Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Artists give dignity to discarded items

Find meaning, even beauty, in rescued rusty objects

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Almost everybody keeps a junk drawer or jar full of small, useless stuff -- single earrings, souvenir pins, buttons, old keys, broken watches.

Then there's the paper we have trouble throwing away: ticket stubs from long-ago events, perhaps, or small cardboard boxes that once held gifts.

Is it all worthless? Or do cast-off objects resonate with poignant meaning because they once had value in another context?

Winnipeg artists William Eakin and LeaLa Hewak have teamed up on a gallery show called Ephemera -- an exploration of found objects that have no value as collectibles. Both artists, who are friends, have a fascination with outdated, discarded "stuff that survives in spite of itself."

Hewak says about Eakin, "Bill's body of work often dignifies items that have lost their dignity."

Opening tonight at 7 at Golden City Fine Art (211 Pacific Ave.), the show runs to June 4. It's one of a number of art openings tonight, a First Friday in the Exchange. (A free self-guided art tour is held from 5 to 9 p.m. on the first Friday of each month -- see www.firstfridayswinnipeg.org and click on What's On for the downloadable May 4 guide.)

Ephemera consists of five large-scale photographs of vintage watch faces by Eakin (collectively titled 24Hours), plus about eight sculptural pieces by Hewak. Hers incorporate distressed objects such as a rusty kitchen scale that seems, in a work called A Pound of Feathers, to measure the value of a jar full of junk.

Eakin, 59, is one of the city's most accomplished artists. His photographs have been exhibited at virtually every local gallery, but this is his first time showing at the funky Golden City, located in a timeworn Chinatown building. He lives nearby. "This is my neighbourhood," he says.

Hewak, 49, studied art at York University, used to own Winnipeg's Cream Gallery and is now a practising artist. She's been haunting thrift stores and church rummage sales since childhood, she says, and feels compelled to "rescue" objects that others regard as trash.

Eakin loves mid-century modern design and says he got interested in Hamilton wristwatches, beautifully designed timepieces introduced in the 1950s. He discovered that they now cost thousands of dollars because they're collectible.

That led him to find that on eBay, he can buy antique watch faces by the pound, in large bags. He's not interested in them as functional objects. If they still have hands, he removes them, leaving a hole.

He has photographed nearly 300 watch faces. Some of the five depicted in the Ephemeral show, blown up as large as 40 inches square, are so scratched, pitted and faded that their numbers look ghostly.

"To take something that has survived like that, and celebrate it, is a kind of acknowledgement of this object's history and fragility, and how we're fragile," he says.

The most personal of Hewak's pieces, she says, is called The Old Homestead. It's a relic of her pilgrimage to the long-abandoned, wrecked house on a failed Saskatchewan farm where her immigrant grandparents once lived.

She brought back and combined into sculpture a profoundly rusted, dented bucket, decorative wood pieces that might be from a stair railing, and scraps of horribly decayed, once-cheery wallpaper.

While several of Hewak's works hint at tragedy and loss, one is very funny, rich with real-life absurdity, unintentional irony and goofiness. Over a period of months, she scoured local bulletin boards at sites such as stores and churches and photographed notices that were posted on them.

She has thumb-tacked nearly 50 of the 4 x 6-inch photos to a bulletin board and named the piece Community Notice Board.

"This Weekend Only: Reptile Blowout!!!!" proclaims one. Another carries a photo of two African children who are likely malnourished. The notice says FOCUS AFRICA above the photo and DESSERT NIGHT under it.

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

Art Preview

Ephemera

By William Eakin and LeaLa Hewak

Golden City Fine Art

Opens tonight at 7, to June 4

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2012 D5

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