Tag Archives: Edward Burtynsky

“Beyond the Precious” (searching for beauty in all the wrong places)

 

Automobile Junkyard on the North Bank of the Kansas River between the 12th and 18th street bridges. Kenneth Paik, 1973. Wikimedia Commons.

Automobile Junkyard on the North Bank of the Kansas River between the 12th and 18th street bridges. Kenneth Paik, 1973. Wikimedia Commons.

A few months ago, I wrote about the challenges of reconnecting with my creative side and working on three new pieces of jewellery I intended to submit to an exhibition. This post is a behind-the-scenes glimpse into my process and these challenges. Spoiler alert! I did meet the deadline and all three pieces were accepted in the show.

The first challenge was of my own making. I wanted to make rings; my previous projects had been mostly lockets and brooches, and I needed a change. Brooches would have been a more practical choice simply because they offer more space, a larger canvas so to speak, to express myself. But most of all, because brooches are not worn directly on the body, wearability issues are less constraining.

The theme of the show, “Beyond the Precious”, resonated with me because I had just seen an exhibition of Edward Burtynsky’s photographs. His large-scale pictures of industrial sites intrigued me. Looking at these richly coloured and exquisitely detailed man-made landscapes, I wondered how it was possible that I was made to feel both awed and repelled at the same time.

Edward Burtynsky, Nickel Tailings #31, Sudbury Ontario, 1996.

Edward Burtynsky, Nickel Tailings #31, Sudbury Ontario, 1996.

What I was interested in were themes of corrosion, rust and decay. For this purpose, I would use a combination of precious and non-precious metals and play on the contrast between these materials. As well, rusted metals would introduce a variety of textures and some colour. This was quite a departure for me as my work tends to be more figurative with a narrative unfolding around some kind of personal element, such as a memory or a place. For this project, the starting point would be the materials, and the focus would be on forms and textures. It was time to rummage through my boxes of found bits and pieces, my “Cabinet of curiosities” as I like to call it (more on that in a later post, “Confessions of a Hoarder”).

A sampling of found metal objects from my "Cabinet of curiosities".

A sampling of found metal objects from my “Cabinet of curiosities”.

 

Here is what I selected: a piece of muffler, a section of metal strapping and a washer – all nicely rusted out, of course, and with tantalizing patterns and textures. I was drawn to the muffler fragment because of the pattern of small slots repeated all over its surface. The piece of strapping, with its pierced circles of alternating sizes made a strong visual statement. As for the simple washer, I thought it could serve somehow as a setting for a stone. Now, could I just let these strong shapes inform the rest of the rings? Certainly, I wasn’t going to let myself be intimidated by concerns such as wearability! On the other hand (pardon the pun), these rings had to be worn without inflicting too much pain to the wearer. The solution was to use a silver sleeve (the part through which the finger could go comfortably), and to attach the found metal pieces to it. But how would I join the rusted steel pieces to the silver component? Soldering was not an option, so it would have to be cold connections, such as rivets or staples.

Dominique Bréchault, "Spilt". Ring, 2014. Silver, synthetic stones, found washer, patina. Cast, fabricated, stamped.

Dominique Bréchault, “Spilt”. Ring, 2014. Silver, synthetic stones, found washer, patina. Cast, fabricated, stamped.

For “Spilt”, I cast the shank of the ring in silver. Thick and wide, and darkened with black patina, it accentuates the industrial feel of the piece. A dome has been soldered to the top at a slight angle, as if about to “spill” out its contents (a green tube set cubic zirconium visible through the opening of the washer). The rounded silver tabs joining the washer to the silver dome contrast with the rough rusted texture.

Dominique Bréchault, "Exhausted". Ring, 2014. Silver, found muffler part. Fabricated.

Dominique Bréchault, “Exhausted”. Ring, 2014. Silver, found muffler part. Fabricated.

“Exhausted” is a wide silver ring wrapped with a fragment of rusted muffler. As simple as that seems, the difficulty here was to bend the fragile piece of crumbling metal without breaking it, and then to attach it securely to the silver band. I soldered silver wire posts onto the ring and bent them through the slots of the muffler to hold it in place. A thick section of silver plate, with an irregular side to echo the frayed edges of the muffler, holds one end of the wrapped piece in place.

Dominique Bréchault, "(W)holed". Ring, 2014. Silver, copper, cubic zirconium, found perforated hanging strap. Fabricated.

Dominique Bréchault, “(W)holed”. Ring, 2014. Silver, copper, cubic zirconium, found perforated hanging strap. Fabricated.

In making “(W)holed”, I wanted the strapping to be the focus of the work as I felt it was so visually striking. Again, the challenge was to connect this large piece of rusted metal to the silver ring, and not only physically, but visually as well. The strapping is held in place by two thick strips of silver soldered to the shank – a tension setting of sort. Pierced holes laid out in a regular pattern on the double-layer silver ring mirror the holes in the strapping. A small white cubic zirconium lights up the deep dark rusted tones of the top of the ring.

All found metal components were sprayed with Krylon®, a clear matte sealer ideal for protecting these types of materials without being too obtrusive.

