Beginning on Saturday, May 26, The Durham Art Gallery presents Wild Hearts Wandering: the nomadic art of Allen Smutylo and Animal Parade, two new shows that feature Allen Smutylo, a Big Bay, Bruce County resident, and Pat Stephens, a Durham-based local artist.
In a Durham Art Gallery media release, throughout the past four decades Smutylo has traveled to the remote corners of the earth where he has immersed himself in the life of some of the last remaining nomadic cultures. Not content with a mere tourist’s view he casts aside his Western comforts and shares in the daily existence of the nomads. In a nod to the explorers of the past, during his travels and extended stays in some rather inhospitable landscapes, Smutylo captures the life of his hardy hosts in watercolour and photographs, which then inspire the creation of etchings, collages and paintings.
It is tempting to romanticize the life of cultures who live so close to nature, such as the Inuit or the less familiar Kharnakpa, a Tibetan Buddhist tribe living in the Himalaya, but life is often harsh, whether the cold barren mountains or the withering heat and dryness of the desert. Yet, perhaps in part because of Smutylo’s mastery of sketching in watercolour, in his portraits he is able to capture the inner resolve and peaceful core of his subjects.
As Smutylo himself reflects upon the time he spent with the Kharnakpa, “Over a six-year period as I made my way from my culture into the nomads’ and back again, I began to see their stories had a surprising degree of contemporary relevance. In contrast to the tenets of our society, I saw compatibility with the environment, inclusiveness in spirituality, and an emphasis on non-material things. On one level their world was rugged and archaic, but wrapped inside that was a disarmingly impressive philosophy.”
As contemporary society encroaches, the old ways are becoming less sustainable, and ways of life that had remained largely unchanged for thousands of years are quickly vanishing. Hence one can sense a certain nostalgia in the frayed fragments of handmade fabrics, decorative motifs and weathered faces that Smutylo so deftly assembles in his collages and compositions. Perhaps in contemplating them we will come to recognize the fleetingness of our own ways, of our own lives, and in doing so touch that silent core common to all life that pervades not only the wildest places and the wildest hearts, but our own as well.
On Sunday, June 10 at 2pm, Allen Smutylo will share stories that inspired his remarkable artwork. Admission is by donation. Pat Stephen’s lovely show, Animal Parade is designed for children, the show is comprised of colourful acrylic paintings, the artist created for a series of educational children’s books that take a resourceful approach to exploring animal life.
Wild Hearts Wandering: the nomadic art of Allen Smutylo and Animal Parade run until July 15. Both shows are curated by Ilse Gassinger and supported by the Ontario Arts Council, ECL in Hanover, Margaret Norquay Endowment Fund, Scotiabank, Phil Lind and the Municipality of West Grey.
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