Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/10/2014 (980 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
We don't always grow out of our early obsessions. Favourite toys, pre-teen crushes and grade-school passions for dolls, trucks, or stamp collecting -- all have a way of trailing us into adulthood. Some we hang onto out of simple nostalgia, but others exert a lasting pull that can be harder to explain.
Horses and motorcycles, both ordinary enough childhood fixations, are the subjects of Michael Boss and Diana Thorneycroft's joint exhibition at Gurevich Fine Art. Partners in real life but wildly different artists, their Hogs and Horses present wildly different ideas of grown-up play.
Motorcycles look cool. They make loud noises. They're symbols of power, and they represent total freedom of movement, qualities that evidently spoke to Michael Boss as clearly at age five as they did at 50, when his daughter bought him the 1979 Harley-Davidson Sportster that would become his muse. Boss's lively oil pastel motorcycle portraits and cardboard maquettes are like scaled-up versions of the drawings and models a burgeoning baby biker might make, albeit drawn from a grown-up's perspective with grown-up skill.
A clever remake of an 1890 canvas by Russian painter Ilya Repin swaps the original group of Ukrainian Cossacks, seen drafting a profanity-laden kiss-off to an Ottoman Sultan demanding tribute, with a contemporary biker gang writing an updated letter to Vladimir Putin. One large painting tenderly reproduces a 1964 snapshot of the artist as a young boy perched on a Harley with his uncle Len, a figure who reappears, sweetly, in a salvaged crayon drawing from 1965.
Horses are similarly potent symbols of beauty, power, and freedom, but Diana Thorneycroft's radically remodelled toy ponies are no straightforward celebration. She uses plastic figurines by companies like Breyer and Mattel as blank canvases, applying a range of materials from fabric, paint, and clay to doll parts and dead insects to craft a ghoulish fleet of distressed and deformed animals.
Best known as a photographer, since the 1990s Thorneycroft's dark (and darkly humorous) takes on self-portraiture, pop culture, art history and national identity have needled our deepest discomforts. With their missing and mangled limbs, strange growths, curious prosthetics and swollen tongues, the horses follow suit, challenging and attempting to expand our preconceptions of beauty and power. Inspired by encounters with actual people born with physical anomalies and by West African religious customs (particularly the making and consecrating of talismanic figures), they make literal "fetishes" of difference, "deformity" and otherness.
The work raises uncomfortable questions, and it's meant to, but it doesn't promise satisfactory answers. Like toys and games, artworks invite role-play, projection and experimentation, and the gallery can be a sandbox for ideas that prove harmful elsewhere. Most compellingly, the horses imply that our entrenched aversions, like our enthusiasms, might be bred in childhood.
Hogs and Horses recently had its run extended to Nov. 1, but if you prefer a cuddlier kind of creepy, you have until Halloween to catch an exhibition of stitched and stuffed ooglie-booglies by local fibre artist Kami Goertz. Cute and Awful, Goertz's ongoing show and sale at Exchange District eatery Deer + Almond showcases her beautifully crafted, ugly-but-adorable stuffed animals, a menagerie of hybrid bug-plant-antler monsters that would be as much at home tucked into bed as lurking under one.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.