Genesis (the blog)
This seems like a useful and appropriate title for this blog on my artwork. For what it’s worth, I think there is generally a curiosity about where and how art comes about. It seems a useful way to get at what ‘begat’ what….in order to get to what you see here in this artwork. Begat is one of those ‘action’ words - a verb that hints at some rich and fecund connotations in my mind.
So, in these blog entries I’ll say some things about the mix that has come together in this art - ingredients in some volume and density and degree and type and variety and all of it tempered by intent and feeling and history and intensity to get us to where we are. That is, me making this art and you looking at it and thinking about it.
For thousands of years, people have been making fishing lures of some manner. With line made of silk from China and early bronze hooks, the lures were an essential part of every successful fishing kit. The modern end of this long history saw the first commercial fishing lures made in the mid-to-late 19th century. Since then, the wide commercial production of fishing lures has dominated the market. Sadly, that production laid bare the narrower market for those who specialized in individually carved and cast lures and fishing plugs.
My own connection to these pieces of fishing gear stretches only as far back as the mid 1960s. At the time, our family was living in Terrace, British Columbia, on the Skeena River. My older brother, Jim, got a job with Mr. Birch - the Industrial Arts teacher at Skeena High School. This job took him on weekends to Mr. Birch’s trawler moored in Prince Rupert. While I’m sure my brother didn’t last too long on this job (I’ll have to ask him one day), it sure had an impression on me listening to him talk about chugging out onto the water in what sounded like a pretty damned small boat for such a big ocean full of fish.
From time to time, Jim came home with fishing plugs that he’d found on his weekend trips to the docks. Big, chunky, colourful, sturdy plugs of wood painted bright - and now they were worn and chewed by the jagged teeth of salmon and other mysterious fish. I can still recall wondering about the journey each fishing plug had taken to get to me - who had tied it onto a line, who hauled in the catch, where was the plug lost, how big were the fish teeth that put the scratches and dents in the wooden body? Knowing how my brother hangs on to things, it wouldn’t surprise me if he still had one or two of these old Prince Rupert fishing plugs stored away somewhere.
I’ll ask him.
The art work you’re seeing here is the first set of Fishing Plug artworks that grows out of that personal history and that longer connection to the fishers in every culture over the millennium. These aren’t new fishing plugs. They aren’t all shiny and slick and fresh. They are no virgin pieces of equipment in the messy business of commercial fishing everywhere.
I’ve done a few random images of fishing plugs over the past few years, and I’ve found a definite comfort and satisfaction in those works. These, however, have taken my imagination more powerfully, and they have brought out my own personal connection in even stronger ways. Like some other work I’ve done, these have a shattered and fractal geometry kind of approach that gives them some motion; that begins to hint at the shadows of their history; that is comfortable in a nostalgic way for me and, I suspect, for fishermen and women everywhere.
The other curiosity that I think helps bring the pieces to life is the paper - cancelled cheques from the early 1940s. The cheques were given to my parents by the author of those cheques, Al McBroom. Al’s wife, Bess, was a teacher with my Dad at Thornhill Elementary School across the river from Terrace. The couple retired to Kelowna in the 1970s and both passed away here.
I remember Al and Bess very clearly as a particularly handsome couple - he had worked in the forest industry for most of his career and she, a teacher - both always dressed (what I thought was) classy. No kids, and they were always comfortable to be around. Al left my Dad a diary he’d written in 1938 - seems that Al and his sister and brother-in-law had driven a car from Penticton to Tweedsmuir Park in 1938; the year after the park was dedicated by Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir. What a wonderful descriptive diary of ‘moving amid the mountains’ - I still have it.
As art paper, the cheque paper isn’t as challenging as I thought it might be - perhaps a reflection of different paper production and an older expectation that cheques ‘meant something’ so the paper quality was better.....who knows. Al was an avid fisherman, and this seemed like an appropriate way to pay tribute to someone’s personal history and to layer my own history into the palimpsest of it all.
I hope you enjoy these ‘Fishing Plugs’ as the first of a series I’ll be doing over the next few months.