Van Gogh Observes

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Joe Fafard (1942-2019)
Van Gogh Observes, 2018
bronze sculpture, ed. 2 of 5
95.25×95.75×13 in.

As an imposing 8 feet x 8 feet vividly coloured upright “painting in bronze,” Van Gogh Observes (2018) is one of the largest pieces in Joe Fafard’s body of work. Its subject is Vincent van Gogh, recognizable by his red hair, beard and penetrating blue eyes. Vincent was particularly cherished by Fafard who depicted him in over fifty small sculptures. This gigantic portrait  represents  his final and most spectacular  homage. Its startling impact is created by a type of illusionism known as “hollow face.” Fafard’s monumental sculpture can be understood as a huge mould that exposes its concavity. The inside becomes the outside, transformed into the illusion of a recognizable person.  By contrast, the raised convex surface of the face becomes the back of the work. The intensity of the colour in the portrait is also remarkable. Vincent is shown wearing the deep blue artist’s smock best known from his famous 1889 self-portraits. Fafard paints a vibrant yellow – Vincent’s favorite colour – in the background.  The yellow-blue contrast is significant because of Van Gogh’s passion for colour theory and the importance of colour contrasts in his own work.  Fafard was able to create these beautifully rich permanent colours through the application of powder-coating, an industrial process he used many times in his later sculptures.  

Joe Fafard is a quintessentially Canadian sculptor whose brilliant body of work speaks to fundamental values. He grew up on a farm in a tightly-knit French speaking rural community in Saskatchewan, the province where he lived his whole life. His work ranged in size from small, brightly coloured portraits in clay to largescale horses and cows in bronze.  His wonderfully rendered sculptures represented the things in life that he held dear including his family and community and the animals on his farm. Each of his figures, human or animal, portrays a real character in a real place. He enjoyed enormous popularity and critical acclaim over an extraordinary 50-year career. The secret of his success may lie in the authenticity of his clearly recognizable creations. He became famous in the 1970s for the incisive wit and keen observation seen in his small clay portraits of family members, neighbours and famous artists. The artist he revered above all others was Vincent van Gogh. His cows and horses are noteworthy not only for their realism and engaging presence but also increasingly as subjects for intriguing perceptual and technical experimentations. Joe Fafard is represented in prestigious private, corporate and public collections across Canada and around the world.  During his lifetime he received numerous tributes, awards and honours.  

Written by Monique Westra