Two local artists toy with our perceptions
The familiar blurs into the fantastic in the works of McCourt and McBride
Now and then it does the mind good to depart from reality, to let the imagination wonder and warp and conjure up fresh, unrestrained tales.
Adaptation & Alteration, showing at the Art Gallery of St. Albert, promises to do just that. Local artists, sculptor Ryan McCourt and painter Byron McBride, will take you on a fantastical journey, where the imagery is slightly askew but nonetheless delivers plenty of representational elements.
McCourt is well-known throughout the area for his work and as one of the members of North Edmonton Sculpture Workshop, the collective that runs Common Sense Gallery. Graduating with a master of fine arts in sculpture from the University of Alberta in 1999, he has been exhibiting, receiving praise, awards and grants along the way.
A self-professed “antique mall rat,” McCourt has scoured second-hand and antique stores to unearth a trove of would-be treasures, many of which were pride-of-place art items themselves at one time but are now castoffs. Animal figures, household items, musical instruments and scrap metal finds all in brass and copper are altered — cut, rearranged and soldered with silver — to create 14 unique assemblages shimmering with glints of gold, red and silver. Each sculpture teases your senses into a treasure hunt, new discoveries unfolding as you circle the plinth, a miniature airplane here, a tiny shovel there.
McCourt sees these works as an “amalgam of classicism, surrealism and modernism.”
“The cliché is that the Peter Hidetype scrap sculptures are brutal and imposing and kind of push you back with their monstrosity even, so I wanted to make sculpture that was heavy, same materials, same kind of sensibility with mass, but inviting you, bringing you into the sculptures,” says McCourt.
The sculptures are tabletop in size, allowing the viewer to envelope them and have an intimate experience. There is humour in his pieces too; The Drunken Seder presents itself as a figure on a stone plinth, the title playing on word satyr.
McCourt also likes to add a little cheek to his work. Look closely at Olympian Cup and you will see a nude figure striking a herculean pose — a large bowl-shaped body with two brass swans posing as biceps, the long neck of a duck dangling as a leg and one thoughtfully placed bird.
McBride’s work delivers more altered reality and its own surprises. The artist has been part of numerous exhibitions since receiving his bachelor of fine arts in art and design from the U of A in 2000 and, like McCourt, is represented in the Alberta Foundation of the Arts Collection.
This series of acrylic paintings draws on McBride’s recollections of trips afar — Italy and Paris — and Alberta’s scenery. As well, there are invented landscapes that mesh together real elements.
As time passes, we all know the memory can play tricks. Details are blurred and perhaps, even invented. McBride travels with a camera and sketch pad but relies heavily on his memory to inform his work and al- low it to evolve into a personal perception of the place. “I don’t paint the Pantheon; I paint an impression of the Pantheon,” says McBride. “It is a personal experience from my being there and seeing it.”
Lawren Harris-like clouds fill his skies, buildings are distorted, sidewalks curl and undulate, encouraging the viewer to perhaps revisit what they remember about a building or a mountain. McBride is eager to replace the “guidebook” notion of a place with one’s personal impression.
Castle Mountain Banff was inspired by family trips to the mountains and the wow-factor a child experiences suddenly seeing their grandeur.
“I hadn’t been in Banff for a few years and when I saw it last summer, it struck me so personally … my whole sensibility seemed to be encapsulated in that mountain,” remembers McBride. “It seemed to be like an influence that had been there the whole time that I had just completely forgotten about.”
Also on display is The Garden Polyptych, a sort of portable garden-ina-box that unfolds into 14 hinged panels. The garden flora is strange and surreal, adding to the intrigue of the piece.
“People are really enjoying seeing both artists together … how the work plays off and interacts with each other in this exhibition,” says curator Janine Karasick-Acosta. “The idea of collecting and altering your memory or objects flows well together.”