Friday, February 10, 2012

Finding Myth in (Supposedly) Mundane Places: Dorsey James profile up at Yonge Street Media

Whoa, did I ever get a lesson about myth when I visited Pickering artist and arts educator Dorsey James earlier this winter. This guy really has a mental store of ancient stories that he loves to convey--and also relate to contemporary life, whether in the suburbs or elsewhere.

I really appreciated Dorsey's enthusiasm for myth and his ability to convey it. This is even the case when it comes to some Grade 9 Family Studies students that I visited with on the same day at Dunbarton HIgh School. They were working on a symbolic representation of their families, carved in wood. Kids in the Facebook age getting excited about the historical meanings of pyramids and eagles and all-seeing eyes? