By PAUL GESSELL
A visit five years ago to an abandoned vault below Ottawa Art Gallery confirmed to all that Mathieu Dubé was a rising star in the local art scene.
Dubé had borrowed the abandoned space in Arts Court to stage a solo show of his own sculptures. It was a bold, imaginative gesture for a relatively unknown artist with a background in animation.
The results were impressive: 20 sculptures in bronze and plaster collectively called Erosion. All were of people with faces, limbs, and bodies distorted in the way caricatures or cartoons take liberties with human anatomy.
Now, Dubé is experimenting with what he calls “a new aesthetic” that combines sculpture, photography, and painting. This new aesthetic can be seen at Railbender Gallery near the Parkdale Market in an exhibition titled Body of Thought.
First, Dubé uses clay to create a head that is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. He then fashions pairs of hands. The sculptures are photographed at different angles to create an endless variety of unique looking images. Those images are enlarged and then transferred to paper. Using watercolours and pencil, Dubé completes the picture. The finished product has an eerie 3-D effect.
Upon entering Railbender Gallery, a relatively new art gallery and tattoo parlour, you first spot a small shelf at eye level containing some examples of Dubé’s sculptures. They are not impressive. But when photographed and enlarged, the head and hands become lifelike. Creases in the face become more visible. Change the angle of the camera and an entirely new face is created.
Dubé honed his new aesthetic last summer during an artist residency in Colorado.
“I’ve been trying to make a living as a professional artist for over 10 years and recently realized that I was missing out on a ton of opportunities because all my time was spent creating and I was neglecting the business/admin side of things,” Dubé told me in an email last fall.
“A few months ago I told my wife (who happens to be an amazing organizer) that I needed help. One of the first things we focused on was applying to artist residencies because they would give me the time and space to create new work, try new things, and meet artists from all over. I got lucky when Elsewhere Studios in Paonia, Colorado accepted me and had space almost right away.”
The experience exceeded Dubé’s expectations.
“I had never participated in an artist residency and was actually a bit worried that it might be a waste of time or that it would be super weird. After being there just a few days I felt totally at home. I was surrounded by amazing artists from all over the country and I quickly turned into a one-man art making factory.”
Dubé describes his month in Colorado as “awesome.”
“I learned that sometimes taking a little risk by investing time, money, and two days traveling to a remote town in the Rockies on a Greyhound bus packed with lunatics can turn into something really great.”
I have to agree.
View the slideshow to see more images from Body of Thought, which continues at Railbender Gallery, 3 Hamilton N., until April 27. For information visit railbenderstudio.com.