In the summer of 1992 I had my first solo exhibition at the Broadway Cinema, which had exhibition space within a lovely, large marquee theatre on King William Street in east Hamilton. The Broadway showed art, foreign, and second-run films, and was one of my regular haunts as a teenager and young adult. In the early 90s the VHS phenomenon had not yet quite caught on the way it would in the mid and late 90s, and the Broadway had a strong regular audience. It was a coup to have an exhibition there, and as a very recent graduate (I had not yet formally graduated, but had finished classes) I was thrilled and honoured to be chosen. I worked day and night to build upon a small collection of “landscape constructions” that I had begun to produce in my last year at McMaster, producing about 45 pieces within about three months. To this day I regret that I have only limited documentation of this enormous effort, of which I was and remain proud.
A photograph by Andrew Little of me with my installation.
One in the Flock was the title of my exhibition, a reference to the sense I had, as a young painter and sculptor, that I was one of many people aspiring to the name of “artist”. The title was also a reference to the fact that a number of the works in the show featured sheep. For a while, sheep made regular appearances in my landscapes. These white, fluffy, chubby sheep were a little humorous, but also, through the suggestion of dramatic moonlight on their wool, had a certain gravitas. I was struck by how frequently sheep are dismissed as stupid, and wanted to give these supposedly less-than creatures a different treatment in my work.
Smaller works, such as the pieces above, were interspersed with far more complex “constructions” – usually box-built pieces in multiple parts or segments, each having external or internal volume. Recessed sconces, floating cubes that seemed to be separating from or escaping the main form, free-hanging elements, and works which began on the wall but ended on the floor were just some of the ways I attempted to make my paintings sculptural. Looking back, it is most apparent to me that even then I was concerned with finding ways to creatively take up space through art.
Landscape with Elements of Chance, acrylic and mixed media on wooden construction (two parts), 5 x 3 x .5′.
I was also drawn, at the time, to the aesthetics and symbols of playing cards, the themes of chance, luck, and skill. Many of the works in the show borrow spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds. Having established this symbolic currency throughout the exhibition, however, I also often interspersed my own core symbols (the sun, the moon, the sheep, and a yoni symbol) within this more familiar pattern of the four suits. The above work, approximately 4 x 6 x .5′, swaps my symbols along the bottom register for the suits. I was very concerned at the time with the question of what a feminist visual language might be.
Landscape with Self-Portrait, 5.5 x 4 x .5′, was one of the strongest works in the exhibition, in my opinion. The work was divided formally into two segments, the right-hand segment or “construction” dividing a second time. The composition was based loosely on the principles of the Golden Section, but was visually held together through a landscape (southern Ontarians may recognize the Niagara escarpment). Now in a private collection in Hamilton.
In addition to the potential of a feminist visual language, I was drawn to the potential of narrative, or tales, specifically fairy tales, and a few works in the exhibition directly referred to books, or reading, likewise to myth. I sought to make these references while disturbing them. In the above work, a night-time scene of animated “stars” crowd the pages of an oversized “book”, while a blazing sun (perhaps the most difficult construction to build) hovered above (overall dimensions 4 x 5 x .5′). On the floor below, however, another large “book” slumped heavily, splaying a little with the weight, in my mind, of the unexplored stories within.
Now in a private collection in Hamilton.
Landscape with Elements of Mystery, wood construction, acrylic, 36 x 45 x 5″.
The above installation view helps to give a sense of how we hung the pieces along the generous aisles of the Broadway theatre. This image is the only shot I have of two large pieces I built while still a student, far left. The furthest left was a generic peak-roofed house form with a pool of red, in three dimensions, spreading beneath it. The next large work towards the centre was a stylized mountain range with two stars hovering above it – a reference to an indigenous creation myth. On the far right is one last piece I built as a student at McMaster, showing a landscape with a chubby sheep hovering over a yoni or vulvic form, emerging from the land. A triple moon hovers, in turn, above this scene. I built all these pieces with a bandsaw and other woodworking tools.
The best detail I have of the latter piece described above. The sheep was an entirely removable and independent sculpture.
I was most fond of the works I built after leaving my McMaster studio space. Their forms were more refined, and the construction of interior and exterior volume more complex and challenging. I think the use of colour and symbolism were also more refined. The above work, 3 x 4.5 x .5′, is in a private collection in Hamilton.
The above landscape, 18 x 48 x 5″, is also in a private collection in Hamilton. The Niagara escarpment is featured once again.
No part of this exhibition would have been possible without the help and support of Andrew Little and his mother, Gladys Little. I believe that it was Andrew who took most of the photographs that you see in this post. He also helped me enormously in the gathering and transport of materials, as well as getting the works to the exhibition space, and installing them. Gladys Little gave me much-needed studio space in her basement, and tolerated a great deal of sawing, hammering, drilling, and singing on my part in the months leading up to the show. I couldn’t have done One in the Flock without the two of them. I hope Andrew and Gladys are still enjoying their works from this exhibition – I think they got the best two, which is what they deserved.
One in the Flock also was reviewed in the Hamilton Spectator by Paul Benedetti, then the paper’s art critic, today a professor of journalism at the University of Western Ontario. Benedetti’s serious consideration of my approach and results was real encouragement to me as a young artist.