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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

One man's garbage is another's vista

One man's garbage is another's vista

Harcourt House artist-in-residence David Janzen explores the sharp contrast of landfills found in pristine settings

Visual arts Preview
David Janzen: PileDriver
Where: Harcourt House Gallery, 10215 112th St., 3rd Floor
When: Until Nov. 10
More info: 780-426-4180 or

Harcourt House Artist Run Centre has actively encouraged contemporary artists to explore ideas and media within their creative practice since 1988. The not-for-profit organization offers 38 very reasonably priced studio spaces, life-drawing sessions three times a week for both professional and amateur artists, as well as a variety of art classes.
For the last 10 years, Harcourt House has also operated an artist-in-residence program, providing the chosen candidate with a studio for one year, a monthly art supply stipend and a gallery exhibition to showcase the work created during the residency.
"The artist-in-residence program is an opportunity to nurture the artist," says executive director Derek Brooks.
"They spend a year working on a brand new body of work based on their proposal. The program also ensures that we have a professional artist on-site most of the time."
This year's artist-in-residence is local painter David Janzen, an active member of Alberta's artistic community since graduating in 1983 from the Alberta College of Art in Calgary.
With an impressive list of solo and group shows behind him, Janzen's painting skills are finely tuned; he is a master of the brush, capturing detail and creating mood with ease.
"His technical skills are unparalleled," Brooks relays. "He can paint anything he wants to."
Missile launches were his muse in Thrust, a February 2010 exhibition mounted with artist Julian Forrest at the Peter Robertson Gallery.
Janzen boldly contrasted the inherent discord created by the missiles by painting on needlepoint frames and old LP vinyl records, even adorning the work with gilded Baroque frames.
The unexpected twist meshed old world sensibilities with new world realities.
The new work in PileDriver explores trash - literally.
"My proposal was to drive around scenic places in Alberta and take photographs of landfills set against the backdrop of beautiful wilderness or bucolic or interesting landforms."
Janzen toured 17 of Alberta's 350 landfills the summer of 2010, driving from Banff to Drumheller, Grande Cache to Exshaw. He immersed himself in research, visiting and photo-documenting waste disposal practices in beauty spots throughout the province.
Two months and 5,000 kilometres later, a large collection of photos formed the backbone for the PileDriver paintings.
The inspiration for this show was sparked by an online image of a landfill in Maui (Janzen's painting entitled Hawaiian Landfill is on display) and an image of "sheets of metal set against a beautiful verdant forest" by famed photographer Ed Burtynsky, on the cover of Alberta Views magazine.
Janzen was drawn to the dichotomy of garbage nestled in pristine settings: "One's a foil for the other."
"Since the early '90s I have been working with how human activity, settlement and habitation changes the horizon, changes the look of our environment."
When Janzen locks onto an idea, he sinks his teeth into it with painterly gusto, exploring every conceivable nuance the topic has to offer. He seems to excel at themes demanding an inquisitive mind and has the ability to deliver eye-appeal while instilling the significance of the image.
Janzen's delight in this topic is obvious. His residency was prolific; 38 paintings of various mediums on surfaces ranging from oval, square and vertical canvases, to vintage wooden-handled saws and circular saw blades fill the gallery.
There is a paradox in pairing the chaos and human recklessness implied by a dump with heavenly skies and mountainous backdrops, but therein lies his entry point for the viewer to investigate the work.
While a wall of 50 photographs expose the harsh reality of our habits of consumption, the paintings are more poetic with a painterly beauty. With images that attract rather than repel, the work swiftly engages eyes and invites the viewer to jump into work Lumber Pile depicts the mist-shrouded Exshaw landfill set against the mountains, what Janzen describes as the "most beautiful dump," while Demmitt Mattress Pile and Fridge Garden offer more sobering evidence of consumer folly. Platforms toys with the notion of putting garbage up on raised stages once the landfill space is exhausted.
Skies of crimson, lemon, azure and cornflower are focal points offering an atmospheric element while lifting the viewers sightline above the horizon.
Janzen's wish is that the show might encourage the viewer to look at things differently.
"I hope that their lens changes a little bit so that next time they look at that image, they bring a different context to it."
As a side note, the brighter side to Janzen's landfill jaunt was his discovery that waste disposal is very well managed in Alberta.