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Exhibitionism
EXHIBITIONISM

I have a mental image of the process of getting ready for a solo show. It’s like being in a tub of nice hot water (the ideas and plans being the water). Happily immersed in this bath, comfortably soaking, dabbing soap here and there, the water level gradually decreases (now the water is time passing), and suddenly, there I sit, wet and naked. The little water that is left is producing a swirling vortex around the drain making an alarming sucking noise. This is what I call the “circling the drain” period in the months and weeks before an exhibition.  This is where all the grand plans and visions have to meet the reality of production, the looming deadline inexorably sucking away the days.
There is no guarantee when a new show comes along that it will build on past success. Defining success is a bit slippery. Sales only determine a certain aspect of success, that’s the easy measure -- while sales are critical, feedback from visitors and collectors feels more important to me. I take my work seriously, although I try not to take myself too seriously. Art making is both a personal quest for creative discovery and experimentation, as well as an engagement in a form of non-verbal communication. I don’t make my work with sales as my primary objective. I’m more interested in the value of each piece as a cultural object, rather than as a product for commerce.  When I agree to do a major solo show it’s usually at least two years in advance. You might think I would begin producing work as soon as I’ve agreed to do one. That’s what I usually intend, despite the fact that I’ve never managed to accomplish such a feat yet. While I don’t physically produce any work in the first year before a show, I sketch, plan and mull over ideas a lot. I’ve been a bit “over committed” in the last few years (with the distinct possibility of being permanently “committed” as a result). So in addition to solo exhibition commitments I’ll also be working on a number of large public commissions, working on sculpture proposals for potential commissions, doing committee work for community and educational organizations, as well as supplying work to other galleries and having other smaller solo shows here and there. During preparations for a show I’m also likely to be involved in several group exhibitions, speaking, and giving workshops. This may give you a bit of context for what my life is like while I am either intending to produce work for a big show or am (finally) actually engaged in the process of physically making the work. I think I become a bit of a mad wraith to my family as this process progresses.  I tend to work on many sculptures at once, partly because most of them involve a range of materials, and casting bronze in batches is more efficient than doing one piece at a time. (Most of my work includes cast bronze.) A major solo show typically has 30-40 pieces. Each piece has many parts in different stages of completion. Some are large outdoor sculptures.

During the run up to my last solo show as the months and weeks dwindled there was little lee-way for time-consuming problems to be solved. Twenty of an eventual forty pieces were unfinished with about two months to go. The pressure became increasingly intense to make decisions, assemble work, and try to figure out technical complications on the fly. This may sound a bit crazy, and I don’t plan it, but for me there is something intensely creative about working in this pressure cooker atmosphere. I have to be very focused, very disciplined. I work long hours totally immersed in the work. It was hard, however, to see the forest for the trees during this time, in fact, I really didn’t get a good feel for how the show held together as a body of work until we had installed it in the gallery. This is in stark contrast to the large public commissions that I make, where everything is planned, scheduled, and done well ahead of deadlines.  I have to say that making the last show in particular was a wild roller coaster of a ride, one that I was sure, as I neared the deadline, I would never, ever want to repeat. Once we loaded the four huge pallets of finished work on a full sized transport truck wedged into our gravel lane with the very shaky forklift prosthesis on our ageing tractor, I was hugely relieved. It was great to see it all headed down the road. When I got to the gallery in Toronto five days later I was faced with all the crated work to be uncrated and set up. I’m not sure why this surprised me since it was the whole point of the effort, but I was daunted at the prospect of not just the work involved in setting it all up, but the challenge of how to display the show well. Fortunately that’s a group effort. I’m left mostly to my own direction with the help of gallery staff, but I get good feedback and Sandra Ainsley periodically reviews what we’ve done (she's very good at this) and we make changes and tweak lighting and fuss around with placement until after three long days and two nights work it’s all up and looking like it was well planned from the start (not sure how that happens but probably simply because it has to). By noon of the opening day, almost everything is done. Price lists, labels, some last minute lighting changes and the set up for the evening’s opening go on all afternoon. The caterers set up in one of the gallery’s many rooms, we test the audio visual equipment with the usual head scratching and muttering and eventually half an hour before the opening we all scurry off to closets and store rooms to don our glad rags, splash cold water on our faces and prepare to face the public.  I am to do a talk. I show an eight minute video about my studio and how I work. The film was made by the Canadian Musuem of Civilization for the Bronfman Award, it is very well produced. I know it’s cheating to hide behind a DVD as a public speaker, but people always inexplicably applaud at the end of it. My feeling is that they applaud in relief that they didn’t have to suffer through listening to me trying to do the same material without a director, many editorial cuts or music. I’m happy that they are happy. I then show a whack of digital slides about my work and yak about how I make it, and talk about my life as an artist, take a few questions, get a nice response from a good turn out, stagger to the wine bar and then mingle and answer questions, hoping that my mouth isn’t foaming. It’s all a bit of a blur. Although it's a high, I’m still worn out from the set up and months of effort and stress. I talk to so many people I can’t take it all in. From this point on, it’s Sandra and her crew who take on the job of explaining and marketing the work to collectors and the public. I retreat back to our little green valley in New Brunswick to recover, try and pick up the pieces of all the things I’ve put off, see if my family remembers who I am and try to avoid commitments for another big solo exhibition any time soon. Trouble is I’ve already got a GREAT IDEA for the next one. Go figure.