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Partners in life, collaborators in art

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Twigfoot by Diana Thorneycroft

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Twigfoot by Diana Thorneycroft

It's always intriguing when artists collaborate.

When the collaborators are also a couple, like Winnipeg artists Diana Thorneycroft and Michael Boss, and when their approaches to making art are nearly polar opposites, interest and intrigue in grow exponentially.

Thorneycroft and Boss will appear at the Free Press News Café on Feb. 7 to talk about how they make art together. "Some couples play bridge or rob banks, we exhibit together from time to time," says Thorneycroft.

Thorneycroft has earned critical acclaim for her groundbreaking photographic works. In the recent series A People's History, she uses dolls, toys and figurines to re-create horrific events in Canada's history, and photographs each tableau. The depictions of residential schools, abusive hockey coaches or serial killer Robert Pickton's farm are visually stunning but difficult to look at. The descriptions become fresh in the memory and provide an amplified sense of horror and shame.

"Diana is not afraid to shock and startle viewers with the truth," says Boss. "She delves into controversial subject matter without concern for where it will lead, due to a strong sense of compassion and desire for justice where injustices have been committed."

Boss's work, it could be argued, is just as serious, but he takes a softer approach.

"Michael prefers to offer comfort and the warm embrace of common experience," says Thorneycroft.

Boss often creates artwork about family, suffering and love. In the early 1990s, Boss made Into the World Came a Soul Called Christine, a series of conceptual works about the hopes and fears he had for his newborn daughter, who was born just days before the Montreal Massacre.

These days he is focused on painting traditional religious icons, marking his family's Ukrainian Catholic heritage. It is easy to see careful attention and compassion in his icons, but even his drawings of motorcycles become objects of pathos, connected as they are to memories of his father.

Collaboration can often involve give and take, or the conscious laying down of one or both artistic egos. This isn't the case for Thorneycroft and Boss. The couple has collaborated four times, and they have never felt they have compromised their own artistic vision.

"Because we have such different temperaments and personalities, we thought it would be interesting to see how well we could come together in our art-making. We discovered, to our delight, that it was as easy and enjoyable as other aspects of our lives."

In the early 2000s, the pair collaborated on Foul Play, an exhibition that asked questions about the nature of childhood aggression and violence. Thorneycroft's darkly humorous drawings of murdered stuffed animals were shown alongside Boss's photographs of his own battered childhood toys.

In 2005, Boss and Thorneycroft embarked on a project called The Morning Photos. Every morning for one year, the couple took each other's photograph when they woke up at 7 a.m.

The project, which the pair exhibited in Minneapolis recently, reveals Thorneycroft's directness and Boss's tenderness. It is amusing, as bed-head always is, and yet speaks volumes about shared life.

"A number of stressful events occurred in that year that affected us deeply, such as Michael's father's cancer diagnosis, and (his daughter) Christine's move to China with her mother and stepfather. Throughout the year the photos document a range of emotions that we hadn't anticipated."

These days, Thorneycroft is playing with toys again. She melts plastic horses until they appear maimed, and then gives them new skins so they become beautiful in their own right. The altered toys become the fantastical creatures of nightmares.

Boss draws motorcycles that look more intricate than powerful, an homage, perhaps, to the complexity of memory.

The work will be shown together in the fall at Gurevich Fine Art, in a show titled Hogs and Horses.

If Thorneycroft's work dares us to take a look at the darkness that lurks in the human psyche, Boss gives us faith and love as consolation. It appears the two artists are a perfect match.

Sarah Swan is a Winnipeg artist and writer. She will host Art Talk/Art Walk at the Free Press News Café on Friday at 6 p.m. Guests this month include artists Diane Thorneycroft and Michael Boss. Call 204-697-7069 for tickets to the event.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2014 C4

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