Objectify yourself in Greer’s figures
By ELISSA BARNARD Arts Reporter
(The Chronicle Herald, 2006-09-27)
Nova Scotia sculptor John Greer uses stone and metal to talk about the state of the world.
"With the exception of George Bush in a dinosaur policy of imperialism we have to look at the world very differently now because people are conscious all over the world about the fragility of the world," says Greer.
The artist, who taught for many years at NSCAD University, is having his first commercial exhibit in Nova Scotia at Gallery Page and Strange, 1869 Granville St. He has exhibited widely in public galleries in Nova Scotia, Canada and internationally. His work, Origins, 1995, is permanently installed in the Ondaatje courtyard of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
This exhibit, at Gallery Page and Strange in its new space with vaulted ceilings, has two major, mindbending pieces: two giant bronze feathers, each weighing 250 pounds, in the 1998 piece Gravity and the 2006 Momento (Culture Reflected), a circle of four, tall, standing figures representing the cardinal points.
"The concept is taken from the idea of when people thought the Earth was flat so if you stood on each corner of the Earth you could drop off."
The female figures are made out of Matrix G, a plaster with resin to harden it, but Greer plans to cast them in aluminum in Lunenburg. At their rear the figures have a sensuous torso and limbs and are clothed in exotic-looking veiled head-dresses and garments that loosely suggest North, South, East and West. However, the front of the figures is entirely featureless, flat and polished smooth.
The idea, says Greer, is that whoever looks at the work will be reflected in the flat, frontal surface which will act as a mirror.
"Whoever looks at it completes the figure no matter which direction they come in," Greer said in a phone interview from Texas, where he lives part of the year. "One of the early things about mirrors is people could see outside of themselves, see themselves in the world. This allows you to objectify yourself.
"If you don’t learn to objectify yourself then you can remain quite neutral about what’s happening around you. It makes you more active if you can objectify yourself."
The whole piece is "about reflecting on the state of Western culture now," says Greer. Splitting the world into East and West is not going to work towards solving global problems, he said. It’s important to look at Western culture but be able to walk away from it.
The reference point for these figures is archaic Greece. "I use Mesopotamian and archaic Greek because my base is Western culture and it’s the beginning of it. That’s why I want to go back to the beginning of it to reflect on the totality of it."
The upright giant crow’s feather is held into the gallery floor with a steel pin; the other is arched over on its side. This 1998 piece, a precursor to Greer’s monument to Canadian Aid Workers, Reflection, 2001, in Ottawa, was originally inspired by a competition for a sculpture for Neptune Theatre.
Greer was thinking of the actor’s bow which, he says, contains both humility and pride. "For me this is a personification of the birth of tragedy where life is possible and then next thing is, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to die.’
Gravity, with one feather lying down and the other gesturing, is "almost a homage to humanity and that was a precursor to the memorial."
Greer also exhibits smaller sculptures including the 2006 blue-coloured, bronze hand broken at the wrist like a fragment of Greek sculpture. The large hand is closed and indicates an unknown, hidden object. It’s called Model of the Universe (Blue Hand).
A small, flat, marble pillow out of green marble is also called Model of the Universe, and a flounder, exquisitely carved out of a green speckled marble, is called View of the Cosmos. "Nobody knows exactly what the shape of the universe is. If it has an infinite shape it can be all shapes."
Cabbage White, a sinewy, sensuous, white sculpture carved out of Newfoundland marble, depicts the cabbage-white moth and was inspired by the poem Robert Graves wrote for MIT.
"It’s about the erratic flight of the cabbage moth," says Greer, reading the short, elegant poem over the phone, "and it’s a metaphor for our creative exploration."