One draws inspiration from a kilometre underground. The other sees artistry in the grass and the sky on the surface. Together their art creates a fusion of form and idea that few pairings could accomplish. Best of all, it's on view for the next few weeks at the Humboldt and District Gallery.
The works of James M. Clow and Bonnie Conly are on display under the banner "Raw Materials". The two artists shared a show and an opening gala on Friday, May 31st. Clow's work stems from his day job as a potash miner at Colonsay where he has worked for over seven years. Clow originally hails from Regina where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Regina. He continued his training and work as an animator in Germany and eventually for Dreamworks Pictures and Walt Disney with the likes of Stephen Spielberg.
Clow returned to Saskatchewan where he decided to remain with his partner. Following an underground tour of the Colonsay mine site with a friend, where he first saw the grooves cut into the potash bed by the bit miner, Clow began working as an underground miner. Clow saw sculpture in the designs and was immediately drawn to the potential it would lend to his artwork. After a few months of contemplation and another 90 days of experimenting with the potash crystals and a variety of art materials, Clow had a basis for his new form.
Clow explains part of his fascination, "It's the Saskatchewan landscape underground that we don't know anything about. Nobody sees it except for miners, and there's an entire history there. On the surface, we think of Saskatchewan as wheat fields and forests. We don't realize that it used to be an ocean at one point." Clow goes on to describe climate change over geologic time being captured in the strata of the province's terrain.
One of Clow's signature pieces interprets the underground, surface, and sky in a spiral radiating from the cut of a bit miner.
He describes the painstaking detail of creating the wheat stalks and heads. "There's four colours in every kernel of wheat. And I was constantly rotating the painting as I was doing it."
Bonnie Conly's work more complements Clow's as opposed to contrasting it. As mentioned, she draws inspiration from the natural landscapes of the surface, particularly those of the grasslands in southwestern Saskatchewan. Conly is from Saskatoon but spent considerable time pursuing her art while serving as Artist in Residence for Grasslands National Park near Val Marie.
In 2012, Conly visited the park and stayed at a local farm site where she came across an area of abandoned machinery rife with metal. The inspiration took hold and she began collecting pieces of metal. Conly had already learned to weld, and so she embarked on a new phase that utilized the landscape metal to create flowing pieces that evoke the grassland.
Conly confesses she enjoys metal as a medium. "You can add to it and subtract, you can melt it, bend it, and you can mix it with other metals. I started building the work that's in the show."
After several return trips to gather both inspiration and metal, she was offered the post of Artist in Residence in 2015. During this time, she was able to return some of the works to the park for a series of photographs on display in the show. It's important to Conly given that she is an activist for the preservation of what little natural grassland is left. She values the quiet and solace provided by the park and notes that the area is receiving more visitors who are simply seeking those qualities.
For some of her pieces, Conly has migrated from stick to MIG welding with the help of a neighbour who is a fabricator. Her work variously swirls and bends, evoking long strands of grass in the southern prairie wind. Another piece entitled "Hulls" creates the illusion of a canoe being portaged.
Clow and Conly gathered with attendees of the opening to discuss the work. The exhibit continues at the Humboldt and District Gallery. For more pictures from the exhibit, check out Eilish McAnally's blog.