I was keen to see Multitudes, a show at Arts Underground by artists from the Studio Gallery Association, because it’s a theme I’ve seen in other Yukon artists’ work. People who think about Yukon art often wonder how to characterize it; to a large extent, it’s the product of a diverse group of individuals rather than schools or movements. But I think of Mario Villeneuve’s grid of photographs, each a portrait of a different lonely glove or mitt found on the road. I think of Meshell Melvin, often seen at festivals engaged in her long-range project of embroidering a portrait of everyone in the Yukon on the Universal Movement Machine. I think of the multitudes of marks in Jesse Devost’s map-inspired acrylics. And I wonder if this interest in accumulation might be one thread that links the work of at least some Yukon artists.
Five of the eight Studio Gallery Association members have chosen this theme to tie their work together. The Association was started in the mid-’90s, and offers group shows at intervals. Readers might remember the Chess show at the Yukon Arts Centre Gallery in 2007.
The forest of ceramic faces currently on display in the centre of the Arts Underground gallery clearly conveys a sense of multitude. Faces have been sculpted on wrapped slabs of clay, then raku-fired. They’re mounted on thin logs, on a wider log base. The pale faces include lines of crazing that often appear in work that’s fired this way. Most of the artists have created a few faces, so read the nametag on each piece. Maureen Morris’s heads, particularly noteworthy, have the serene lunar quality we often see in her carvings.
Many fish swim in Rob Ingram’s “Fish” and “Fish Mobiles.“Each fish is sculpted from polymer clay, many incorporating iridescent colours. They hang from fishing rods in a large school. The moving shadows they cast on the wall increase the sense of multiplicity.
The rest of the pieces don’t offer me so much a feeling of multitude as groupings. If you can easily count the number of pieces in the group, it doesn’t overwhelm like a multitude, it seems to me. However, this remains a semantic quibble, because the rest of the pieces work delightfully in a series or group.
Maureen Morris offers us multiples in boxes. Six flat, stylized birds fit perfectly into her “Resting Box for Owls,” like chocolates. Narrow bones with interesting lines prop up the dark stained box’s lid, looking like they would fit neatly inside the box to close it. An owl-face transforms a vertebra into one more stylized bird affixed to the lid.
Tony Clennet arranges his multiples into circular, radial compositions in his “Raku Suns”. Dots, bars, and divisions repeat in creamy white glaze against the swirling metallics of raku.
Neil Graham offers us groupings of “Arms”, “Torsos”, and “Legs” in three canvases. Five female torsos in bathing costumes have been painted over an initial red coating on the canvas and set in a yellow background. These colours impart a warm feeling.
Shiela Alexadrovitch wraps wire around a river stone to create a base for her sculptures. With this counterweight, her wire sculptures fly upwards from their base. “Strongman Stormy” seems to be a dancing dog, set beside a “Dancing Sheep.” Her wire lines describe a “Bog Spruce” and three flowers “Sunbathing”. Her technique allows her to make a sculpture that readily stands one-legged and reaches upwards, a hopeful gesture she explores through all of the figures.
Alexandrovitch’s bio tells of her two years at high school with Ted Harrison, and the way he taught her to “look more at the world than the art world.” This may be something else many Yukon artists have in common.
Catch Multitudes at Arts Underground until October 27.