Not just fancy bronze cows

Joe Fafard’s concurrent shows display his growth as an artist and varied abilities

“Cibu II”

Artist Joe Fafard has concurrent exhibitions in Winnipeg this month. The magnitude and scope of these two exhibits highlight his incredible eye for detail and establish him as one of Canada’s foremost sculptors and an expert in portraiture.
The first exhibition, a traveling retrospective currently at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG), will tour across Canada to seven different locations and includes over 70 sculptures. This exhibition is Fafard’s first major solo retrospective and contains work from the past 40 years. The second exhibition, at Mayberry Fine Art, showcases some of his newer work.

Fafard, a francophone from Saskatchewan, is well known nationally for his portraits of people and animals.

The WAG exhibition includes “Manitoba,” where the subject’s facial expression is full of intrigue and Fafard’s attention to detail comes out in the character’s shoes and clothing. At times, the facial expressions and gestures of his portraits are so animated it feels as if the viewer is in the presence of a live person.

In most of Fafard’s portraits of people, the objects within the piece help describe the people he is depicting. A worn wooden chair or cluttered workshop tell a lot about the characters and it’s these details that offer insight into the hidden narrative of the pieces.

His animal portraits are also far from generic. As with people, Fafard captures the character of each animal he portrays. This often comes from working from photographs or “sitting with the animal and getting to know it,” said Ryan Mayberry of Mayberry Fine Art.

Although he is mostly known for his cow sculptures and bronze work, Fafard is constantly pushing himself as an artist.

Fafard’s latest creative breakthrough is laser cut steel, examples of which are seen in both of the exhibits.

In a piece at Mayberry called “Othello II,” Fafard uses the steel form of a cow to create a narrative using the images of birds, trees and people, which are delicately cut into the piece using a CNC (computer numerical control) router. The router, powered be a computer, uses a laser to cut Fafard’s drawing out of steel.

“Joe isn’t one to rest on his laurels,” Shaun Mayberry said when discussing Fafard’s creativity and constant push towards innovative sculptures.

In another Mayberry piece called “Trojan,” Fafard creates a sculpture of horse made of scraps of wood and then casts it in bronze. The wood grain, now painted in black, resembles burnt wood.

In “Cibu II,” Fafard takes a two-dimensional line drawing of a cow and transforms it into a metal, freestanding sculpture. Somehow, in this transformation, Fafard’s sculpture maintains the qualities of the line drawing, but at the same time manages to occupy a three dimensional space, which makes for a particularly interesting piece.

Fafard’s two exhibitions show that he is not only innovative, but also very prolific. Each piece is rich in texture, depth and detail.

“Fafard’s work is a combination of hard work, motivation and collaboration,” said Shaun Mayberry. “He’s a modern day Rodin.”

Published in Volume 63, Number 29 of The Uniter (July 16, 2009)

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