Jerry Pethick: Works 1968-2003 from Collections on Hornby Island

November 22nd, 2011

Exhibition Dates: November 5 to December 17, 2011
Location: Simon Fraser University Art Gallery, 8888 University Drive, Academic Quadrangle 3004 Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6  View Google Map
Website: Click Here

Every time we head up to SFU Art Gallery in Burnaby, it feels like we’ve wandered into the dystopic world of Blade Runner. Still, our recent visit to see a solo exhibition of Jerry Pethick’s work was absolutely worth the trek. The last time we saw one of Pethick’s sculptures, it was installed at the Seattle Art Museum where we were confronted by a creature almost eight feet tall, made up of what looked like hundreds of green bottles. Repurposing these everyday materials, Pethick created Le Semeur – Sunlight and Flies, which towered over us like a swamp creature both comical and menacing. Salvaging materials from places like the Hornby Island Recycling Depot, many of his sculptural works made use of the discarded debris of daily life, combining these objects in unexpected and inventive configurations. You may already be familiar with Pethick’s work through Time Top, a public art commission which was submerged in the ocean water for 2 years to attract mineral deposits; it looks like a strange spaceship washed onto the north shore of False Creek in Yaletown. Pethick lived on Hornby Island from 1975 to 2003 and the exhibition at SFU brings together 30 domestic-scaled works that belong to the friends of the late artist who still live there, and many have never been seen off the island before. What exactly are these works? Difficult to categorize, they are wall-mounted and sit somewhere between painting, sculpture, collage and assemblage. They are uniquely Pethick objects in their exploration of vision and use of found materials that reflect his local environment including a photomontage of a Vancouver landscape with its grain silos along the waterfront, a Beautiful British Columbia licence plate, and a fishing lure covered in Spectrafoil, the kind of reflective tape we used on our bikes as kids. Pethick’s subject matter is equally unique: many of his works start with a panel lifted from an old household object as their base or “canvas” and although they can loosely be described in traditional terms as including landscapes, still-lifes and figures, this hardly captures the enigmatic end result which includes images of fields, dogs, a walrus, dew drops, and figures but also strange electronics parts, metal studs, an old record and Spectrafoil.

Spectrafoil is used liberally in the show and to dazzling effect – like a kaleidoscope it brings a rainbow of colours into view as you approach and tour the work. Taken as a whole, the show can be said to consider visual perception which is in keeping with the work for which Pethick is best-known: he created “photo-sculptures” or “photo-arrays” in which he would mount multiple lenses at slightly different angles in front of a corresponding row of serial photographs, resulting in three-dimensional images. Interested in the experience of art for the viewer, while his sculptures aren’t exactly kinetic, they do give the uncanny appearance of movement. Reproduced in the catalogue (which contains essays by Geoffrey Farmer, Bill Jeffries, and Michael Turner) the works appear quirky, charming, and colourful but nothing like the shimmering, magical objects that change with the light and transform as you walk by them in person – suggesting that what you see is not always what you get.

To see images of Pethick’s work click here

Image credits:

Jerry Pethick
Light Impressions (Slight of Hand), (sic), 1993
mixed media
43.0 X 76.0 cm
Collection of Merrilyn & John Farquhar

Jerry Pethick
Lippmann Looking at a Plate at the Sorbonne-Vienna Suite, 1982
mixed media
22.0 X 23.0 cm
Collection of Merrilyn & John Farquhar

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