a show of his new work runs October 4 through November 6, 2002. Fafard is carried by the Douglas Udell Gallery in Edmonton, and by Trépanier Baer in Calgary. His work is also included in the permanent collection at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina.