UNDERBELLY OF CREATIVITY:
ON THE FRINGE OF THE BOW
By Corrie DiManno
Swapping traditional mountain art for unconventional creativity, the Whyte Museum has brought the fringe to the forefront in one of their latest exhibits. On display until Jan. 28, 2018, On the Fringe of the Bow unearths a new layer of imagination found in the mountains.
Stepping into the main gallery at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies feels like entering a big city tattoo parlour these days: framed photographs of full sleeves and skateboards hang on the walls alongside chainmail dripping from mannequins.
It’s a big leap for a museum and gallery traditionally tasked with showcasing the quintessential mountain culture of the Canadian Rockies. So, why venture there?
With a big population of 18- to 30-year-olds living in the Bow Valley, curator of art and heritage Anne Ewen says On the Fringe is both a way to bring this generation into the museum as well as a way to showcase work that falls outside of their usual parametres.
“We asked ourselves, ‘how do we attract an age group who we are missing and how do we make this show about the Bow, this valley, and those who live here?’ Basically, we wanted them to come talk to us and to contribute to the history of this valley.”
To which Ewen discovered: “There’s this underbelly of creativity going on in the Bow Valley that isn’t normally exhibited in a gallery setting, so you don’t get to see this work unless you walk into a shop to get a tattoo.”
And the opening night on Oct. 21, 2017, might have been a surreal experience for some, as old school cool mixed with fresh ink. Ewen describes longtime local legends, people with piercings, and even a “chain gang” showing up for the unveiling of the show: “Seeing these artists with their friends, families, and kids, you realize they are all so supportive of each other. This is one big happy family.”
NOT YOUR GRANDMA’S KIND OF NEEDLEPOINT
Six (out of the eight) artists in the show are tattooists, whose designs on display range from pop culture references to mountain scenes, with portraits of a sloth and David Bowie thrown in. In a couple of cases, Ewen has tacked the artist renderings on drawing paper next to photographs of the finished tattoo to demonstrate the time and process of getting a tattoo. Tattooist Corson Hayes, who specializes in blackwork, dotwork, sacred geometry and nature tattoos, speaks to the idea of a human canvas, which is heavily featured in On the Fringe, which is a departure from the relationship an artist might have with landscapes or wildlife.
Hayes explains how a tattoo can take a couple of hours to a few years to create and complete. During this time, an artist tends to develop a relationship with their human canvas as tattooing often involves deep conversation and the physical act of touching someone, which leads to a form of intimacy. (Not the sexy kind, just the regular type!) There’s also the monitoring of pain levels. Then one day the tattoo is finished and the client pays and walks out of the door, leaving a tattoo artist without that art and that relationship.
“There’s always a silence that comes after any creative act, but with experience you get used to knowing that it will happen and you just have to ride it out,” Hayes says of his 14 years behind the tattoo gun.
Finally, the human canvas will not stand the test of time, and this is a subject Hayes, as an artist, speaks about with a sense of peace and sensitivity.
“We all go back to the earth. I design tattoos with the best intentions of serving people well, but… people don’t last. This is another layer of that silence that happens after finishing a tattoo.”
SK8 DON’T H8
Sharing his personal skateboarding collection in the show, longtime Banff skateboarder and artist Mark Carroll remembers a time when some of the more conservative voices were not so keen on having tattoo shops opening up in the Bow Valley. However, he says there’s been a softening of this view over the years and that nowadays, “you would be very hard-pressed to find a local without at least one tattoo.”
Furthermore, Carroll sees a connection between skateboarding and tattooing, as both continue to be accepted into the mainstream. An example of the way he attributes this for skateboarding is how the local skateboarding community has engaged in town politics with recent bylaw changes and pertinent council meetings.
“The worlds of tattooing and skateboarding are both feeling the new acceptance among the mainstream, but both will and must retain their proud counter-culture energy that gives them their power and pull,” he says. “Both worlds have an uncomfortable and awkward relationship with the mainstream and it’s that uncertain, even dangerous flirtation, that makes things so intriguing and interesting.”
Standing in front of his skateboard collection on display, Ewen quips that there needs to be a “Skateboard Museum of Mark Carroll” built.
“Whether it’s riding, painting, or diving into its history, Mark is absolutely, 100 per cent committed to skateboarding,” she says.
What started as a one-off Halloween costume in 2015 has not only become a part of chainmail artist Larissa Barlow’s daily routine, but a part of the fabric of the Bow Valley’s mountain culture.
“There is a place in modern mountain culture for mediums like tattooing, skateboarding, and chainmail and this show helps to elevate the idea of what mountain culture is,” Barlow says. “The artists in On the Fringe live in the mountains so that makes us mountain artists and doesn’t exclude us from the mountain culture environment.”
While for the most part Barlow’s chainmail is not a literal interpretation of her surroundings, she does draw inspiration from nature.
“The mountains bring clarity. If I’m stuck creatively then I go for a walk and become inspired by what’s around me. You can’t live here without drawing inspiration from the mountains.”
And it’s a good thing the mountains are there to help with chainmail block as Barlow says the average shirt can take her a month to make and a wall piece can take closer to two months. She describes the process of twisting the rings as a calming experience and one that’s rewarding when all of the individual rings add up to the big picture.
Ewen has an even bigger picture in mind when it comes to Barlow’s work. She believes that taking a historically masculine form of battle armour and turning it into high fashion for females is metaphoric. Barlow has a way of describing this concept, too: “the future is female in chainmail… there’s some meaning in there somewhere.”
DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
Tattooing, skateboarding, and chainmailing have been highlighted as curious and contemporary types of art being created in the Bow Valley, but it feels as though it’s only a glimpse of what’s down the rabbit hole…
“On the Fringe represents the culture of the community right now,” Ewen says. “This is a fabulous eye-opener of what is possible and of what is out there in this creative community.”
Meet the artists:
SEE IT FOR YOURSELF
Curious to see the exhibit? It’s on display until January 28th, 2018, at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies at 111 Bear Street in Banff. Adult admissions is just $10 for adults and $4 for students and locals living from Lake Louise to Morley.
Along with her other Banff-based jobs, Corrie DiManno wants to be a freelancer writer. She loves biking, hiking, running, and reading in backcountry huts.
The Whyte Museum inspires discovery and wonder when people and the Rocky Mountains meet. We share stories and explore the culture shaped by this mountain landscape. Our founders, Peter and Catharine Whyte, were local artists and philanthropists who wished to offer a place where people could gather and appreciate the culture and beauty of the area.