Co-publisher Mike Davis and I were invited to the opening reception at Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) of their Winter Earth Art exhibition. Environmental art installations by international and Canadian artists are available to explore indoors in the RBG Centre until Jan. 18. The artists were also at the opening and big TV cameras were everywhere as the creators gave interviews.
I can easily get overwhelmed in an art gallery or exhibition, so what I find myself doing is taking a quick spin around the room to see what’s on display, and then choosing one piece to focus on. I also like to play the game “If you had to take one home, which would it be?” While many of the works at Winter Earth Art are intriguing, there was one that instantly drew a powerful response from me: “Royal Couple” by Michael Dennis of B.C.
Monumental, abstract and minimalist, this piece consists of two cedar carvings perhaps 10 feet tall, looming as female and male figures. Faceless, limbless, they are blank slates on which to project the viewer’s idea of majesty. Yet their round forms are inviting as well. They call out to be touched, patted, stroked and hugged.
Ross Halloran, RBG’s Director of Marketing, hooked me up with the artist. As Michael and I shook hands, I noticed he has the great paws of a woodworker, but his grasp was gentle. He was just as warm and welcoming to talk to.
Michael explained that the only wood he works with is cedar, although his Web site shows that he also works in bronze and mixed media. He was asked to create a piece for this RBG exhibit, and he thought “A pair would be good.” He works on Denman Island off Vancouver Island, and finds huge pieces of wood that have been left after loggers have clear cut. When he discovered the piece that would become the female, he said “I could see a skirt,” as he indicated the broad base of the log.
His process of sculpting is an intuitive communication with the wood. Instead of imposing his idea on the material, and instead of “just” carving away everything that doesn’t look like the figure he sees within it, he describes it as more of an organic revelation of what the shape should be. Michael also pointed out that positioning the two figures so that they lean toward each other gives a different message than having them lean away from each other.
I asked Michael if I could touch the figures. When he said yes, and that I could smell the cedar as well, I stroked them and pressed my nose against one. They felt fuzzy, not smooth, but not splintery. They even seemed to have muscle beneath the surface.
“Royal Couple” will stay at RBG as a permanent installation. It could be indoors or out in the elements, where it can be a roost for birds and change with the effects of weather. “It’s all part of the process,” said Michael. “I don’t want it to be too precious.”
Check out the other installations at the exhibit. Perhaps you’ll have a strong response to one of the other amazing works. And Michael, if you run out of space to store your pieces, I have a big yard that could hold one or two! Winter Earth Art is on until Jan. 18. Let us know what you think of it.