Ottawa Magazine - - Contents - BY PAUL GESSELL AND SARAH BROWN

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?

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