MEET YOUR MATCH
Start with the art — local, of course — and complement with smart decor
All too often, artwork is treated as an afterthought, chosen because it fits the available wall space or blends with the existing decor in a room. Here, we turn that idea on its head, choosing five works of art that we dream of having on our walls — five pieces by five remarkable local artists. Let the wall art be the focal point, its mood and meaning guiding an array of furniture and decor that complement the stars of the room.
Back in the 1980s, Tim desClouds was primarily a painter. Then he started constructing elaborate frames for his work. Very elaborate frames. The frames began to overshadow the art. The frames, you might say, ate the art and became the art. Thus began one of the most unusual art careers in Ottawa. DesClouds is now known mainly for his fantasy sculptures. Some are small enough to fit in your hand; others are large outdoor public art commissions in Ottawa and beyond. The art teacher, who shaped generations of young artists at Canterbury High School, takes toys, clockworks, tiny figures — whatever catches his imagination — and then, by attaching them all to each other, he constructs elaborate sculptures with moving parts and lights, as well as a whole lot of whimsy and complicated subplots. His art could be perceived as toys for adults. But they are not just eye candy. Many of them are built around dark themes, just like nursery rhymes, with hidden adult-themed backstories: poor old starving Mother Hubbard; Peter Pumpkin Eater, who imprisoned his wife; and Mary Quite Contrary, a possible reference to England's Queen Mary I — "Bloody Mary" — who slaughtered Protestants. DesClouds’ work has become darker over the years. Bright colours have been replaced by black. Skulls and other death imagery are common, reflecting the artist’s views on society and politics. He compares his sculptures to U.S. president Donald Trump: the outside is entertaining but inside dark forces abound.
Driving around the night streets of Ottawa, Michael Harrington will spot small groups of men in intense discussions. They are surely up to no good, except that they will have inspired this unique figurative artist to paint murky scenes of seemingly shady characters finalizing illicit deals. Or maybe the inspiration will come from YouTube videos of male gospel quartets with stylized, awkward-looking movements or scenes of aging men whose hair and clothes speak of Elvis. These are the men — and they are overwhelmingly men — who have fuelled Harrington’s successful art career on both sides of the border. “I like to paint normal people that we don’t look at much,” says Harrington. Ottawa art critic Petra Halkes is a fan. “Harrington has a unique ability to paint his male figures in such a way that I feel disgusted, amused, and empathetic toward them, all at the same time.” Many of Harrington’s scenes, whether exteriors or interiors, are darkly lit, relieved by bright colours on an article of clothing or perhaps a shiny muscle car. The artist says he is often surprised by who buys his work. Several bank executives and financial companies have Harringtons in their corporate collections. So does an office of Global Affairs Canada, which ships paintings to its embassies worldwide. How’s that for a national seal of approval?