Monday, June 13, 2011

When the rubber hits the wall

Shawn Shepherd holds one of his latest installations, composed of hand-cut chunks of hockey pucks. Chad Hipolito photograph for The Globe and Mail. 

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
June 13, 2011

VICTORIA

The artist Shawn Shepherd paints, sculpts, appliqués.

As a painter, he brushes charcoal, India ink and acrylics. He rubs oil pastels and chalk pastels.

As a sculptor, he plays with chalkware figurines and recycled aluminum.

For appliqués, he shreds bits of felt.

Because he uses found and recycled objects in his works, he is as likely to find his supplies at a thrift store as at an art store.

Take a look at a piece titled, “Carpet Maquette #1.” From a distance, it is an intriguing melange of colours. Up close, it is apparent he has sliced strips from old souvenir pennants. What were once inexpensive mementos of vacations in Cranbrook, Keremeos and the Queen Charlotte Islands are now an artwork.
Self portrait.

Old aluminum street signs are transformed into sculptures, some of which resemble vehicles.

“I’m always collecting things to work with,” he said.

He forages the stock at the Sally Ann and at Value Village, cruises yard sales in search of supplies.

Sometimes, he discovers an intriguing material the purpose of which is not immediately obvious.

He once dropped $4 for a plastic pail filled with vulcanized chunks of rubber. It sat around his studio for six years.

He eventually found inspiration and the material is to be showcased in a display at his Polychrome Fine Arts studio in an exhibition that opens on June 19.

The show is called “By Ross Bay.” It features 11 assemblages of rough-cut bits of the recycled rubber.

“When I started, I tried to make them as flat as possible, so they would have the appearance of a minimalist black painting,” he said. “I have brought out more of a relief to them with more textures, varied cuts.

“Most people look at abstract art and try to find something to relate it to. These remind me of Ross Bay at night. If you stand up at the lookout, you look down on a sea of darkness. All the little cuts in the pieces remind me of ripples in water.”

Not everyone can look at a collection of scuffed and scraped hockey pucks and envision a future artwork.

Can there be a more Canadian material?

The idea came to him “as a happy accident.” He was working on another three-dimensional piece that needed legs. He cut a puck in half. Liked the texture. Began working through the supply in the pail.

“I take the puck. I put it in a vise. I eyeball so that there’s about 3/16th of an inch of rubber sticking above the vice. Then I handsaw it sideways. It’s pretty strenuous. Takes me about an hour to cut four or five pucks.”

Soon, the area smells of rubber, bits of puck dust in the air.

“The cuts the saw made gave it an illusion of looking like burnt wood. I cut another strip out of it, looked at it for a day or two, decided that if I cut a whole bunch of these and put them side by side it would make an interesting texture for an all-black piece.”

Mr. Shepherd, 40, is a self-taught artist who has built boats, framed pictures, and cast garden ornaments while establishing himself. His work, according to a favourable review by the critic Robert Amos, “straddles the divide between challenging and commercial.”

A resident of Victoria for 20 years, he was born in Windsor, Ont., where his father worked on the Chrysler assembly line while his mother sold makeup as an Avon Lady. He took figure-skating lessons until his father insisted he play hockey. A highlight was skating in a game at Maple Leaf Gardens at age 12.

After exhausting his supply of garage-sale pucks, he bought a bunch of factory seconds from Viceroy.

Think of him as a Pablo Puckasso.

TEAM CAPTAIN: The statue of Capt. James Cook on the Causeway overlooking the Inner Harbour has been dressed in a Vancouver Canucks hockey sweater. Nearby, a Canucks flag flies from the lawn of the Legislature.

The most recent British Columbia team to win the Stanley Cup was the Victoria Cougars. In 1925, they defeated the Montreal Canadiens to claim the Cup. (A year later, the franchise was sold to business interests in Detroit, where the club eventually became known as the Detroit Red Wings.) A cairn celebrating the Cougars’ victory now stands on the grounds of Oak Bay High across the street from where the arena stood.

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