Last week we spent a couple of days in the Waterloo area with my brother, street photographer Al Doerksen, and sister-in-law, artist Agatha Doerksen. First up was the opening of Agatha’s stunning new show, “Off the Wall,” at the Red Brick Cafe in Guelph. The first pieces in this series were inspired by layers of peeling posters in downtown Toronto. Agatha gathers material life wherever she finds it–lists, wallpaper, bits of text, buttons, old photos, and much more–which she then maps and collages in new arrangements. These “remnants and discards” of daily life are variously re-layered, re-configured, revealed, perhaps covered again, perhaps painted upon, but thus preserved. The result is sometimes whimsical but more often–to my view–boldly provocative, and deep. Here’s “A Single Leaf,” one of my favourites in the show. If you live in the Guelph area, do stop by to view the exhibit, or see more of her work at the Art by Agatha page on Facebook.
The opening itself had a layer of unexpected drama when one of the largest pieces was stolen the day before the opening. CBC told the story.
I always enjoy visiting with Agatha, and now back in Toronto, I’ve been mulling over what I heard her say about her artistic process. Although she works in a very different medium than I do, so much of what she talked about resonated with my writing life: curiosity that motivates the gathering and gleaning of material, the complex interaction of theme and content in the actual production of the piece, the surprises that emerge, how the piece happens both with and yet also (it seems) without the artist’s conscious intention.
I’ve been mulling the notion of layers and collage also in reference to this period of transition we’re in and its increasingly thick layers of experience and emotion. I’ve found myself a little frustrated that they don’t easily form articulate patterns. But perhaps life is art-making too, with its necessary process; perhaps this stage is a gathering, picking-up, peeling off the wall. Surely the meaning of it can be formed later, out of the fragments. I’ve been conscious too of living all this on a backdrop of troubling world events; places of unrest, uneasiness, violence like France, Turkey, U.S.A.; a sense of challenge and uncertainty. What is the “keep” of all that; its ultimate effect?
Agatha sent me these lines by Franz Kafka (translated), which she included in a number of paintings. I like it for its counsel about the necessary processes of both life and art.