Arts & Culture

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Warrior art from fantasyland / Solider art minus combat / Monet, Picasso

So, there we were in Jose Fontaine’s garage in suburban Gatineau examining his home-made leather armour and chainmail jewellery. Fontaine’s creations have a medieval look. But something else as well. Something based in fantasy, like objects destined for characters in Lord of the Rings or video games.

And then it came to me. I asked: “Do you love Game of Thrones?” and a smile crossed his face. “Oh, yeah!” he exclaimed.

Dress up Fontaine in his armour, hand him a sword and he would become a credible, swashbuckling contender for the Iron Throne. Or better yet, offer him a bow and arrows. Archery is his newest passion. Naturally, he makes his own quiver and arrows.

Vambrace - Suffering
“Souffrance” (Suffering), by Jose Fontaine. Photo: Rob Lynch

An exhibition of Fontaine’s marvellous handiwork, titled Leather and Steel, appears at Espace Pierre-Debain at 120 rue Principale in Aylmer from Oct. 21 to Dec. 6. It’s free and open daily.

Upon entering the exhibition, one immediately sees a full suit of leather armour, displayed on a dummy, for a female warrior. The exquisitely crafted outfit is called “Fleurs d’erable” and contains separate guards for the neck and shoulders, plus a tunic-like chest covering and skirt. Consider it wearable art.

Winding trails of maple leaves are worked into the leather. The artistry is stunning, the technical execution flawless. Viewing “Fleurs d’erable” is as magical as staring at the golden mask of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. One is immediately transported to another time and place.

Inside the main gallery there are various pieces of leather armour, including helmets, with Fontaine’s signature maple leaf designs. The pieces are decorated with real animal horn, crystals and other flights of fancy. Each piece has a dark and a light side. This duality between good and evil is found in most of Fontaine’s work.

"Coeur de pique" (Heart of Spades), by Jose F
“Coeur de pique” (Heart of Spades), by Jose Fontaine. Photo: Rob Lynch

Jewellery includes delicate necklaces of swarovski crystals and wide bracelets of chainmail. The pieces of jewellery are displayed by hanging them from Fontaine’s hand-made cedar arrows suspended horizontally from the ceiling.

If you, like Fontaine, and love Game of Thrones, you will be dazzled by this exhibition. Even if you aren’t a Game of Thrones fan, you will be entranced by the artistry.

"The Expulsion (in green)," by Mary Kavanagh.
“The Expulsion (in green),” by Mary Kavanagh.

A very different kind of warrior art is coming to the Diefenbunker. It’s contemporary and documentary but not really war art in the classic sense. Instead, it is part of a growing body of work best described as military art. That’s soldier-related art, but minus the combat.

Art from the two world wars tended to depict battlefield scenes, wounded soldiers or moms and daughters back home toiling in armament factories. That was dramatic art to stir patriotic fever. By the 1990s, Canadian military artists had become very political, condemning our soldiers’ misdeeds in Somalia and confronting our generals in Afghanistan.

Now, for the latest in military art — as opposed to war art — visit the Diefenbunker exhibition titled Group 6: The Canadian Forces Artists Program, 2012-13.

The exhibition contains military art created during a two-year period by artists who accompanied soldiers for a couple of weeks in a variety of roles. The term “artist” is broad these days and can include poets, children’s authors, musicians and other creators not normally associated with what we call war art.

Two of the artists in the Diefenbunker exhibition are from Ottawa. Leslie Hossack visited Kosovo in 2013 to photograph architecture that was ruined by war or memorializes war. Leslie Reid flew around the Arctic with the military taking photographs that were turned into paintings that reveal climate change in the North.

"The Expulson (in white)," by Mary Kavanagh
“The Expulson (in white),” by Mary Kavanagh

Other artists in the show include: Sophie Dupuis of Val d’Or, Que., who made a film about life abroad the military frigate HMCS Ottawa; Mary Kavanagh of Lethbridge, Alta., who took dramatic photographs of scientific experiments conducted by the military; Thomas Kneubuhler of Montreal photographed the barren scenery at a Canadian forces station at Alert, Nunavut; Sharon McKay of Montreal is a children’s author who visited Afghanistan; Alicia Payne a librettist from Toronto and Joseph Amato a composer from Oakville accompanied Canadian soldiers in Germany, creating an oratorio called With Respect to honour military families; Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky of Vancouver manipulated photographs from Royal Military College in Kingston.

These artists are all expanding our knowledge of Canadian military endeavors. But we are getting a very incomplete picture. What the Diefenbunker exhibition does not do is to show Canadian soldiers battling the Taliban or ISIS or involved in helping civilians dislocated by terrorists. We need some of that too.

Canadian CF-18s are flying around Iraq and Syria, at least until Justin Trudeau orders them home. Art from such adventures would help us all understand exactly what we are doing there, just as A.Y. Jackson revealed truths about the First World War and Alex Colville brought us to the horrors of the Holocaust and Second World War.

The Diefenbunker exhibition opens Nov. 8 and continues until Jan. 31, 2016.

And Monet, Picasso…

When faced with an anemic box office and dropping revenues, large public art museums tend to turn to two tried and true artists to draw crowds: Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso.

Hence the exhibition Monet: A Bridge to Modernity running Oct. 29 to Feb. 15 at the National Gallery of Canada. The exhibition is built around a series of paintings of bridges and boats Monet did in Argenteuil, France, when he lived there 1872-75. Expect a full crop of Monet calendars, coasters and fridge magnets to appear in the gift shop.

And coming this spring is an exhibition of Picasso prints from the gallery’s own collection. I don’t have any other details on that show. The gallery is playing hush-hush about it for now, preferring to reveal all only in the New Year when the line-up for the next 12 months is released. The show should be popular and harvesting the gallery’s own collection makes it far cheaper than negotiating expensive loans from top galleries around the world.