Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Quest for Heroes in Art - Jeff Molloy

I was gobsmacked when I found my way onto Jeff Molloy's website.  I gasped, "What is going on here?"
Louis Riel, looking through the bars of an open cell door - which when open reveals the man himself wearing a Montreal Canadiens hockey sweater?  (Not a jersey please and thank you....this is Canspeak).

This is clearly the work of a super nationalist who uses his art to make some pretty big statements. I think Shelagh Rogers was onto something when she called him "one of the most original artists at work in Canada today."

This work is not just original, but its underscored with a deep sense of social and historical commentary, with a light touch of iconoclastic humour thrown into the mix.

Not just that - but its extremely relevant to Canadian life. I was listening to the CBC this evening, and someone turned up recently with some strands of the rope that was used to hang Riel.  So his presence is very much alive in Canada today. And, in case you should think me wrong, ask any member of the Metis community.

And while I am at it I will throw Gabriel Dumont into Jeff's entry.  I don't think I have ever added two works to a single artist critique before, but this one is worth it, for the the Riel equation isn't complete without Gabriel Dumont - and possibly General Middleton?

Hat's off to Jeff.  One thing for sure - this is one artist who makes no bones about standing up for his country, but all the same, I wonder if he sleeps in his old blue Toronto Maple Leaf sweater.

To view this picture and others by Jeff, please click here.

Artist's Comments

“My people will sleep for 100 years and when they awake it will be the artists that give them their spirit back.” This Louis Riel quote has greatly inspired my artistic vision over the past few years. I'm a painter and a sculptor working predominantly in assemblage. My work focuses on culture and cultural traits. I take objects, reassemble them and invoke new ways of seeing by shattering existing associations and giving new meaning to those objects. Art has the power to reach people at a primordial level. I want my audience to be moved by the power and the energy in these pieces and to leave with a different sense of themselves and their place in the world. 

Our education system is designed to produce good workers not critical thinkers. History provides a perspective written from a single viewpoint while art can raise questions and encourage critical thought.

I have long been fascinated with Canadian history and culture. This thread can be traced  back to my 1999 solo show in Toronto titled FIBRE OF A NATION that featured point blankets and hockey sweaters. After more than thirty years on the prairies and on the westcoast my work has embraced a strong First Nations and Metis influence. Mia Johnson of Preview Magazine aptly describes me as a Canadian artist whose work “focuses on the cultural symbols of Canada.” 

I want to create work that tells our story, our history. And I think it's important to speak the truth, as I see it.

Below is the text that accompanied the Louis Riel inspired piece featured in this blog.

The mixed media cabinet is titled “Two Minutes for Interference, Five Minutes for Fighting and Death for Unsporsmanlike Conduct”

In 1885 the Dominion of Canada had a railway to build and land to give away, even if it wasn't theirs. Gloating  Louis Riel into rebellion gave Sir John A Macdonald the grounds for military action. Macdonalds response was the creation of the Northwest Mounted Police and  he promptly dispatched the force to deal with Louis Riel, Gabriel Dumont and their pack of half breeds. 

"These impulsive half-breeds have got spoiled by this emeute (uprising) and must be kept down by a strong hand until they are swamped by the influx of settlers." 
Sir John A. MacDonald Feb. 23, 1870 

Enclosed within this work is soil retrieved from Batochè Saskatchewan where the Metis made their last stand. This is the earth that cost Louis Riel his life.

Out numbered and running out of amunition, the Metis fought to protect their land.

"You tell Middleton... that I am in the woods and that I still have 90 cartridges to use on his men." 
 Gabriel Dumont, 1885

Greatly outnumbered and short on supplies it was just a matter of time before the inevidable. On May 16th 1885 Louis Riel wandered into the Northwest Mounted Police camp and gave himself up. One hundred and eighty four days later in Regina, on  November 16th, 1885, after a lopsided trial, Louis David Riel  wore his moccasins to the gallows. Below is the written account of the hanging in the Regina newspaper. 

“The hangman's work had been well done; the neck was broken; and in the short space of two minutes the heart had ceased to beat. The legs were drawn upward two or three times in this space of time, and then the body was still. After hanging half an hour the body was cut down and placed in a coffin beneath the scaffold.” 

Shortly before his execution Riel stated  “In a little while it will be over. We may fail. But the rights for which we contend will never die.“ 

Was Riel a mad man or a prophet? We may never know for sure but the rights that Louis Riel, Gabriel Dumont and the Metis people fought to preserve are alive and well and as Louis predicted it is the artists that are bringing back his sprit.

A word on my process.

In 1995 encouraged by a photograph of Jasper Johns’ famous encaustic work, Flag, I  began to experiment with encaustic. I recognized in Johns’ piece a number of aspects that have become paramount in my own work. The impact, power and inherent meaning of cultural artifacts such as flags and how they can be used to evoke emotion and memory...I wanted my work to mimic the real thing but, as an art piece, be more interesting than the motif itself. I  achieve this by tapping into these emotions and memories and presenting them as highly articulated works of art. 
I employ a wide variety of distinctive techniques, tools, and personal processes that result in truly unique, instantly recognizable work. I am driven by curiosity as my creativity shifts and twists in response to the materials. Beeswax, tar, pigments, remnants of human civilization – all react differently to the tools and techniques I employ.  Carving, painting, sculpting, applying heat and blunt force all contribute to objects that may resemble paintings, yet may just as easily be mechanical and functional in nature. 
To me line is a physical thing, something that is cut and gouged. My surfaces are built up and scraped away. Using homemade tools I draw, paint, carve and burnish my surfaces of wax and tar until they reflect their own history. 

“I've always believed that experimentation, not technical skill, is at the core of creativity. Artists eshould be explorers, and the world of art should remain a place without rules or boundaries.” 

Jeff welcomes you to visit his website. Please click here.

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