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"Dave and Jenn, You’re a Long Way From the Sea"
Jennifer Saleik (left) and David Foy, "Dave and Jenn, You’re a Long Way From the Sea," 2008, two-sided painting, mixed media, 50" X 37" X 6.5".
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"We’re Waiting to Leave (detail)"
Dave and Jenn, "We’re Waiting to Leave (detail)," 2008, two-sided painting: acrylic with resin and wood, 23.5" x 29.5" x 4.5".
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"#1 Won’t Work (if the speed-dial’s broken)"
Dave and Jenn, "#1 Won’t Work (if the speed-dial’s broken)," 2006, mixed media, 54" x 58".
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"Ask Me Again if That Bear is a Rock"
Dave and Jenn, "Ask Me Again if That Bear is a Rock," acrylic and mixed media, 2007, 48" x 48".
JOINED AT THE HIP
Partners and painters, together Dave and Jenn are creating something entirely new.
By Kay Burns
The signature on their artworks, and the label references in exhibitions, reads ‘Dave and Jenn’. David Foy and Jennifer Saleik have gone well beyond the usual interpretation of the term ‘collaboration’ and have forged new paths through joint practice, willingly shedding their individual identities and discovering new techniques and creative results in the process. This is how they got there.
Foy and Saleik met during their first year at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton, moving on to the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, where they ended up in the same major. Both describing themselves as “shy and socially awkward”, they immediately latched on to one another in the painting program. They discovered parallel interests, and by the time they had reached the end of their third year, they realized that the work they produced together in a collaborative sketchbook was more interesting than anything they’d been doing separately. So the ground was laid for “Dave and Jenn” — the sketches became the focus of their painting in their last year at college.
Collaborative practice is common within the media arts, but much less so in painting. Yet Dave and Jenn work together through all stages of the creative process, even in talking about it. “Over time, we’ve grown together,” they say. “There were individual strengths, but we’ve been trying to share as much knowledge and skill as possible with each other. When we make decisions we do so together — we both have the right to veto. We work on the same painting at the same time, so it does help when the work is larger in scale. We’ll trade places to make sure one thing doesn’t get too much individual attention.” In the conceptual process, they tend to focus on their individual interests and obsessions, and as the work progresses their separate ideas recombine into new forms and images.
Dave and Jenn are partners in art and life — they were married in the summer of 2007 and they see very little separation between their artistic practice and their daily lives. “We’re always working on something,” they say. “Maybe it’s easier to be honest and straightforward with each other because we are so interconnected, or maybe it’s the other way around. We just take it for granted.”
After graduating from ACAD in 2006, they were shortlisted for the RBC Painting Competition. The competition process helped to transform their work — they were just beginning to decide how they wanted to make paintings together.
“We had started off wanting to build mythologies for ourselves and defining ourselves as Canadian painters. We’re really in love with Canadian art from the 1960s and 70s. We’ve started to focus more and more on smaller points — incorporating or hiding within our own work small references to painting styles and images from well recognized names in Canadian painting history.” They cite Tom Thomson, Greg Curnoe, Chris Cran, Kent Monkman. Dave and Jenn describe their work as subconscious terrain, the result of filtering hundreds of disparate references into personal expression.
In 2007, participating in the Imaginary Places thematic residency at The Banff Centre, they completed the large, complex painting called We Told Adam We’d Get Over This. Since then, they’ve created a new body of work, including two-sided paintings that stand on plinths, offering a duality of interpretation that seems entirely appropriate. To produce them, Dave and Jenn build up the paint on multiple layers of resin, pouring an initial thin sheet of resin and painting on each side, then layering more resin, painting again, and building surface and perspective up like cel animation.
When it’s finished, the painting is a solid thick sheet with each image encased within it at various levels. Each glance mixes the real with the imagined, and offers dual views of the same subject — inside and outside, front and back, and the intersection of time periods. You’re A Long Way From The Sea follows a four-day period documenting a hike, each side showing two days of the experience.
A similar piece is called The Old Cartographer’s Swansong. “On one side is the hike that we actually did and the other side is the valley and glacier that were behind the mountain we hiked on,” they explain. “So the side with the glacier is constructed with more imaginings and suppositions than the other side. We like to think of ourselves as really bad amateur cartographers.”
Both artists have a strong connection to the natural world, and reference to the environment is clearly evident in their work. “From kindergarten on, we’ve been told that the planet is in trouble, and ever since then its just slowly sliding. No one seems to really be concerned or know what to do, or really want to do it. It seems like nature and humanity can’t really be reconciled, and it’s hard not to think about or react to that, especially when we come from a country that claims so much of its identity from landscape.” They talk about nature being destroyed and created at the same time — what it would look like if the fabric of time and space were to shift and fall apart. The two-sided paintings collapse time and re-imagine place.
Dave and Jenn’s whimsical works, with saturated and neon colours, patterns, smooth surfaces, real and imagined places, and varied layers, are compelling and absorbing, allowing for multiple interpretations of meaning. It’s a practice they plan to carry on for some time, and they’ll continue to work collaboratively, seeing it through its natural progression. They don’t see any division of their practice in the future, although that may change. Right now that’s not even a thought — clearly, the richness of their process and their product comes through the synthesis of two artists merged into one.