VANITy FARE CRAIG LE BLANC
VANITY FARE CRAIG LE BLANC
1 1 7 - 8 A V E N U E S . W. C A L G A R Y, A L B E R T A , C A N A D A T 2 P 1 B 4 MAIN:403.770.1350 FA X : 4 0 3 . 2 6 4 . 8 0 7 7 W W W. A R T G A L L E R Y C A L G A R Y. O R G
contents 2 foreword
4 what lies beneath
19 artist bio
list of works
foreword Dr. Suzanne Zelazo, professional athlete and poet A sentinel to the iridescence he shapes, Craig Le Blanc shines, part boxing gym part purveyor of silk. Burley citadel standing six feet tall, he looks more linebacker than insistent sculptor. This apparent inconsistency is one of Le Blanc’s most alluring qualities. His commanding stature is mirrored in the largess of his sculptures and public art installations. Yet he is also soft-spoken with gentle, careful gestures, if fiercely protective of what and whom he believes in. It was through his work that I first met the man. The sculptor emerging before me inch by inch as though stepping out of his own creations. Buffing and polishing and sanding his way into my psyche, he was a kindred spirit long before we would be come close friends. As a professional athlete, I am drawn to the focused intensity of his work - the performative paradox of his ability to transmute surface into depth - the corporeal into the transcendental. Confronting Le Blanc’s sport-based art concretized something I had long sensed only as vague intuition. Linking the two disparate disciplines of sport and art, he reveals their shared ability to enact, perform and aestheticize emotional experience, intellectualizing the body, and corporealizing the psyche. As a writer I am drawn to Le Blanc’s syntax - his hands enunciate a grammar of beginnings. The simplicity of his work is remarkably economical - belying the mechanical and technical exactitude each piece inheres. Used to logging many miles as a triathlete, I recognize the obvious laboriousness of his practice, and am compelled by the honed endurance apparent in the constructedness of each piece, a relentless muting of his own presence. Through his willful self-erasure Le Blanc animates the inanimate. As a person I am drawn to Le Blanc’s honesty, to his ability to probe his own illusions and disarm his own defenses. At once courageous and vulnerable, he transmits these attributes to everything he creates. From his digital renderings to his supersized installations, his work performs the queries and tensions of identity: Who am I and where do I fit in? Never one to take himself too seriously he cuts himself, and limiting social constructs, down to size, just as the work looming, dwarfs viewers. Being so big, Le Blanc’s installations simultaneously fill a room and empty it. One might think of his work as compensations of absence. To be sure his clever wit enables a humorous engagement with popular culture and with the culture of masculinity in particular. Yes size matters in his work, but not as much as what impels it and where it takes you. It is so compelling precisely because it doesn’t try to be. His playful objects of desire are, more precisely, desiring objects - a cavernous longing discernable once the laughter subsides. It’s the artist’s own yearning, but also the viewer’s. Lustrous and opaque, the work doesn’t ask for analysis or interrogation, thus before it, the viewer’s mind, disarmed, yields to the artist’s queries. While the humor of Le Blanc’s work belies his clever wit and winking eye, his practice is a piercing transmutation of the surface into depth. For me the artist and his sculptures are a polished colossal caress. Forging the rhythms of the body, in chaos, in flight, in imperfection, in overdrive, the artist and his work are muscular, virile, and multiply masculine. 2
The Hatchlings, 2008
what lies beneath Kayleigh Hall, MA, Chief Curator
