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"Artist Joe Fafard"
Artist Joe Fafard at work in his studio.
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Joe Fafard, "Mon Pere," 1972, earthenware, glaze and acrylic paint, 34.1 x 35.4 x 35.4 cm.
MacKenzie Gallery, Regina
September 29, 2007 to January 6, 2008
By Patricia Robertson
When a working artist has a national retrospective during his lifetime, it’s a rare privilege. Such is the good fortune, some say well-deserved, that Saskatchewan sculptor Joe Fafard enjoys. While a few naysayers may mistakenly dismiss Fafard’s homegrown sculptures as “folk art,” the Canadian art establishment has deemed his life’s work significant enough to merit a closer look.
The MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, in collaboration with the National Art Gallery, presents Joe Fafard this fall, curated by Toronto-based curator and writer Terrence Heath. The exhibition travels next to the National Gallery of Canada, then continues on to The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, and concludes at The Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Heath selected 70 pieces by the Saskatchewan sculptor that range from small-scale clay figures to large bronze and steel works. The exhibition will be an exploration of the possibilities found in the materials used by the inventive Fafard throughout his career.
“I felt that Joe was being dismissed as a little French Canadian folk artist from Saskatchewan,” Heath says when asked why he thinks Fafard’s work merits his curatorial attention. “In Canada, we tend to shelve our artists or wait until they’re dead to celebrate them.” Heath has known Fafard since the late ‘60s and has written about him often. Twelve years ago, he began writing a biography of Fafard which is now greatly condensed and included in the catalogue of the exhibition.
Featured in the show will be Fafard’s famous clay portrait sculptures from the 1970s and early 1980s. Fafard’s work from this period is distinguished by his innovative use of the surface and radical experimentation with the medium.
Fellow sculptor and former University of Regina professor Victor Cicansky has known Fafard since they taught together in the 1970s in the University’s Fine Arts department. “We were both a couple of longhairs with beards. People used to confuse us all of the time,” laughs Cicansky. “Only I’m the vegetable guy and he’s the barnyard guy.
“When California artist and U of R teacher David Gilhooly got all of us working in clay, it was a departure. It was not considered a fine art medium in those days. Using clay as a medium was a radical act. It took us all forward. I suppose in some ways we were reacting to the Regina Five.”
Born in the rural community of Ste. Marthe, Saskatchewan in 1942 and trained at the University of Manitoba and Penn State, Fafard’s aesthetic departure from modernism is born out of an appreciation for nature and his rural roots. When Fafard elected to work from his own experience and create figurative work based on regional subjects, he was effectively thumbing his nose at the modernist pretensions of the Regina Five and their large-scale abstract works.
“Joe’s work has depth and compassionate humour. His cows are anthropomorphic rather than being depicted as generic subjects,” Heath explains. “Joe’s work is grounded. He’s done that deliberately. He made the decision to work from what he knew and that has distinguished him as an artist. Joe is a major sculptor and he does work that stands up in the international art world.”
Also included in the show is Fafard’s experimental and innovative work in bronze and steel. When he switched from ceramic to bronze in the 1980s, his work took on new dimension and depth. His bronze “drawings in space” are deemed major contributions to the history of open sculpture.
The MacKenzie’s extensive programming includes a local bus tour of Fafard’s public sculptures, a film series, an artist studio program, a roundtable discussion with the local French community, a conversation between the artist and curator, plus a Saskatchewan writers’ response to Fafard’s work.
When I spoke to the artist at his acreage in Lumsden, outside Regina, he expressed delight at the forthcoming show and gratitude that Terrence Heath was taking such care with the selections and assessments of his work. “A retrospective? It’s something you hope will happen eventually. What a gift to see your life’s work gathered all in one spot.”
Represented by: Douglas Udell Gallery, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver; Nouveau Gallery, Regina; Mayberry Fine Arts, Winnipeg; Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto; Galerie de Bellefeuille, Montreal; Lillian Heidenberg Fine Art, New York.