Artful dodger The twists and turns of Confusion Corner’s famous sign inspired Winnipeg painter
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/04/2022 (345 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Travel around the world, and you’ll never find an intersection like Confusion Corner.
Out of the Corner
By Andrew S. Hiebert
Artlington Studios, 618 Arlington St.
To arrange a viewing, email 618artlingtonstudios
To April 23
Enter it for the first time, and you’re an accident waiting to happen.
The curlicue junction that includes Osborne and Donald streets, Corydon Avenue and Pembina Highway is a planner’s version of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree: the last urban design anyone would choose but one that has become part of Winnipeg’s psyche.
So much so that the Confusion Corner sign on Osborne, just south of the traffic agglomeration, has become a symbol of the city surpassed only by the various logos of the Winnipeg Jets.
That arrow-filled emblem is the inspiration for Winnipeg artist Andrew S. Hiebert and his new exhibition Out of the Corner, which is on display at Artlington Studios — another Winnipeg curiosity — at 618 Arlington St.
“People have said that it’s the abstract art of road signs and I totally agree,” he says. “It’s round. It’s straight. It’s sharp. It’s smooth. It’s ambiguous in direction and it’s so pregnant with possibilities. I just love it.
“I just love the name and the idea that there is a place of confusion. People can get lost, and yet, in that place, you can still get out of it, and if you know what you’re doing, you can get through it very smoothly.”
Hiebert took advantage of those possibilities, and the COVID-19 pandemic, to create about 30 paintings on wood and canvas that use the shape depicted on the sign and lift it beyond the usual feelings it instils in motorists, such as anger, frustration and despair.
“The name Confusion Corner is so metaphysical. It has this human angst in it,” he says. “I grew up on the farm (near Rosenfeld) and Confusion Corner was this mystical thing. Of course, you’ll never find it on a map, so the only way you can find it is by talking to Winnipeggers.”
One of his larger paintings is called The Way Home, in which Hiebert has transformed the Confusion Corner sign into a house, turning the logo’s central loop into a foreboding entrance.
He says Confusion Corner’s unsettling nature provides different ways of viewing the intersection and our thoughts of it.
“Is home a happy place? Is it not a happy place?” he says. “Are you going around the darkness to get home or is the darkness getting into home?”
Hiebert, who also teaches physics and chemistry at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, took on Out of the Corner in 2021 as a response to Sir Isaac Newton and his contributions to science during a bubonic plague pandemic in Europe between 1665 and 1667.
”He invented calculus, he discovers the principles of universal gravitation and establishes a whole sector of physics we call mechanics,” Hiebert says of Newton’s time away from university research.
“I’m not Isaac Newton, but I don’t want to just sit and watch Netflix for this entire thing. When I want to come out of this, I want to come out of it with something. I walk out of the pandemic and I have this.”
Out of the Corner is showing until April 23 at Artlington Studios, which has a 1,700-square foot gallery on the second floor of a four-storey building that seemingly sprouts out of nowhere among West End homes.
The building went up in 1912 as a two-storey structure that housed a clothing manufacturer; the top two storeys were added in the 1920s as demand for knitwear grew across Canada and around the world.
An upholsterer, a wool shop and a storage company have occupied 618 Arlington over the years, and in 2011, the main floor was converted into artists’ studios and the second floor became a gallery Hiebert couldn’t wait to exhibit in.
”This should be a well-known place because it’s just so beautiful, in my opinion. It’s incredible,” he says. “Now, I’m in, it’s like Confusion Corner. I get it.”
He says the building is “hiding in plain view,” and commuters likely fail to recognize they’re idling beside a 110-year-old building while waiting for lights to change at Arlington and Sargent Avenue.
A dark staircase awaits visitors inside, leading to the studios and eventually to the gallery, which is one of the few places to view art and Winnipeg at the same time.
“I’ve been to a lot of really cool places in New York and it reminds me of that, really unique,” says artist Barbara Bottle, who manages the building and has a studio there.
Bottle says Artlington Studios’ historic surroundings spur her on with her photographic and mixed-media works that she’s exhibited at Aceartinc., the Millennium Library and at the Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art gallery.
”I remember the first time going in there, it blows your mind because you have no idea (what it’s going to look like),” she says. “It really helps with creativity. It’s always a pretty cool space to go into.”
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Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.