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Artist draws on walks through Winnipeg and his own four-decade career in new exhibition

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/3/2015 (847 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Peter Tittenberger is in it for the long haul and evidently content to take things one step at a time. A presence in the Winnipeg arts community since the late '70s, first as a photographer, he only recently went back to school, earning a BFA and embarking on a new practice mixing ceramics and found-object sculpture. His solo exhibition Him and Me, which opened last week at the University of Winnipeg's Gallery 1C03, is his first since 1986, and it reflects a lifelong process of exploration and consideration.

Towards the end of his artist talk last Friday, Tittenberger took out a worn-looking map of Winnipeg with most of the streets highlighted in fluorescent ink. He marks them off one by one as he completes a one-man survey, on foot, of every last boulevard and back alley in Winnipeg. He expects to finish the project sometime in the next few years.

Above, North End Kitschen Party chair

Above, North End Kitschen Party chair

Detail of North End Kitschen Party.

Detail of North End Kitschen Party.

North End Kitschen Party foot stools.

North End Kitschen Party foot stools.

Those long walks are partly about better understanding the city he's lived in his entire life, a way of experiencing it a methodical, organized manner. They're also a source of raw material -- photographs, discarded furniture, and assorted junk -- that he uses to produce new artworks. The found-object and ceramic assemblages on display at 1C03, a series titled North End Kitschen Party, represent just one more way of organizing his experiences. He finds new uses for the disparate castoffs he collects, reconfiguring and recombining them to craft abstract reflections on his own North End upbringing.

Tittenberger is forthright about his influences, aptly citing 20th-century pioneers of assemblage sculpture ("3D collage," essentially) including Americans Louise Nevelson and Joseph Cornell, who both came to prominence after the Second World War. His own work is more down-to-earth than either, though -- less grandiose than Nevelson's epic, solid-colour constructions and more familiar than Cornell's otherworldly dioramas. Rather than altering their forms or disguising their origins, Tittenberger's found objects are left unpainted. The scale of the works (as well as their titles) relate them to domestic objects such as tables, chairs and place settings, but they also recall trophy plaques, musical instruments, clocks and alarm bells. They project an aura of usefulness, even though none has any obvious function.

Kitschen Party is the product of years spent walking and collecting, but It cannot but be true, a series of collaged photographs, goes back even farther, to a box of Polaroids from 1979. Tittenberger made the originals during and after a workshop with the artist Lucas Samaras, known for his psychedelic, heavily manipulated Polaroid self-portraits, but he only revisited them last year, cutting them up and reconstituting them to create new images. Taking full advantage of Polaroid film's gloopy chemical reactions and odd, plastic texture, the collages are richly layered and highly ambiguous. They're also among the most beautiful objects in the show.

The exhibition title, Him and Me, sets Peter Tittenberger, former photographer, against Peter Tittenberger, contemporary sculptor, but seeing the two poles of his career brought together, it seems his overarching sensibilities haven't changed so much. You can spend years walking every street in a city without uncovering all its quirks and secrets. You can spend a career charting new directions, but you'll never get outside yourself. So much the better.

 

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

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