Bob Boyer: His Life's Work
Interview with Timothy Long - It's about the Land
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Timothy Long: The painting I’m standing in front of is titled “Path to Piapot” from 1999.
This painting first showed at the MacKenzie a few years ago as part of a show developed by the Mendel Art Gallery called Capel, Tales of Two Valleys and I believe it was painted specifically for that show.
Piapot is a community, a First Nations community about 30 minutes north of Regina and I believe the title refers to Bob’s trips out there for the Powwows and the Sun Dance ceremonies that were held at that community.
What I wanted to talk about with this piece though is not its specific meanings but how it sits in terms of his entire production. If we go back to the beginning of Bob’s career, we see him doing these small paintings based on the renaissance tradition of the Window on Nature but even at that time, I think what’s interesting is in those paintings, what captures his attention are the small details of the grass, of the pebbles in the foreground and the textures. He has this wonderful sense of capturing the feel of a place through its textures.
That concern with texture and with surface is something that stayed with him throughout his career. As he goes on to paint in the 1970’s, we see him referring to textures in titles such as “Rawhide on Canvas” and then with the blanket paintings of the 80’s we have a complete break with the tradition of the Window on Nature and an assertion that painting can be an object – an object like a blanket or a stretched skin on a wall, a surface that is not about illusion but is about a presence that is physical, tangible material.
So with that particular painting of the 80’s he really rejects the whole tradition of the renaissance painting and so I was really surprised in the 1990’s when he returned to the frame, to the framed painting that hangs on your wall as opposed to being tacked on to the wall or stretched on the wall and thought well, this is odd, why is he taking this step back as it looked like at the time to the traditional framed painting?
Thinking about it in terms of this retrospective, I think the key is the texture because when he returns to painting in this traditional format, he doesn’t do so using canvas but in this case it’s fresco on hardboard. Fresco is perhaps the oldest medium for painting in the western tradition and he’s taken it and used it for a whole other set of purposes.
So when you look at this painting, what you’re met with is an abstract composition, very geometric composition but strangely enough for a piece of geometric abstraction, there’s not one straight line in here, he did not use tape or a ruler and instead you have this unruly surface which is full of bubbles and ripples and all the evidence of the tool that he’s used to apply this stucco which he was using to the surface of the board and by doing that, he reminds us that painting is, at least the way that he wanted us to see it, is not about illusion, it’s not about this other space but it’s an encounter that you can have right here and right now.
He’s really inviting us to share that encounter, to share that experience which inspired him in terms of his own encounter which happened in the context of a Powwow or a Sun Dance ceremony that he wants to bring into our world but not in a photograph but through a material presence that speaks to us in colour, texture and in vibrant form.
The last thing I wanted to say about this painting is the show Capel for which it was painted was a show about a particular geographical location, the large valley that runs north of Regina and which has been a center of Plains culture going back millennia and in this painting he reminds us that its not about the landscape as in the tradition of western painting where it’s a picture that we look out on to. It’s about the land, the land that we walk on, the land that we can feel, that we can touch and that touches our lives.
It's about the LandDescription: Timothy Long discusses Path to Piapot
Speaker: Timothy Long
Size: 14.2 MB
Related Material: Path to Piapot, 1999