Artwork by Joe Fafard,  Maillol

Joe Fafard

incised signature, date (1989) and edition (8/10) on the underside
5.75 x 7 x 2.25 ins ( 14.6 x 17.8 x 5.7 cms ) ( overall )

Auction Estimate: $4,000.00$3,000.00 - $4,000.00

Price Realized $5,520.00
Sale date: May 31st 2022

Private Collection, Calgary

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Joe Fafard
(1942 - 2019) RCA, Order of Canada

“Joe Fafard is considered one of Canada’s leading visual artists, bringing his technical facility and unique, often whimsical, approach to his work. His sculptures were the kind that could be instantly recognizable, whether their subjects were livestock, wildlife – or people. They included his neighbours and family, famous politicians, such as Pierre Trudeau and John Diefenbaker, and artists including Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso.”

“Among his best-known works are the public installations ‘Running Horses’ outside the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa (a modified all-weather version replaced the original in 2017) and ‘The Pasture’ – seven life-sized bronze cows on the plaza of the Toronto-Dominion Centre in downtown Toronto.”

Born in Ste-Marthe, Saskatchewan, in a log home near the junction of the Qu’Appelle and Assiniboine Rivers at the Manitoba border, the twelfth child of French-Canadian parents, Leo and Julienne Fafard. His father later ran a general store in the community. Joe displayed creative talent at an early age. Following rural schooling, he attended high school in St. Lazare for the next five years. With parental help, he left home and studied at the U. of Manitoba for his B.F.A (1962-66); Pennsylvania State U., State College for his M.F.A (1968). The summer of 1968, he settled in Regina and taught at the Emma Lake Artists’ Workshop. He then joined the staff of U. of Saskatchewan as an instructor in Kinetic sculpture (1968-74); Saskatchewan School of the Arts, Echo Valley (summer 1974). In his own art, he had first produced figurative sculpture and then kinetic sculpture from flexible polyurethane foam. He began making satirical portraits in plaster, which were the visual statements of his discontent with the prevailing modernism being taught. He made seven life-sized busts of other member of the faculty. The pieces were caricatures, poking fun at their pet modernisms. Later, he did figures and busts of colleagues, friends and associates.

He began working in ceramics through the influence of American ceramic sculptor, David Gilhooly, who taught in Regina (1970-71). He had also been making animal figures in clay. During lunch with the support staff at the school, one of the janitors asked him to do a portrait of his father, an old man of 108, and thus began his ‘little people’ figurines. Fafard left teaching and settled in the village of Pense, a half-hour’s drive from west Regina. A three-storey house was up for sale at a price he could afford. There with his wife, the former Susan Wiebe (from a Mennonite family), he made his own path in sculpture, painting and printmaking.

As he settled in, he took an interest in the people of the village and as an anthropologist might begin, he decided to learn about the town’s history from the older residents. He began portraying the people of Pense. The fact that his father ran a general store had already given him an empathy for the people of a small town. He recorded their versions of regional anecdotes and practices and made small ceramic constructions he called cups, to which he attached three-dimensional figures of gophers, cows, trucks, telephone poles, trees, around the saucer area of the cup. On the cup itself, he depicted background scenes – landscape, sky and other features in two dimensions. He also did his depictions of “little people”, which he sculpted with a fine balance between characterization and realism. As his work progressed and he captured more likeness of the people of Pense, the word got out about his work. A film by the NFB was made, entitled “I Don’t Have to Work That Big” and aired by CBC-TV on December 13, 1973 in the CBC series “West”. Ads for the film were aired nationally for two weeks in advance of the programme, reaching Canadians from coast to coast.

The resulting attention by the media took on the proportions of a myth as noted by Nancy Tousley in Canadian Art (1988) as follows, “Joe Fafard of Pense, … can be numbered among the Canadian myths – the apotheosis of the poor farm boy who, after escaping from the sticks and getting educated elsewhere, comes home again and makes himself into a success. In Saskatchewan, he has become a near folk hero, a favourite native son the Regina Leader Post once dubbed ‘a bona fide, Saskatchewan-born Canadian cultural celebrity’. In the national eye, he is the populist committed to his region; he is able to poke sly rustic fun at high art conventions and to continue to grow as an artist living and working far from a major centre of commerce and culture. But media myths invariably fail to get close enough to the birthright or to the bone. Although myths are grown from kernels of truth, their simplifications flower as fictions. Major exhibitions however, often revise myths by providing the materials for new or more complete fictions. ‘Joe Fafard: Cows and Other Luminaries 1977-1987’ presented an artist who was evolved from a picaresque hero into a patriarch. This character is far more absorbing than Joe Fafard of Pense …. He is after all, adept at characterization, though his self-portraits in clay read like masks. What he is not is what the media myth implies: a simple, uncomplicated man making simple, uncomplicated, Johnny-One-Note art…” Discussing his ‘Cows and Other Luminaries’ exhibition, Tousley went on, “This exhibition effectively stripped away misleading elements surrounding Fafard’s production and provided the range to demonstrate clearly that the popular view of the artist as the maker of ‘little people’ in clay must be updated. Fafard’s clay figures were joined here by major bronze sculptures, cast in the foundry he set up in Pense in 1985, after moving his household back to Regina the year before, so that his children could attend school there.” Eli Mandel had earlier (1979) noted of his work, “Fafard’s best pieces, I think, possess this Borgesian resonance partly because of his mastery of structure, partly because of his feeling for texture. Characteristically, he transforms the clay, itself suggestive of the roots and sources of his work in earth, into tense human musculature, most strikingly evident in the powerful hands he portrays, which carry so much of the emotion of his human figures. Structurally, Fafard works with the classic tension between stillness and motion….”

“Among his many honours are the Order of Canada, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Award, the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, the Lieutenant-Governor’s Saskatchewan Centennial Medal for the Arts, the Saskatchewan Arts Board Lifetime Achievement Award and several honorary doctorates, including one from the University of Saskatchewan in 2012. That year, Canada Post featured three of Fafard’s artworks on its “Art Canada” series of postage stamps.”

“I think what was so amazing were the portraits,” the McMichael’s chief curator (and former Globe art critic) Sarah Milroy said. “Whether they were of political leaders or someone from his local community, they all seemed the same. Just folks. I think he showed us all how to not get too big for our britches. Joe had a distinctly Canadian, unpretentious way of seeing the world. That’s what I will remember him for.”

“He stayed in Saskatchewan and he had a successful international career from here, setting an example and an inspiration to subsequent generations of artists,” Anthony Kiendl, executive director and chief executive of the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina said. “He cared about what other artists were doing. He would come to the gallery and see the shows of younger artists. He was a mentor and a leader in the art community. And at this point, I don’t think there’s any way that he’ll be replaced. He was one of a kind. He’ll be deeply missed.”

Literature Source:
"A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume 1: A-F, 5th Edition, Revised and Expanded", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1997
Marsha Lederman, “Saskatchewan sculptor Joe Fafard’s work inspired generations of visual artists”, “The Globe and Mail”, March 17, 2019