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Prairie artist Joe Fafard celebrated with National Gallery exhibit

A way of communicating with the public is how Saskatchewan sculptor Joe Fafard characterizes his artwork, a major retrospective of which is set to open at the National Gallery of Canada.

A way of communicating with the public is how Saskatchewan sculptor Joe Fafard characterizes his artwork, a major retrospective of which is set to open at the National Gallery of Canada.

The 65-year-old Prairie artist, best known across Canada and abroad for his trademark cow sculptures, will be on hand in Ottawa on Friday for the exhibition opening to meet with patrons and discuss his work.

Organizers of the Ottawa exhibit have described it as the first major retrospective of Joe Fafard's oeuvre. ((CBC))

"I hope [audiences] feel a sense of authenticity, a sense of normalcy or a sense somehow that they can be part of the creation of a work of art," Fafard told CBC News Thursday morning.

His defined art as a means of "communication between artists and the public through the object that's depicted."

The exhibit, entitled simply Joe Fafard, spans more than four decades of his career and includes 69 sculptures — borrowed from institutions and private owners as well as from his own personal collection — in a variety of media, including bronze, plaster, steel and paper.

Mon Pere, created by Joe Fafard in 1972, uses earthenware, glaze and acrylic paint. The exhibit includes intimate sculptures he created of both his father and his mother. ((Collection of Joe Fafard))

Born into a French-speaking family in Ste. Marthe in rural Saskatchewan and educated at the Winnipeg School of Art and the University of Pennsylvania, Fafard taught pottery and sculpture at the University of Saskatchewan before returning to his rural roots to pursue his art full-time.

Fafard gained national fame in 1973, after he and his sculptures of townspeople from the village of Pense were featured in the NFB documentary I Don't Have to Work that Big, which aired on CBC-TV.

He continued to build his reputation in the mid-1980s when won the Toronto Dominion Bank's commission to create a new public art installation outside its towers in downtown Toronto and decided to make the switch from largely working in ceramics to exploring bronze as a medium.

The Pasture, his installation of seven life-sized bronze cows resting in a grassy area in the middle of the city's financial district, has become an iconic Toronto artwork amid the host of other quirky and audience-friendly artworks he has created over the years.

"A work of art should be challenging, but it doesn't have to be so aggressively obscure" as to confuse the person viewing it, Fafard said. ((CBC))

Fafard's oeuvre has spanned rural pieces — like his cow and horse sculptures — that are inspired by his farm upbringing to depictions of famous figures, such as Canadian politicians and iconic artists who inspired him.

"I'm not trying to speak in a language that no one knows," said Fafard, who was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 1981.

"Of course a work of art should be challenging, but it doesn't have to be so aggressively obscure that the person who comes across it feels that they're somewhat 'out of it.'"

Joe Fafard, curated by Fafard biographer Terrence Heath and organized by the National Gallery in partnership with Regina's MacKenzie Art Gallery, opens Friday and continues to May 4.