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Thursday, 15 February 2018 06:29

Art Gallery of SC hosts exhibition inspired by a famous painting

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People look at the paintings in the “Rogue Royal” exhibition during the public reception with the artist, Feb. 2. People look at the paintings in the “Rogue Royal” exhibition during the public reception with the artist, Feb. 2. MAtthew Liebenberg

The Art Gallery of Swift Current is currently hosting an exhibition of paintings and mixed media works by Saskatoon artist Grant McConnell that reflects the artist's longstanding fascination with the work of Spanish Baroque painter Diego Velázquez.

The exhibition “Rogue Royal” will be on display until Feb. 25. A public tour and reception with the artist took place at the gallery on Feb. 2.
McConnell has a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Saskatchewan and works mostly with acrylic paint on wood panel or canvas.
“Grant McConnell is quite an accomplished painter,” said Art Gallery of Swift Current Curator and Director Kim Houghtaling. “He has great ability and it’s a very intriguing process that he has developed, working in these veils of colour and scumble and built up layers of light and dark. Working on this crude plywood you wouldn’t expect it to be so elegant and with such a wonderful illusion to it, and especially working figuratively and to be able to bring out the personalities, and also reference the subject of Velázquez.”
McConnell's art works explores themes of Canadian history and cultural identity. The paintings in the “Rogue Royal” exhibition positions the subjects from Velázquez's famous royal portrait “Las Meninas” (Spanish for “The Maids of Honour”) within a Canadian historical context.
According to Houghtaling it is a novel approach by McConnell to make that connection between this highly regarded painting from 1656 and Canada through the “Rogue Royal” concept.
“The idea that the royal family is taken out of their context and set in the North American colony, the out-of-place positioning that so many of these paintings place these figures in,” he said. “It really makes it a sometimes even humorous comment on the status of the royal versus the common people. It’s really timely. It comments on the colonization of not only North America, Canada, but the troubles that history of colonization has caused throughout the world and this is a clever way to make commentary on it. It’s a very multidimensional show. Highly aesthetic, but very interesting as well.”
Velázquez was an important painter during the Spanish Golden Age. He was an artist at the court of King Philip IV of Spain, and “Las Meninas” is considered to be his masterpiece.
“He was well-established and recognized in his own time, but his work has really stood up over time, not just for his technical ability,” McConnell said. “He was really a master of the art of painting, but far beyond that.”
There is a depth and intelligence to his work that really has stood the test of time, which good art can and should actually do.”
Since the 17th century the art of Velázquez influenced many artists. Famous modern artists such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali paid tribute to him through re-creations of his work.
“So for an artist like myself it is a great place to start from,” McConnell said. “I’m very interested in the idea of artists working in variations on a theme. So that was my starting point and I have found it endlessly fascinating. I’ve been working on this series of works along with other work for the last 10 years and it’s not over yet. It still captivates me and draws me in.”
Although the paintings in this exhibition were created during the past decade, his interest in  the art of Velázquez started years before.
“I've known his work, and I’m almost 60 now, from my teenage years, when I was going into art” he said. “My wife, knowing how much I love this artist and wanted to work with this particular image, for my 50th birthday gave me a plane ticket to Madrid so that I could spend a good 10 days in the Prado [museum] in the Velázquez room, where there are about 15 major works by the artist, including ‘Las Meninas’. Since that time it’s been a pretty steady engagement with the artist.”
It was an obvious choice for McConnell to use Canadian landscapes, both in urban and rural settings, as a backdrop for these royal figures.
“I think often, whether it’s acknowledged or not, when an artist looks at the work of another professional artist or another artist of influence, they always at the end of the day somehow make it their own,” he explained. “They bring it into their own practice. They let it influence them in one fashion and another. Mine here clearly is a little bit more explicit, but it’s an indication I would say of the importance of my being from here.”
He is not too concerned about the notion that an artist is supposed to create original art, and he is rather skeptical about that concept.
“For working artists it’s great not to be in some ways responsible for the start and finish in this kind of over exploded notion of originality, which I think is really exaggerated,” he said. “There is no such thing as an utterly and entirely original work of art. So for me this is an honest starting point with an endlessly fascinating work of art that will stimulate through time.”
Although he is influenced by the Spanish artist, McConnell's art and paint technique are very different from the work of Velázquez.
“I kind of use in a fairly crude way the original artist’s intent and turn it to my own end,” he said. “Artists have always done that. It sounds kind of funny to say it like this, but a weak artist will borrow and infringe from someone. A good artist will steal an idea from someone and they’ll make it their own. They’ll turn it into their own subject matter. So, that’s what I hope to some degree I’ve achieved is to make it my own, even though I’ve left a real trail of breadcrumbs back to the original.”
A striking aspect of his painting technique is the addition of layers of dripping paint over a scene that emphasizes the contemporary nature of these works.
“I interrupt the image, so to speak, I interrupt the visual package by dripping in the studio over long periods of time,” he said. “In a way it’s weaving together the components of the visual and I hope in a way that on first glance you might just see conventional painting, but on second and third look, you see that there is a kind of an interruption. So you have to work your way into the work. An artist likes that, where you spend more time or intrigue, not just by the subject matter, but also by the formal qualities too.”
“Rogue Royal” is showing at the Art Gallery of Swift Current until Feb. 25. The gallery is open Monday to Thursday from 1-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., and Friday to Sunday from 1-5 p.m. Until March 28 the gallery will be closed on Wednesday afternoons due to the Minds in Motion program.

Read 562 times Last modified on Thursday, 15 February 2018 08:30
Matthew Liebenberg