Sculptor Joe Fafard looks back

Bulls, cows and horses in bronze, the province's oldest man in clay — Joe Fafard's sculptures are rooted in rural Saskatchewan.

Retrospective shows famed Saskatchewan artist's rural roots

Bulls, cows and horses in bronze,the province's oldest man in clay — Joe Fafard's sculptures are rooted in rural Saskatchewan.

Yet aretrospective of the work ofthe province'smost famous sculptor that opened this weekend at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina also proves how universal his work is.

Gericault, a 1990 bronze by Joe Fafard, has been loaned from a private collection for the retrospective. ((MacKenzie Art Gallery))

At the opening-night reception on Saturday, Fafard recalled one of his first clay portraits — that of 107-year-old Michael Haynee.

Fafard knew Haynee's son, and was invited to meet the old man and do a portrait of him.

"I went there one afternoon and sure enough there was this old man…. He had come to Canada shortly after having been in the Turkish army. He had been wounded by a bullet as he was on horseback in those days, in the leg, but he recovered and came to Canada.

"He dealt on the road, you know, carried things on his back. When he became prosperous enough, he went back when he was 40 and married someone, came back to Regina and raised a family of 18 kids."

The old man's stories stuck with Fafard and he began to think about capturing the essence of such a character.

"So I went home and I did this portrait from that visit that I had with him that afternoon, and I tried to put in all the details: His cane that he held and then he wore his hat in the house with a good scarf to keep himself warm with a nice pipe that he smoked.

"It got me thinking that I could do things with more serious impact than the more cartoonish things I was doing up to that point," Fafard said.

Fafard's favourite subjects becometheeveryday people andanimalshe saw around him.

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

But Fafard gives thema new scale and proportion, so the viewer is tempted to stop and look hard.

"His work crosses the lines that typically divide our society: urban and rural, French and English, east and west, elite and popular," said curator Terrence Heath.

About 1,500 people came through the gallery during the first weekend, to see the range of work produced over the last 40 years by a francophone artist raised on a farm in Ste. Marthe, Sask.

Fafard was educated at University of Manitoba and Pennsylvania State University, but rejected the popular abstract style of the late 1960s in favour of subjects from everyday life.

The exhibit includes a section devoted tothe clay portraits, many of friends, family and public figures, thatfirst brought him international exposure.

During the 1980s, Fafard shifted from clay to bronze and metals, opening up new possibilities and creating sculptures such as his laser-cut horses.

The result is art that istactile and accessiblebut has earned him huge public commissions, including The Pasture, for a bank building in Toronto, and Le Jardin de l'esprit for the University of Regina.

Organized with the National Gallery of Canada, the exhibit will travelto Ottawa, the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg, Ont., the Art Gallery of Nova ScotiaHalifax, the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Joe Fafard: Retrospective is at the MacKenzie Art Gallery until Jan. 6.