I work primarily in drawings and relief prints, which gives me the means to explore and understand my reactions to the world around me, particularly our society’s exaggerated sense of its accomplishments and permanence. Dangerous levels of ignorance and arrogance fuel our market-driven consumer society. We proudly proclaim that no other civilization has ever lived so comfortably, so richly or with such a level of technological achievement. While this is true to a certain extent, this perspective causes our collective focus to be short-sighted and limited to the immediate benefits the consumer economy provides for our society. This is best exemplified by a recent popular advertising slogan, “I want that!”. Our insistent pursuit of ever-expanding markets and profits and our relentless consumerism willfully ignore the evidence of the demise of previous civilizations.
I allude to these conditions through my prints and drawings by presenting a disconnected and alienated world. The (usually) black and white world of my prints are full of empty buildings and freeways, as well as natural phenomena (e.g., the sky, weather, etc.) that are presented in a detached and distracted manner. The graphic character of the prints reinforces the feeling of abandonment and bleakness. The buildings, freeways, etc., are portrayed as being isolated and deserted, sometimes on fire or with clouds of smoke in the background. The background often gives a sense of movement or agitation. There are no people, and the viewer is confronted by these scenes and left to wonder, “What has happened here?”. I want the effect to be similar to a tourist’s experience as they wander through the ruins of the Maya, Aztec or Inca civilizations. Although, in my work, the buildings are clearly from our time and culture.
I connect my work with lost civilizations by using titles that reference Mayan, Aztec and Inca names and words. These include the names of the “lost” and conquered cities, gods, kings, places, things and events from mythology. These people all achieved levels of sophistication and accomplishment that had not been seen before in their worlds. Some were at their peak when they were overwhelmed by unforeseen forces. Others failed when their people lost faith in their traditional social structures. By presenting our great buildings, highways, etc., as empty, deserted things, I want to warn the viewer of the frailty of our society as our society confronts a growing number of physical, environmental and social threats. Our society is reminded daily of the imminent catastrophes (climate change, racism, war, famine, etc.) facing us while the Aztecs and Inca were overwhelmed very suddenly by outside forces. Even though we seem to be more aware of the potential disasters facing us, we may become as overwhelmed as they were. By presenting the great structures of our world as empty and abandoned, I want the viewer to begin to reconsider some of the directions our profit-driven society has taken.
I was born in Saskatchewan, Canada and grew up on a mixed farm (grain, livestock). I was interested in art from an early age, and this interest continued through public and high school. I completed my BFA studies at the University of Regina in 1974 and my MFA studies at Concordia University in Montreal in 1988. I held several jobs through the years as I tried to develop my career as an artist. I taught art at Pehtokawahanopwin School on the Poundmaker and Little Pine Reservations in Saskatchewan. I was a cook’s helper at a mental health facility near Edmonton, worked as a draftsman for a gas pipeline company in Leduc, was a graphics technician at the Chemistry Department at the University of Alberta, worked as a printmaking technician at the Alberta College of Art in Calgary, did political cartoons for a weekly newspaper and delivered pizza in the Laurentians north of Montreal. I started teaching (printmaking and drawing) at the Ottawa School of Art in 1985 and became director in 1988, a post I held until I retired in June 2022. I have exhibited my work widely in Canada, the US and Europe and my work is included in several major collections, including the City of Ottawa, the Canada Council Art Bank and la Collection de Lotto Québec. My work is preoccupied with the impact of uncertainty and sudden change on societies and civilizations. I’ve extensively researched the Aztec, Maya and Inca civilizations (among others), and I’m now trying to figure out how to translate all this obscure and arcane knowledge into meaningful artwork. I am married to Pamela Watts, and we have two adult children pursuing their own careers. We have two cats, Chico (Bengal) and Kali (Abyssinian), who manage our daily lives. I try to keep in shape and play soccer when I can. I follow the fortunes and misfortunes of Arsenal FC much too closely. I also play the bagpipes, am a member of the Highland Mist Pipe Band (Kanata, ON), and compete in solo piping competitions.