Introduction Each of the seven sculptural works that comprise Vanity Fare feature exaggerated team players which sit balanced in a vast exhibition space, underpinned by paradoxical relationships: hard/ soft, strong/vulnerable, offense/defense; revealing the complexity of growing up a man in modern culture. Craig Le Blanc combines smooth, seamless surfaces to evoke his reading of contemporary symbols identifying masculine gender. Carefully selected according to its significance for Le Blanc, the subjects of his sculptures have been painstakingly crafted through a process involving traditional production methodologies and digital fabrication. The outcome is of a Neo-Pop experience appealing to a wide variety of audiences and aesthetes in search of formal perfection. The story told is his autobiography, birthed by 6 years of production. Since 1960, contemporary art has splintered due to a proliferation of styles and movements. Visual art throughout history has stridden a few steps ahead of social reform and political movements, serving as a compass of what’s ahead or providing a visual gauge to better understand our current state. Rather than simply reflect societal norms, art can also uncover clues, which populate the visual cultural landscape we live in. Le Blanc is slightly unusual in that he chooses to tackle a rather sidelined topic by appropriating objects to communicate a broader concept: the often artistically ignored, masculine gender formula. It’s much more popular to occupy a disenfranchised place, a subordinate cause, or a minority group rather than investigate a (formerly) dominant population. Perhaps it is the weight of post-colonialist theories impeding this (very small) corner of expression among male artists, but the drive to “go there” is evident in the defiance of Le Blanc’s artistic practice. Craig Le Blanc has dealt with the subject of masculinity for the past decade, and as one of the few contemporary white male artists endeavoring to do so, he is evolving an arsenal of semantics, commenting on how society forms gender. He approaches his sculpture conceptually but is not your “textbook” conceptual artist. Indeed, Vanity Fare is bound together by a contemporary analysis of male gender; however, this concept does not overshadow the material outcome of the artwork. In other words, even though the intent to show popular culture as a driver in masculinity by highlighting certain symbols is clear, Le Blanc’s loyalty to aesthetic concerns and refined skills in craftsmanship may shine brighter, at first glance.
Historical Roots While studying drawing and painting in Paris at L’École Nationale Superiére des Beaux-Arts, Le Blanc turned a corner by visiting Christian Boltanski1’s exhibition Reflexion on a dark side street.2 Paralyzed by the storm of fine art masters (the artist cites Courbet, Velazquez and David as some profound influencers3), this gallery visit compelled him to question the nature of art by pushing the boundaries of his practice from the confines of drawing and painting into the realm of three dimensional art, which holds true to the early definition of conceptual art.4 Le Blanc’s appreciation of art history is nonetheless entrenched in his work. He is a Minimalist who uses the contemplative gesture to capture form while referencing foundational artists from history in search of an internal justification of “why he does this”. When it comes to artists whose work stems from concepts, there is method to madness. Nearly 100 years after Marcel Duchamp exhibited Fountain at the first opening of the American Society of Independent Artists in 1917, the public still reels when confronted with objectorientated, conceptual art.5 The profound significance of this piece was its display. In a similar vein, Vanity Fare is a pop-up book of contemporary symbols, as power-packed as Duchamp’s ready-mades for a 21st century audience. The viewer must engage with the, seemingly steroidinduced, amplification of subjects of visual surround. By exhibiting a regular, everyday object and labeling it art, Duchamp embedded new meaning and directed the viewer to see this everyday devise by using language. In a similar vein, Le Blanc appropriates everyday objects from contemporary culture which he identifies as objects of masculine compensation6. He adopts their form and fabricates large-scale sculpture to embody their form in an expanded medium of steel, fiberglass, EPS foam, bronze and aluminum.
