Addictive art

Diana Thorneycroft and Michael Boss reveal years of obsession in latest exhibit


Even though Diana Thorneycroft and Michael Boss are a wife-husband duo, Hogs and Horses - their fifth collaborative exhibit - might not initially seem like a totally natural fit: sketches and paintings of motorbikes serve as Boss’ contribution, while Thorneycroft is responsible for the creation of an assortment of disfigured and reconstructed model horses.

“We just like the sound of ‘Hogs and Horses,’” says Thorneycroft, the celebrated creator of Group of Seven Awkward Moments. “It sounds great. They’re both forms of transportation.” 

Until very recently Boss was the head of studio programs at the Winnipeg
Art Gallery.

“It was kind of a lark, in a way. We liked the title. Ultimately, it’s about our obsessions,” he adds. 

Boss certainly chose the correct word for it. He was taken for his first motorcycle ride when he was four years old, a tale he recalls with wistfulness. His father drove him down the lane on his uncle’s black Harley. His mom photographed them in the parking lot - a moment Boss has since based a multitude of pieces on. It was the beginning of it all.

“From that moment on, I wanted a motorcycle,” he explains. “From age four. I dreamed about it.”

The next 46 years passed without actualizing that desire. Everything changed on Boss’s 50th birthday when his daughter bought him a black 1979 Harley off of Kijiji. He acquired two more bikes in recent years; both Harleys, obviously. But the fact that Boss finally got his hands on the actual things didn’t slow down his bike-related artwork. 

“If he hasn’t been drawing them, he’s been driving them,” his wife reports with a laugh.

Thorneycroft’s journey was markedly different. While travelling in a Chinese economic development zone, she saw a woman singing atop a small speaker. The busker was significantly disfigured, the obvious result of major burns. The only part of her face that was still in its original place was her eyes. They didn’t look up when Thorneycroft gave her change. It’s haunted her for years. 

Thorneycroft was especially reminded of the scene when she accidentally over baked plastic Sculpey in an oven. She soon began a process of intentionally disfiguring model horses, embellishing them with everything from cloth, to the hand of a GI Joe doll, to midges that once infested an art camp she was teaching at. Each gorgeously constructed horse has a removable tongue, a feature that subtly references West African voodoo art.

“The plastic toy horse is so ubiquitous,” she notes. “It’s also a profoundly beautiful animal. Conceptually, I don’t know quite know how to marry [the exploration of disabilities and African art]. And maybe it’s not important that I marry them.”

The same approach can perhaps be taken when viewing the collaborative exhibit. If one digs, there’s discernible parallels: Boss notes that both he and Thorneycroft are driven by similar notions of justice, although the characteristic manifests in distinct manners. 

At the very least, Hogs and Horses represents two of Winnipeg’s finest artists collaborating. It’s something that should satisfy any of us.

Hogs and Horses will be featured at Gurevich Fine Art from Friday, Oct. 3 to Sunday, Oct. 26.

Published in Volume 69, Number 5 of The Uniter (October 1, 2014)

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