Hairy potter Renowned ceramic artist and raconteur Jordan Van Sewell crafts pop-up gallery at The Forks

Jordan Van Sewell admits he has a warehouse full of ideas rattling around inside his head.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/02/2019 (1565 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Jordan Van Sewell admits he has a warehouse full of ideas rattling around inside his head.

But the ceramic artist, who has been shaping clay at his home-based studio in South Point Douglas for more than four decades, never would have imagined he’d be selling his “weird shit” in a historic freight shed at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers.

“I never planned for this,” says the quirky 64-year-old sculptor, seated at a vintage settee in the hub of his new commercial art gallery, Van Sewell Gallery, at The Forks. “But I think The Forks is really expanding their vision. And I’m happy to be a part of it.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Van Sewell’s new gallery doubles as a workspace.

So, too, are his admirers who likely consider the illustrious Van Sewell a much-loved mainstay in the community. After all, he is a local luminary of sorts whose popular, playful pottery is perhaps regarded as a vital and unique facet of our art-centric city.

As for Van Sewell, decked out head-to-toe in black leather, he lets on that he’s always had a vested interest in the area, especially The Forks, where he was commissioned two years earlier to chisel a trio of capricious canoes for The Common craft beer and wine kiosk in the newly renovated Food Hall on the first floor. After that, all it really took was a phone call and the crafty maker was handed the keys to the expansive brick-lined space, a former skateboard shop that used to be home to Uptown Gallery nearly 30 years ago.

‘In my artist role, I question society. Society’s role is not to question the artist. It’s society’s role to then question society. If I am able to set up that dialogue through my work then that’s a good thing’
– Jordan Van Sewell

“I’m living in this little dream fantasy world,” says Van Sewell, as Tom Waits’ Downtown Train plays softly in the background. “And then I come up the stairs and am met by my own nonsense.”

That so-called nonsense — situated at the top of The Forks’ easily identifiable spiral staircase — is roughly one hundred of the artist’s whimsical clay creations, a “cohesive body of work” that is currently on display, and for sale, in the 1,400-square-foot exhibition room.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Lazarus was inspired by David Bowie’s death.

He describes the allegorical figurines — most of which are open to “viewer discretion” — as a necessary commentary on the relevance and poignancy of society, both past and present.

For instance, the seemingly sinister sculpture Lazarus was inspired by the death of rock icon David Bowie whose 2016 digital download of the same name depicted the bandaged artist on his deathbed. It sells for $2,800.

Another piece, Painted Bird, is based on the Polish-American author Jerzy Kosinski’s 1965 novel The Painted Bird, which describes the horrors of the Second World War through the eyes of a young Jewish boy.

“It hearkens on an illustration by (15th-century Dutch painter) Hieronymus Bosch whose illustration shows Black Plague pandemic doctors wearing potpourri on their noses because they believed inhaling the delicious rose scent would make them immune to the disease,” Van Sewell explains. It sells for $2,500.

Van Sewell, who learned his craft from “a pair of potters” at the University of Manitoba’s School of Art, says he’s thrilled to have an opportunity to sell his art and is finding the transition from artist to salesman both inspiring and challenging.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The Jerzy Kozinski-inspired Painted Bird.

“Sales are good and I can’t really complain. But how many artists are businessmen?” he asks, rhetorically. “I have this luxurious opportunity but the afternoon they were teaching business skills in Art School I think I was sitting in the Red Room of the Student Union building.”

Even so, he’s slowly gaining an understanding of commodity commerce.

“People are buying stuff and I have to account for it,” he says. “And when I open the door, I feel like I’ve commodified and monetized my art and am now in a different realm. It’s wonderful.”

When he’s not making transactions at the shop’s cash register, the artist teaches ceramic workshops and moulds more masterworks at a tall, muddied table in the middle of the gallery. Most recently, he formed a pair of clay trumpet ducks — characters from his repertoire that represent our temporal nature — which he’ll cart back and forth along the riverbank to be baked in the kiln at his home studio.

Giving shape to clay is his passion, but Van Sewell, the raconteur, also enjoys the easy banter and rapport that comes with the scores of visitors who wander in to catch a glimpse of his whimsical art.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Van Sewell’s take on the Titanic.

“My work is about society,” he says. “So, to work where society is coming in inspires me to make more stuff.”


Updated on Thursday, February 14, 2019 9:49 AM CST: Corrects typo

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