French installation artist, Christian Boltanski (b.1944) Craig Le Blanc, MFA Thesis, (University of Calgary, 2011) chapter 1 3 Ibid. 4 Tony Godfrey, Conceptual Art (Art & Ideas), (London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1998), 28 5 Criticisms aimed at the young British artists (“YBA’s”) by James Heartfield, The Creativity Gap, (London: Blueprint, 2005), 23 6 Craig Le Blanc in discussion with John Will: Artist Talk, The Art Gallery of Calgary (April 4, 2013) 7 Diana Sherlock, “Dive Essay” from Dive: David Diviney and Craig Le Blanc, Stride Gallery, Calgary (June, 2006) 8 Craig Le Blanc, MFA Thesis, (University of Calgary, 2011) chapter 5 9 This binary relationship was noted by curator David Garneau in “Making it Like a Man: Craig Le Blanc,” Essay for Making it Like a Man (Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina), 2004 1 2
All I Loved, I Loved Alone, 2010
The First Chapter One on One commands attention through its stoicism and mass; towering twin joysticks quantify the intensity of adolescent video gaming, rousing a reaction from those who loved Atari. Here we see Le Blanc as a guy’s guy, using humor to gain approval through the devise of a “visual pun”8. One on One consists of two, identical joysticks sitting frozen as monoliths, connected by a single cord. The solitary icons exist together in their aloneness and invite us to consider the futility of their purpose in the absence of a controller.9 They speak to the idea of collectivity and suppressed individuality. Playing video games against your opponent exists within a win/ lose framework where competition is both encouraged and necessary9. The inherent phallic form shown as a tool to play the game can be compared to adolescent and early adulthood sexual awareness, when understood in the context of a broader commentary on how language forms cultural codes. Although One on One was created in 2011, not the earliest work in Vanity Fare, it shares the first chapter in the artist’s story. Le Blanc was born an identical twin whose brother was stillborn. In surviving his brother, the artist is paying homage to his kin while possibly admitting the sense of guilt tied with his own survival. Competition born through biology dictates the seminal experience of life. Covertly, the sculpture uses humor (in playing fun games against an opponent) to reveal the deeper reference of a game of survival. The twin joysticks could be seen as a funeral monument, a vestibule to an afterlife. Oddly, it feels as if the piece could be lifted effortlessly, as if it were made of plastic. The texture informs this illusion; the objects were painted matte black like the gaming vestiges that have now become defunct. This is not just artistic trickery but a component that prevails throughout Vanity Fare: there is more than meets the eye to any object we encounter.
One on One, 2011
On Guard, 2007
Under the Shell A graceful, bronze male sea turtle is situated silently, leaving viewers awestruck. Once a male turtle is at sea, it stays at sea. It lives the majority of its life alone. The verdant green turtle All I Loved, I Loved Alone is a soft point in the show. Le Blanc injects an essence in this sculpture that is both quirky and haunting. He cunningly recycles On Guard and The Hatchlings cup/shell motif and subsequently, hampers the solitary creature with a legacy of his predecessors. It could be compared to the traditions men are born into and carry with them all their lives.
The Hatchlings consists of 129 aluminum scurrying baby sea turtles. After its birth, an infant sea turtle instinctually makes the virginal voyage from shore to sea. Mother has long departed back to the ocean. The eminent risk of death and a literal race for survival ensues. If successful, these hatchlings will suppress their individuality and survive collectively, concealed under a bed of seaweed until they reach an age where they can venture out. Not unlike the experience of youth (boys, and girls for that matter) learning the ropes in contemporary culture. Just as the hard exterior of a turtleâ€™s shell protects it from predators, so to do men utilize devices to protect them from the society or the world at large. The shell protects the vulnerable organism just as a hockey cup, On Guard, shields the male sex organs. The sculptureâ€™s heroic stature, mounted on the wall as an overgrown piece of hardware. It is a giant mask, an expression of self-defense, with fear as the main player at the helm. Piece calls on a stereotypically, aggressively charged, masculine weapon and subverts its imagined usage by dressing it in a coat of Cadillac pink (selected by the artist because it was the custom colour of Cadillac that Elvis Presley had gifted his mother). Rather than identify the gun as an offensive tool, it is shown as a form of defense. By selecting this colour, the artist imbues the work to counter typical notions of men as violent and aggressive. Composed of EPS foam, the chalkiness translated by its surface leads the viewer into thinking of it as a toy, something lighter than air, almost buoyant. More directly than any other artwork in the show, Piece is decidedly feminine and speaks more like a form of protection than overt violence. It compounds the idea that Vanity Fare runs with themes around masking, shielding and protecting against being found out. It is worth noting that Le Blanc was brought up in a female dominated household with older sisters and his mother. As a boy, he got involved in sports, as many boys do, absorbing the male cultural ritual of spectatorship as a byproduct of the process. This involvement called for a suppression of individuality in order for the collective drive to win. It is no coincidence that Le Blancâ€™s motif of masculinity is closely linked with competition or play, and paradoxically, to the feminine. Formally, most of the works embody a female, curvilinear shape, sitting in direct opposition to the initial tone of the exhibition.
