A lifetime of experimental conversations between brain and body have lead Visual Arts professor Sky Glabush to stand among the country’s leading artists.
Two of his large works, painted with oil and sand on canvas, have recently been acquired by the National Gallery of Canada. The Boarding House and The Clearing were both painted for his recent solo exhibition at the Clint Roenisch Gallery in Toronto.
Jonathan Shaughnessy, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery, said both works represent Glabush’s confident return to painting.
“We are often engaged with an artist for a number of years. Sky is a highly talented artist whose works are in dialogue with the material histories of art, not to mention craft and design, to which he brings an enigmatic quality all his own.”
One painting is of a ‘house’ compartmentalized with many rooms; the other is a forest in which he finds a ‘clearing.’
Shaughnessy continued, “The works incorporate lessons learned by Glabush from his photo-realist landscape paintings of London years ago to all his experiments with form and process – from painting and drawing, to sculpture and weaving – in the years leading up to now. We are pleased to have these works as part of our contemporary collection. We have plans to display these paintings in the permanent collection gallery later this summer.”
The National Gallery of Canada is the prime ambassador for Canadian art both at home and around the world. Counted among the world’s most respected art institutes for the quality of the collection and for exemplary research in conservation and the history of art, the permanent collection is housed in one of Canada’s most iconic public buildings, designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie in 1988.
Glabush’s two paintings are now part of Canada’s national treasures, but his true value may be the paradoxical trust and discomfort he strives for in the students he teaches.
“Art is much more than aesthetics and techniques. Discussions in my painting class can become politicalized quickly, so it’s important to build trust as soon as possible,” he said.
His goal, however, is to promote ‘safe discomfort,’ which values the process of working as well as producing many works.
“Over the course of the year, I ask students to produce one complete painting per week, which can result in up to 25 works or more,” he continued. “This can be tough for them, but it’s necessary as you begin to understand painting by actually painting.”
Not content to stay on the surface of ideas, Glabush brings deep inner work to his art practice and to his teaching. “Art can be a powerful tool to provoke questions, help us understand our triggers and conflicts, and challenge our assumptions about things.”
Last month, Glabush provoked questions about the process and relevancy of artistic portraits, whether painted or sculpted, in an Instagram Age when images can be more pervasive and powerful than text. As guest curator, he led visitors on a tour and discussion of the Heads exhibition at McIntosh Gallery.
Heads contrasted the tangibility of the featured paintings and sculpture with the sterilized and branded product of the selfie. Glabush helped reveal how the distinctive language of the portrait is made in a place where the poetry of the mind meets the solidity of the body.
Unlike many of his peers, his style and choice of materials is not easily categorized.
Glabush is unconcerned with consistency of style, which in contemporary art-world terms means branding oneself as instantly recognizable and marketable. Whether working with paint, wood, found objects or weaving on a traditional loom, his practice is rigorous and echoes Modernist experiments with form and meaning-making, and are radical conversations between his mind and his hands.
Glabush attained commercial success early on in his career, while a student doing abstract work at the University of Saskatchewan. A residency in the Netherlands followed, then a move to Edmonton to complete an MFA, and finally a relocation to London, where he has taught at Western the past 13 years.
His journey from abstract to architectural to realistic and, most currently, gestural paintings, is “my conscious attempt to gain insights into the relationship between my brain, body and hands.”
He draws with both hands simultaneously, sometimes sketches with his eyes closed, and when painting, often tries to finish the work in a day. If not satisfied with the narrative, he clears his canvas and begins again, often with traces of the previous experiments still visible.
What Glabush chases in his practice and hopes to pass along to his students is the truth that, above all, you’re human, and as such, too complex to be easily categorized.