Joe Fafard: Finding Form in Retailles

By Alexia Naidoo on February 15, 2016


Joe Fafard, L’aube du loup 5 (2011), powder coated laser cut steel, 55.9 x 106.7 x 6.4 cm. Courtesy the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery. Photo: Gabriela Garcia-Luna

Although originally known for his ceramic sculptures, Saskatchewan-born artist Joe Fafard has worked in a wide range of media over the years, from bronze to printmaking. In his new exhibition, Joe Fafard: Retailles — currently on view at the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery in Saskatchewan — Fafard continues his exploration of form in intricate steel sculptures and letterpress.

The French word retailles literally means “offcuts” or “trimmings.” Put together by Jennifer McRorie, Curatorial Director of the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery, and Kim Houghtaling, Director and Curator of the Art Gallery of Swiftcurrent, the title of the exhibition pays homage, in part, to Fafard’s mother, who used the word to describe the scraps and bits of trim she used in producing new items.


Joe Fafard, Gris (1991), powder coated bronze, 188 x 81.3 x 76 cm. Courtesy the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery. Photo: Gabriela Garcia-Luna

In addition to more than 30 metal sculptures, the exhibition includes letterpress, woodcuts, and some of the artist’s work from the early 1990s. Reflecting Fafard’s enduring interest in illusion and perspective, sculptures such as the bronze Gris (1991), for example, looks like a bull drawn in three dimensions. As you move around it, however, it appears to transform into an easel. “I really thought of the abstraction of form in Picasso’s drawing and sculpture, which was a big influence on Fafard,” said McRorie in an interview with NGC Magazine. “Drawing is such a strong element in Fafard’s work, and how he reduces his form to a drawing in space.”

Visitors to the Moose Jaw gallery are treated to numerous low-relief steel sculptures. Some of these are laser cutouts similar to Running Horses, an outdoor summer installation at the National Gallery. Others are more recent works, produced when Fafard — seeing promise in bits of metal left over from his laser cuts — began welding the pieces together.


Joe Fafard, Le Coq (2013), powder coated steel laser out-cuts, 81.3 x 83.9 x 35.6 cm. Courtesy the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery. Photo: Gabriela Garcia-Luna

Fafard’s animals are common to the Canadian prairies: cows, horses, roosters, coyotes. But these are no ordinary depictions. Whether shown running full tilt, making off with a chicken, or crowing at sunrise, all of his metal sculptures tend to dissolve and re-form with the slightest shift in vantage point.

The coyotes in works such as Pro-Rogue III and Perogie III are especially interesting, seeming almost to deconstruct before the viewer’s eye. “There’s a beautiful fluidity to them, and you can see that Fafard is becoming more and more playful with the figures,” says McRorie. “It’s almost,” she adds, “like the coyotes are adapting.” Similarly, the running horses in Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do (2010) — an allusion to music — suggest, according to McRorie, that “he’s become looser with the anatomy so they’re more fluid, rather than literal, in form.”


Joe Fafard, Ophelia (2012), embossed print on paper, 50.8 x 76 cm. Courtesy the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery. Photo: Gabriela Garcia-Luna

Fafard has also produced a series of intriguing embossed works on paper, using his metal offcuts to elegant effect. After meticulously arranging the metal pieces on heavy card, Fafard runs them through his printing press, producing lifelike representations of cows. “They’re really beautiful,” says McRorie. “I love their subtlety.” Some of the works in the embossed series even incorporate bits of metal that had been left outside, transferring a hint of rust to the final image. Rounding out the exhibition is a series of woodcuts, using laser cuts as the initial inspiration.

Despite a well-earned international reputation, Fafard has maintained a profound connection to his rural roots. Whether working in sculpture, printmaking or drawing, the artist evinces a keen sense of the natural world, while also clearly enjoying the process of toying with spatial perception, ideas, media, and materials.

Retailles is on view until April 10 at the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery, after which it goes on a two-year tour to the Art Gallery of Swift Current, the Burnaby Art Gallery, the Esplanade Art Gallery, the Strathcona County Art Gallery, and the Yukon Arts Centre

By Alexia Naidoo| February 15, 2016
Categories:  Correspondents

About the Author

Alexia Naidoo

Alexia Naidoo

Alexia Naidoo is an Ottawa-based freelance journalist specializing in hi-tech, politics and the arts.

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