Thursday, October 30, 2008

Out today: Q&A with Horror-Humour Artiste Diana Thorneycroft

Diana Thorneycroft is well known in Canada and abroad for her early, darkly themed works about the infliction of harm on the body. Her recent series featuring cartoon characters killing each other was on this theme, but also had an interesting copyright spin. Today, the National Post published my interview with her on her most recent--and possibly most lighthearted--body of work to date, a spoof on classic paintings called "A Group of Seven Awkward Moments." Click here or read on after the jump for Thorneycroft's take on everything from the G7 to Bob and Doug McKenzie.

Image of Group of Seven Awkward Moments (Jack Pine) courtesy of Diana Thorneycroft

If it doesn't kill you...
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tomorrow night, millions of Canadians will don costumes and live out the horror and humour that Halloween evokes. But Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft works year-round to integrate both masquerade and morbid joking into art. In her most recent series, The Group of Seven Awkward Moments, currently on view at Montreal's Art Mur, Thorneycroft both imitates and pokes fun at iconic Canuck creations. Here, Thorneycroft tells Leah Sandals how she crafts her artistic tricks and treats.

Q What do you like and dislike about the Group of Seven?

A The one thing I'm critical of is the claim that they represent Canadian art. Writer David Silcox says that their paintings are the visual equivalent of a national anthem, that represent the spirit of our whole country. But they exclude so much. Most of the paintings were done in Ontario and Quebec. And they're all by white guys. I'm not the first person to challenge their legacy, but I challenge it using dark humour.

Having said that, I look at the group's paintings a lot, and I really like them, especially Tom Thomson's. They're fantastic, considering Thomson did these outside when he was freezing or dealing with swarming blackflies. So overall I've really come to admire their work.

Q How did you start making this series, The Group of Seven Awkward Moments?

A I was doing a series called Canadiana Martyrdom, using paintings of Christian martyrdoms as a template. Instead of John the Baptist, I martyred Celine Dion or Wayne Gretzky or Don Cherry. So I was already working with Canadiana.

Then Winnipeg's Plug In gallery invited artists to do pieces for a fund-raiser called Group of Seven with a Twist. Right around that time, the Winnipeg Art Gallery had obtained Tom Thomson's Early Snow. So I bought a poster of it at their gift shop and put it in the background of a scene. Also, I'd recently purchased a toy Bob and Doug Mackenzie set, so I put them in the foreground. Then I surrounded them with wolves, and called the piece Early Snow with Bob and Doug. The response was really great and I thought, "OK, I know what my next project is."

Q Can you describe a couple of those awkward moments from your perspective?

A One of the first ones that I did is called Group of Seven Awkward Moments in Algonquin Park. I shop at Michael's craft store all the time, and I saw a figurine of two kids about to the lick this flagpole with a Canadian flag. It seemed so perfect, because pretty well everyone in Canada remembers when they first stuck their tongue to cold metal. So I played with that, and pushed it.

Another image, Jack Pine, is based on a theory about Tom Thomson's death, that a jealous boyfriend caught Thomson with his girlfriend and murdered him. So in this image the jealous boyfriend sees Tom making out with his girl in a tent, with little paintings Tom might have made also in the tent.

Q In your career, you've moved from portraying the body in rather dark ways to creating these art historical jokes. How do you make sense of that shift?

A What's common with all of the work I've done is the body in harm's way. In my early black-and-white work it was about my own body, and now I'm using all these GI Joes as surrogates. Though it's humorous, it's still about the body in harm's way, like Thomson's body floating in a lake.

Q What are you working on next?

A Well, the next body of work is going to be tough, not funny. The working title is A Group of Seven Atrocities. I started researching things like residential schools, Mount Cashel orphanage and the destruction of Africville, things that have happened in Canadian history that are much more than awkward. Later, I might expand these works to the G7 or G8, which means including atrocities that took place in the States and France and Germany. Basically, I see this going down a road that's a lot less humorous but still appropriate.

But before I do that I still have a couple of awkward moments I want to make! I had a friend build me an Avro Arrow replica, because when [former prime minister John] Diefenbaker cancelled that, it was a pretty awkward moment in Canadian history. I also want do to Santa Claus in a sled accident. Then I will start the harder stuff.

Diana Thorneycroft: The Group of Seven Awkward Moments continues to Nov. 8 at Montreal's Art Mur. Visit for more information.

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