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The show is now over and, reflecting on the process of making these rings and the challenges I faced, I can appreciate how far out of my comfort zone I wandered. In fact, I am feeling quite adventurous again, so much so that I started working on a submission for another upcoming show. This time I will be making a series of brooches, and exploring new themes and materials. I will keep you posted on my “travels”.

 

 

 

The Cure for (almost) everything

Last week a bird flew into the window. I drew it before giving it a proper burial under the cherry tree.

Last week a bird flew into the window. I drew it before giving it a proper burial under the cherry tree.

The last nine months have been quite intense. Starting a new job and dealing with a grueling schedule has meant almost no time for creative work. Now that the school year is over, I want to devote more attention to my own projects again, namely three pieces that I intend to submit to an upcoming show. The truth is, I am desperately looking for ways to reconnect with my creative side. Every teacher working in a creative field, dedicating time and energy to their students, ask themselves: How can I be truthful, and helpful to my students if I don’t live a vibrant creative life outside of the classroom? As artists, we want to freshen up our designs, and to keep exploring, and this requires sustained and undisturbed periods of time.

For this particular project, the themes I would like to explore are decay, corrosion and rust, using mostly non-precious metals or even non-metallic materials (in combination with silver). Visually, I imagine something in the spirit of Edward Burtynsky’s striking large-scale photographs of industrial sites and man-made landscapes. I know what I want to do, and yet I haven’t been able to design anything substantial so far. A fast-approaching deadline and the prospect of returning to my job in September (so soon!) add to the pressure.

Now, I may have been in this situation before. I always seem to forget when I am in the thick of it. But I do have a cure for this, and it is…drawing. Of course, we’ll all agree that drawing is a therapeutic activity that allows for self-expression, and that as such it is always beneficial to us, visual artists or anyone for that matter. When I was 9 years old and home sick in boarding school, I would confide with my trusty sketchbook and draw. When I was lost and lonely as a newcomer here in Canada, I would draw. When I was in a lot of pain – and afraid, stuck in a hospital for several months, recovering from a motorcycle accident, I would draw. Drawing has always been my salvation.

What I mean by drawing is not drawing with a specific project in mind, like the pieces I am trying to create, but drawing anything. I draw whatever is in front of me or whatever is in my head, doodles, life drawing, anything, and I draw often, no matter what. When I feel like an untethered balloon drifting away aimlessly, like I do these days, drawing is always the perfect remedy. This is why in the last few weeks I have decided to embark, once again, on a strict drawing regimen, filling several pages of my sketchbook every day.

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Tomato. Watercolour, pen & ink.

For me, the act of drawing – simply putting pen or charcoal to paper, moving my arm – is a truly tactile experience. As an artist, I feel compelled to explore and connect with the world around me, beyond just my feelings. In order to draw, to “see”, the subject, I must pause and focus. I need to be firmly grounded in the present. In the heavily mediated world we live in, with so many ways of removing ourselves from the immediate experience, slowing down and becoming aware of our surroundings is the first step for accessing our creativity.

The following are some examples of how I approach this. Please, be aware that these are simply exercises, not exhibition quality drawings, but I hope they’ll help illustrate and clarify my point, and show that you don’t have to be a Leonardo to benefit from this.

I like to draw early in the morning because I haven’t quite left the dream world and can still hang on to a few shreds of dream images.

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Flying Snake Docking Station. Watercolour, pen & ink.

I also like to draw late at night (I like to draw anytime really). Sometimes I draw what just happens to be in front of me. Any technique will do, charcoal, colour pencils, pen and ink, markers, whatever.

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Travel Plans. Pen & ink.

Sometimes I just doodle and draw whatever stories or characters show up on the page:

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The Sea Captain and the Siren. Watercolour, pen & ink.

Sometimes I like to pick a simple object, a pebble for instance, a flower or something I have found on one of my walks, and to sketch it from every possible angle:

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Sage flower, “Parcel Rock”. Watercolour, pen & ink, pencil.

I also like to “deconstruct” my subject, not to emulate Picasso or Braque, but just to find out how it’s made and how the various components (volumes, forms) are articulated and fit together – a process actually similar to what I do when I design a piece of jewellery.

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Copper pan from Normandy. Pen & ink.

Even if I am drawing without a specific plan, I am still amassing shapes, forms, colours, patterns, textures, etc. This visual “reference library” has served me well in the past, many times over.

 

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“Amour en Cage” (Japanese Lantern). Watercolour, pencil, pen & ink.

 

And yes, as we all know, in order to hone observation skills and improve hand-eye coordination, life drawing is crucial. When friends are not available, or my partner has run out of patience, there is always the cat. Sasha is not the easiest of models because he is not willing to sustain a long pose, except when napping, his “default” pose, which I have drawn way too often!

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Sasha napping. Pen & ink.

 

So, this is some of what I have done so far. I have been diligently drawing in my sketchbook, and enjoying it. As for these new pieces for the show, as I was saying earlier, I haven’t accomplished much at this point. And yet, a connection has been made; these daily drawings have served as a bridge to my creative side. I have taken a few steps, like collecting materials and making simple models – baby steps. I am hesitant to say anymore at this point. This connection still feels tenuous. Drawing is the cure, but I am not quite cured yet.

I will keep you posted as to what happens next, whether it is successful or not.

(All artwork © Dominique Bréchault 2014)