JOHN GREER
JOHN GREER

retroActive, 2015

A person’s body of work is always in flux; and older work is more retroactive than retrospective until that person no longer continues to work.

- John Greer

 

John Greer: retroActive celebrates nearly fifty years of inspiring and enlightening production from one of Nova Scotia’s most important artists, John Greer (b. Amherst, Nova Scotia, 1944). This project offers insight into Greer’s art-making from the late-1960s to 2015, featuring work from the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s Permanent Collection, key loans from outside sources, and recently created artworks never before displayed. Signature examples made of carved stone—Single Grain of Rice, 1991, Civilization, 1990-91, etc.—and cast bronze—7 Rosebuds in Iceland, 1994, Thinking Back to Gertrude and Henry, 2015, etc.—to more ephemeral objects illustrate Greer’s full oeuvre and steadfast commitment to the broader discourse of sculpture.   (see more text below images)

 

 

All images photo credit: Steve Farmer; Courtesy of Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

John Greer: retroActive celebrates nearly fifty years of inspiring and enlightening production from one of Nova Scotia’s most important artists, John Greer (b. Amherst, Nova Scotia, 1944). This project offers insight into Greer’s art-making from the late-1960s to 2015, featuring work from the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s Permanent Collection, key loans from outside sources, and recently created artworks never before displayed. Signature examples made of carved stone—Single Grain of Rice, 1991, Civilization, 1990-91, etc.—and cast bronze—7 Rosebuds in Iceland, 1994, Thinking Back to Gertrude and Henry, 2015, etc.—to more ephemeral objects illustrate Greer’s full oeuvre and steadfast commitment to the broader discourse of sculpture.

The twenty-six years Greer spent teaching at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design have helped to shape contemporary sculpture practice regionally and across the country. Since 1967, he has been included in more than 100 exhibitions in museums and galleries in such cities as Seoul, Montreal, Calgary, Toronto, Washington, Madrid, and Halifax.  His work is held in public collections across Canada, including in those of the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, MacKenzie Art Gallery, Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Dalhousie University Art Gallery, Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery, and Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. In 2009 he was the recipient of the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts, Canada’s highest distinction in the field of art and culture. 

Rather than a staid chronological overview of Greer’s career, temporal lines are blurred in the presentation of John Greer: retroActive as if to mirror the artist’s own time-resistant stratagem. He states, “I am interested in the retroactive nature of art making where a new work reveals some of the underlying concerns in older work, bringing those concerns to consciousness.” Following this logic, works from the 1970s—take Ladder of Commitment, 1976, for instance—can be found displayed alongside those from the 1990s to present day—Black Seeds, 1994, Threshold, 2015, and Time Keeper, 2012.  This format aims to make visible Greer’s careful thought process. It reveals a range of reflections and insights revisited by the artist over the decades that intertwine art and life, whether via works produced here in North America or abroad.  

 

Greer began to visit the quarries in and around Carrara, Italy, in the mid-1980s and since then has maintained an active studio presence in nearby Pietrasanta to complement his production at home and studio in West Dublin, Nova Scotia. For centuries artists from around the globe—Michelangelo, Henry Moore, and Damien Hirst are some notable names—have gravitated to this small Tuscan town located at the edge of the Apuan Alps, in the heart of the country’s renowned marble region, for its unique access to the area’s raw resources and, in turn, the industrial commercial and infrastructure that has resulted. In this confluence of geological and cultural history, Greer started to use the vocabulary that he developed with his work as a conceptual artist in combination with so-called “traditional” materials, prompting substantial production if not clarity and direction. 

 

Today, as it has been for a while now, his work is rooted in a conceptual exercise that aims to physically merge elements of language, image, and ideas. As previously explained, “Greer says, ‘Art is a voice in the world, not an utterance, but a constructed thought.’ That is, sculpture is not an idea de-materialized, but rather re-materialized, an idea made flesh, as it were.”[i] With this thinking in the artist’s capable hands, his studies and explorations, whatever the subject or topic, are given expanded dimension and breath.

 

An attendant publication of the same title brings into further focus Greer’s significant contributions to the world of art, providing the most comprehensive critical analysis of his practice to date. The individual contributors to this aspect of the project—Ray Cronin, Andria Minicucci, Dennis Reid, Ron Shuebrook, and Greer’s wife, Vanessa Paschakarnis—bring a distinctly personal perspective to an examination of his diverse production and wide influence.  This fully-illustrated, hard cover book was carefully and sensitively designed by Susanne Schaal and the majority of the images of Greer’s work were photographed by Raoul Manuel Schnell. The collaborative approach taken by the artist, designer, and photographer has yielded a rich, high-quality document which is certain to be meaningful to readers and researchers for decades to come beyond the parameters of the career survey exhibition itself, John Greer: retroActive.

 

David Diviney

Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

 

[i] Ray Cronin, “An Idea for Sculpture,” John Greer: Reflecting on Culture (Halifax: Gallery Page and Strange, 2006). Exhibition catalogue.

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Bus Shelter in Halifax with retroActive poster!
Thinking Back to Gertrude and Henrie, 2015
Installation View retroActive with Threshold, 2015; Civilization, 1990/91; PaperMoney, 2012
Wait of Water by John Greer, 2014 Bay of Fundy Detail of Wait of Water, October 9th, 2014; retroActive tied up, tide down, looking back across the bay where the piece was first realized in 1972
National Gallery of Canada : THE PROUST QUESTIONNAIRE
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