Massive Ivan Eyre sculptures take watch over downtown Winnipeg
Bird Wrap and Icon North are part of a series done late in the long career of Ivan Eyre
Two colossal sentinels are now casting watchful gazes over downtown Winnipeg.
The sculptures, from world-renowned artist Ivan Eyre, were installed on Wednesday, gracing the wide ramp in front of the Winnipeg Art Gallery and greeting passersby.
"They're two bronze sculptures, both figures that look to be human, but there are animal qualities to them, and they're huge. They rise up about seven to eight feet," said Stephen Borys, director and CEO of the gallery on Memorial Boulevard.
"That ramp was made for things like this."
Andrew Kear, chief curator at the WAG, echoed those remarks.
"The ramp on Memorial Boulevard is a prominent architectural feature of the WAG and was always intended, by architect Gustavo da Roza, to host sculpture," he said.
The sculptures, Bird Wrap and Icon North, are part of a series done late in the long career of Eyre, who closed his studio in 2013.
"He's no longer producing work, so to have these two works, which are both gifts from the artist, on our ramp is fabulous," Borys said.
Icon North faces, of course, north. Bird Wrap faces Memorial.
Both sculptures have been in exhibitions in Montreal and Vancouver and were acquired a little over a year ago by the WAG.
"We were waiting for that right moment that they both were here and ready to be installed," Borys said. They will be on long-term display.
Borys hopes they become another "go-to selfie spot" in the city, an accessible place where people can pose with "one of Winnipeg's most important artists."
Eyre, 83, was born in rural Saskatchewan in 1935 and moved to Winnipeg in 1953 to attend the University of Manitoba School of Art.
The university became a longtime home for Eyre, who taught painting and drawing there for 33 years, from 1959 until his retirement in 1992.
He continued to produce work on his own, in his Winnipeg studio, until 2013.
Eyre has been called "a living national treasure" by the Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale, a charitable organization that mounts a major outdoor sculpture exhibition every two years.
The WAG is home to 75 Eyre artworks — paintings, drawings and sculptures — and oversees the Ivan Eyre Gallery at the Assiniboine Park Pavilion.
The Assiniboine Park Conservancy houses the largest collection of Eyre's work.
There is a sense of resolve, self confidence, commitment to place, that captures something that is quintessentially Winnipeg.- Andrew Kear, WAG's chief curator
Another of his pieces, North Watch, is on display at one of Winnipeg's most famous locations, Portage Avenue and Main Street, on the plaza in front of the Richardson Building.
"Ivan Eyre is one of Manitoba's most important senior artists … [and] he has had a significant impact on younger generations of artists from this province," said Kear.
"He is also one of the country's most original painters, creating work that, through the 1960s and 1970s, was very much off-trend. Today, much of his work still looks fresh and contemporary."
The art gallery describes Bird Wrap as a large bronze sculpture of a kneeling figure that looks to be a man in disguise, wearing a tie and vest, along with a beaked helmet or headdress that extends down and wraps over the figure's crossed arms. The headdress also reads as a form of military helmet, giving the figure a powerful air.
It's the most simple and stoic statement among the monumental bronzes he created between 2009 and 2011, a news release from the gallery says.
It was one of the first major works installed as part of the Vancouver Biennale's 2014-16 Open Air Museum exhibition.
This sculpture is a figure sitting with arms extended and knees bent in the pose of a sturdy sentinel, the gallery says. His large hands grasp at his knees while long fingers reach to tall and bulky boots.
A sense of authority in its upright and robust posture is further reinforced by the militant pattern of the figure's bootlaces and collar, the WAG release says.
A simple vest, narrow wristbands and a helmet complete the uniform. The gallery calls the mask of the helmet "comic in its proportions, but the overall effect is both powerful and otherworldly."
"Although figurative, both works echo the stoicism of the WAG building," said Kear.
"There is a sense of resolve, self confidence, commitment to place, that captures something that is quintessentially Winnipeg."