Processing the Macho Man The process used to compose each work is tied intimately with technology. The initial sketches for Shell, All I Loved, I Loved Alone and Piece were products of digital samplings from the video game industry. The effortless outcome and mass-produced quality of Vanity Fare is counterintuitive to what we traditionally classify as contemporary art (which, in contrast, is often loose and unrestricted). In reality, Le Blanc employs a fastidious attention to detail in producing sculpture, which possess (at first) an emotionless façade - owing to their surface and scale - showing no sign of the artist’s hand. Le Blanc endeavours to use technology as a tool and less, as an aid, creating objects which embody extreme effort yet manage to convey a quivering insecurity.
Shell amplifies the exterior of a 1975 model Trans Am to express concepts of strength, speed and sexiness. This piece is a tribute to an automotive design that has endured decades and found an appetite in generations of auto lovers but beyond that it is an apparition of what an ideal masculine vessel looks like. It has been argued that the artist’s subjects are a “mix of surrealist psychoanalysis and Looney Tunes-type comedy”10. The muscle car’s exterior panache is high gloss, bold red, and it stretches over 16 feet wide, evoking a sense of awe and hero worship born into a mythical macho man. The viewer is left to ponder the effect of seeing this massive Hot Wheels evocation: perhaps the most overtly masculine piece in the exhibition, Shell the embodiment of what men strive to own, strive to drive and strive to be. Ultimately it is a false front and a barrier to who they truly are. Being housed in this vessel (literally) transports men to another place.
Blair Brennan, “Dive: David Diviney and Craig Le Blanc,” Border Crossings Magazine, Issue #100 (Fall 2006): 95-97
The Final Chapter The most recent piece in the exhibition is Self-Portrait. Here the artist steers in a different direction. No longer using an identifiable symbol, text is used to describe a feeling. The heart crushing testament I don’t love you anymore relates to the artist’s personal sentiment about himself, which may extend to his own art practice or his obsessive dedication to the body of work that is Vanity Fare. Either way, Le Blanc gives a public confession. Displayed invisibly against a matching wall, Self-Portrait is a cut steel cursive text, powder coated creamy white. The message cast white on white is a final epithet to this body of work, six years in the making, the artist is not proud of his divulgement.
Vanity Fare The tragic beauty of Vanity Fare is the price we pay to remain true to ourselves. Le Blanc is a tri-fold artist – one part magician, one part engineer, one part poet. Symbols imagined as sculptures invite one into the discussion around desire, virility, survival and strength. The tragic undertone arises when experiencing all works together in one space. The question begs to be asked: Is this solely an oeuvre addressing masculine identity? Increasingly, both men and women are grown on the same models of achievement and success. After all, women are encouraged to suppress their individuality to perform on a “team” at work, men must meet a specific body-conscious objective in order to be seen as virile and strong just as women must adhere to specific body ideals, and objects of status are often shared between genders. Le Blanc may actually be approaching a gender-neutral territory and focusing on these objects d’art in relation to his personal biography versus that of simply the masculine gender. The artwork is tied together by certain unifying elements: amplified scale, sleek surfaces, a cartoon-like appearance and subjects aligned with masculine culture. The sculptures of Vanity Fare allude to boyhood toys, games of competition and devices that shield us. Their amplified scale and perfect surfaces animate them with humour and toy-like playfulness. Their oversize footprint and expanse somehow mock their reference.
