The Canadian Art Database

Tony Urquhart
London, Ontario (from a taped interview, 19 September 1967)

urqhhart sculpture
(click on image for larger size)

Broken III
Acrylic, resin, plywood and masonite
8' 10"H, 6'W, 2'D 23

Strangely enough, what led me from painting into making things was encountering the past. In 1963 I went abroad, a painter, fully intending to return a painter. But in the provincial museums and churches of France and Spain I saw a lot of very old and compelling coloured things: polychrome sculptures, triptychs, painted objects. And on the way to the Costa Brava there was an unforgettable scarecrow: not painting, nor sculpture, just a three-dimensional presence – a thing.

The landscape comes into everything I do. Also I don't believe surrealism has run its course. Broken III works outdoors against the urban background like a landscape painting indoors, juxtaposing the country to the city situation. Surprise and paradox just seem to happen in my work. In this sculpture, has the circle been broken? Has it been cut or did its ends never meet? Am I spoofing hard edge? There's that unexpected tear in the tidy outline; the creeping encroachment of landscape relief onto one geometric surface; the strong suspicion that nature, not man, is getting the upper hand!

The circle has always been part of my vocabulary (this "Broken" series derives from a painted tondo); and the circumscribed containment of the round shape, which provides its own frame, is an aspect of hard edge to which I naturally respond. Where other artists nowadays are expanding out into the environment, I still choose to close my work in. For me, a work of art should be self-contained, like a person. I like the certain aloofness or detachment gained in placing a water-colour behind glass. l would like to enclose all my three-dimensional pieces in some sort of plexiglas cage. A friend remarked of a recent exhibition I held in Toronto: "I get the feeling of things in a museum". Most artists today wouidn't like that said of their work, but I was pleased.

The purely non-objective could never seriously engage me. How can the artist today compete with Detroit? The automobile, after all, is the definitive hard-edge sculpture of our time!

Nowadays there is a tendency towards mass communication. Aesthetic communication is from one to everybody. I still like it to be from one to one. The happening is an art form for the gregarious. I am just not a group person: I want to express my own ideas, not other people's. I like to make small objects for individual involvement. Even the large sculpture should be lived with in a room by one person. How did I get into this show? My criteria are not tied to size, but to power of involvement – or reinvolvement: how many times can you return to a sculpture? Does it stick in your mind? I am not interested in making an impact in a public lobby: I am not that kind of person. I am an individual making art for other individuals. As I said, I like it to be one to one.

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