Whether unearthed alongside ancient ruins, discovered unexpectedly in a woodland clearing or in a meditative water setting, there is a symbiotic relationship between sculpture, the environment and the viewer. Twenty artists explore that relationship with over 40 sculptures at VanDusen Botanical Garden opening July 30th.
But sometimes the very incongruence of the sculpture within a public space is what grabs our attention and thrusts us into a world of fantasy and imagination. Suzy Birstein’s, Notorious would not be out of place if it had appeared in Tim Burton’s 2010 film, Alice In Wonderland. Her delightful life- size clay pieces in day-glow acrylic paints with gold and pearlized patinas – some sporting tulle tutus, are as playful as the vivacious artist herself. “I began with paintings, textiles and pottery that combined lots of colour, and evolved into masks,” says the Toronto-born Birstein, who studied at Emily Carr and taught at Arts Umbrella in Vancouver. “ When I came across a store selling rather kitchy columns, I had to have them and started incorporating and building my sculptures on top of them.” After watching the hit film Mama Mia set in Greece, the intrepid Birstein noticed the Greek island of Skopolos in the credits and immediately fell in love. She wrote to the American directors of the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, and established ‘Mia Muse’, a figurative ceramic workshop she leads there every two years, now in its fourth exciting season.
“I love science fiction,” admits self-taught sculptor, Jesse Rubin whose intricate creations are so startlingly realistic that you expect Man Walking Pet to continue his stroll throughout the vast VanDusen Garden! (The only visible clues that authenticate the fantasy aren’t the wrinkles, stomach paunch or his piercing blue eyes, but the fact that he’s only 21.5 inches tall and his pet happens to have bat wings.) “I use Sculpey that’s very malleable then put it in the oven, (say a little prayer that it doesn’t crack or warp,) make a silicone mold, then cast in resin and begin painting and layering the details,” explains Rubin.
Sculptor and President of the Sculptors’ Society of British Columbia, James Fletcher emphasizes that the artists are intent on following a tradition of helping each other and learning from the experience of older members. “It’s not an ‘old boys club’ by any means. It’s a joy to offer support and mentor new sculptors.”
Acclaimed sculptor, Louise Solecki Weir will exhibit the meditative, Boy With A Hat and classical Aristotle. She admits being “amazed” to have been able to complete the smaller pieces in time for the VanDusen Exhibition, as she has been completely absorbed with her monumental 2000-lb clay sculpture of Pope John Paul II, commissioned for Vancouver’s John Paul II Pastoral Centre over the last year. Cast in bronze, it took over 100 hours of work to sculpt. “It was so heavy I used a lazy susan turntable and mirrors so that it would help me refresh all my views,” she confides. The piece was installed by crane and blessed on June 23rd.
Sculptors’ Society of British Columbia’s Summer Exhibition, July 30 – August 3 VanDusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver
Top Image: Closeup from Jesse Rubin’s extraordinarily lifelike ‘Man Walking Pet’. Jesse’s thumb designates scale and intricacy on small sculpture.