View of Vanity Fare, I
acknowledgements I would like to thank the artist for his incredible tenacity in producing work for Vanity Fare and having faith in my ability to curate his solo exhibition at The Art Gallery of Calgary. Craigâ€™s insights, dedication and immeasurable artistic talent encouraged me to commit to this project - the result has been fantastically rewarding. The moment the exhibition was installed, a new breath entered the gallery. A special thanks to all the staff at The Art Gallery of Calgary who hosted a vibrant (and packed) opening, Dominique Ng who designed this catalogue and the technicians who painted a wall to match Self-Portrait at the last minute. Also, hats off to On the Level Art Installation, who assisted the artist with the install. I have the deepest appreciation to Dr. Suzanne Zelazo, for contributing an eloquent foreword to this catalogue, enriching the experience and meaning of Vanity Fare for the reader. The artist thanks Nathan Tremblay for installation assistance and most importantly, his partner Bobbie Todd for her support, without whom Vanity Fare would not have been possible. Kayleigh Hall, Chief Curator
View of Vanity Fare, II
artist biography Craig Le Blanc was educated at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (BFA, 1997), L’École Nationale Superiére des Beaux-Arts in Paris (1996), and at the University of Calgary (MFA, 2011). He primarily investigates the male archetype, sport, play and masculinity through sculpture, installation and language. He has exhibited extensively in Canada, the United States and Europe. He has been the recipient of several awards including the 2003 Edmonton Artists’ Trust Fund Helen Collinson Award for the Visual Arts, the 2004 Enbridge Emerging Artist Award for the Visual Arts, and in 2011 by The Public Art Network (Americas for the Arts). Additionally, he has been awarded public art commissions in Edmonton and Calgary, AB. Le Blanc works in the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary and sits on the Board of Directors at Stride Gallery in Calgary. Born in Barrie, Ontario in 1970, Le Blanc currently lives in Calgary with his partner and two young children.
bibliography Brennan, Blair, “Dive: David Diviney and Craig Le Blanc.” Border Crossings Magazine, Issue #100 (Fall 2006): 96-97 Garneau, David, “Making it Like a Man: Craig Le Blanc.” Essay for Making it Like a Man (Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina), 2004 Godfrey, Tony, Conceptual Art (Art & Ideas). London: Phaidon Pres Ltd., 1988 Hearfield, James, The Creativity Gap. London: Blueprint, 2005 Le Blanc, Craig, MFA Thesis. University of Calgary, 2011 Sherlock, Diana. “Dive.” Review of Dive: David Diviney and Craig Le Blanc (Stride Gallery, Calgary), June 2006 Le Blanc, Craig, Artist Talk with John Will. (The Art Gallery of Calgary), April 4, 2013
list of works The Hatchlings, 2008 Aluminum 6” x 6”x 1” each Photo by Christian Grandjean All I Loved, I Loved Alone, 2010 Bronze 48” x 50” x 14” Photo by Craig Le Blanc One on One, 2011 Steel, aluminum 204” x 68” 72” Photo by Christian Grandjean On Guard, 2007 Fibreglass, vinyl, foam 55” x 77” x 28” Photo by Christian Grandjean Piece, 2007 Expanded polystyrene foam, polyurethane hard coat 46” x 34” x 13” Photo by Craig Le Blanc Shell, 2013 Fibreglass 44” x 196” x 17” Photo by Christian Grandjean, pg. 11-12 Photo by Dave Duncan/Soul Exposure Photography, pg. 15 Self-Portrait, 2013 Steel, powder coat 240” x 25” x 1” Photo by Christian Grandjean, pg. 13-14 Photo by Dave Duncan/Soul Exposure Photography, pg. 18 View of Vanity Fare, I and II Photo by Craig Le Blanc
Vanity Fare : Craig Le Blanc / March 22 – May 4, 2013 ISBN: 978-1-895160-512-2 © The Art Gallery of Calgary 2013 / Texts © Suzanne Zelazo, Kayleigh Hall Images © Craig Le Blanc, Christian Grandjean, Dave Duncan/Soul Exposure Photography Graphic Design: Dominique Ng / Printing: Rhino Print Solutions The Art Gallery of Calgary 117 – 8th Avenue SW Calgary, AB T2P 1B4 T 403.770.1350 / F 403.264.8077 / www.artgallerycalgary.org
The Art Gallery of Calgary features the work of Craig Le Blanc, a Calgary-based sculptor who fabricates large-scale works which explore the...