Race Against the Tide sculptor Guy-Olivier Deveau wants to make sandcastles a little more metal

The Quebec-based artist loves incorporating horror-themed imagery and working with ephemeral materials.

'My inspiration is philosophy, death metal, and video games'

Guy-Olivier Deveau works on a sculpture in the Bay of Fundy on Season 2 of CBC's Race Against the Tide. (CBC)

Many artists expect their works to outlive them. For sculptor Guy-Olivier Deveau, knowing that most of his work isn't meant to last is part of the appeal. Working mainly in sand or ice, Deveau finds meaning in creating sculptures that are fundamentally temporary. 

"A lot of people wonder, 'Oh, how does it feel knowing that your art will be destroyed soon?'" he says. "And like, I really don't mind it because when I'm starting it, I know what I'm in for."

Deveau grew up on Quebec's Magdalen Islands, a place that's actually closer to Newfoundland than it is to the rest of Quebec. One of his early jobs was working with an amateur sandcastle-making contest. 

"I would do some work with the tourists," he says. "Teaching them how to flip a five-gallon bucket upside down and make, you know, a two-foot sand castle."

He picked up further skills from artists on the islands, and was able to really hone his craft after moving to Quebec City, where he met up with professional sculptors. It's also when he moved into using snow and ice, and eventually wood as well.

Deveau, who's a contestant on the second season of CBC's Race Against the Tide — in which teams of sand sculptors attempt to finish a piece before it's washed away by the Bay of Fundy — often incorporates horror-influenced imagery into his work, which puts him at odds with sand sculpture's traditional family-friendly, beachy vibe. This initially made it hard for him to win over contest judges, but it ultimately became his signature style.

"All the stumbling blocks that I came across just became fuel for the energy to do it better," he says.

You work with sand, with ice, with snow, a lot of materials that are kind of ephemeral and eventually disappear and degrade. What attracts you to those?

I guess I like ephemeral art. One of the things is that they're very quick mediums to work with. A two-metre sand sculpture will take me like, two or three days. If I were making the same thing out of wood or out of stone, it would take me weeks, if not months.

What do you like about mediums that lend themselves to working quickly?

It's a little bit like sketching — you can do a lot of iteration, you can scratch it off and start again or try something new. The commitment is not so high. If you're going to be working on a piece for four months, you know, if suddenly you don't feel like doing it anymore or if you're not into it, well, you're stuck with it. But with sand, you just iterate a lot and then you're always working on something new.

So when you transition into wood, you can't iterate — you're committed. How does that make you differ in your approach?

You need a lot more planning if you're doing a permanent sculpture. If it's permanent, you're going to be looking at all the flaws and the things you didn't like about it — but you're stuck with it. 

A lot of your work has horror motifs. Where does that come from?

I like to jokingly say that my inspiration is philosophy, death metal, and video games.

OK, expand on that a little. 

[H.R.] Giger is one of my big inspirations. He's the artist who created the creature from the Alien movies. Also, I like anything that has a death metal or black metal aesthetic — that is dark and and sometimes a little bit disturbing. The philosophy part is trying to get a little bit abstract, a bit surreal, a little bit trying to get into the metaphysical concepts that are not exactly obvious at first glance.

Any particular games or bands that inspire you?

I like a lot of role-playing games, especially Japanese role-playing games. They have a fantasy style, but maybe with a little bit more of a Japanese manga influence. So it's a little bit different from Western fantasy. Something like Final Fantasy would be an inspiration. And as far as death metal and black metal — Emperor, Mayhem. When I first started sculpting, Cradle of Filth was one [band] that had very strong imagery that captured me.

I feel like this sort of gothic, horror vibe isn't what people are expecting from sand sculpture. How do you fit into the sand sculpture ecosystem and how do people respond to what you're doing?

That's a very good question. I know there's a lot of other artists that are doing that style in different mediums, but when it comes to sand, this has become my signature style, so maybe that's what makes me unique. Sand sculpture is often a bit more family-oriented, so my style may kind of clash with what's what's expected.

When it comes to competition and that kind of thing, at first it was a little bit hard to get the ideas across. But I just stuck with it, and every time I didn't get the expected reaction, I would just double down and go ahead with it again and do it better.

Race Against the Tide airs Sundays at 8:30 p.m. (9:00 NT) on CBC and streams on CBC Gem.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

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