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Sacred and Profane
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(b. 1937 Cincinnati, OH; lives in Halifax, NS)
Sacred and Profane 1990
painted wood on panel (door, c. 1900) with stencilled enamel on canvas inset
188 x 78.4 cm
Gift of the artist, 1994
Mount Saint Vincent University Collection
What makes a painting authentic? Can painting stand for something apart from the fetish it has become? For thirty-five years, Ferguson has tackled such questions by substituting mechanical processes and found objects for the hand-made, personalized mark of the artist.
In Sacred and Profane, the conjunction of neo-gothic detail on an old door with a Corinthian capital stencilled on canvas attaches sublime feeling to an everyday artefact. Ferguson avidly collected folk art even before coming to Nova Scotia in the late 1960s. His revival of vernacular techniques such as stenciling, combined with architectural elements from old Nova Scotian houses, indicates a wry view of the salvage paradigm. He describes his assemblages, which masquerade as paintings, as Bourgeois hedonism coupled with memento mori.
In 1,000,000 Grapes Ferguson cut a stencil depicting 40 grapes, a shape inspired by the fruit dish in Picasso’s 1907 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Rolled with black enamel paint, a stencil was applied 250 times to each of the 100 separate, 48-inch-square canvases, achieving 10,000 grapes per surface. Assistants contributed the intensive physical labour involved; Ferguson’s labour within the project remains entirely conceptual. Typically in Conceptual Art, it is the idea, more than its execution, which embodies the artist’s intent. With this in mind, we may ask whether Ferguson, by employing quantity as an alternative to the highly subjective quality, is ironically proposing an objective measure of an artwork’s value and significance.
Gerald Ferguson lives in Halifax, having taught at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design for thirty years.
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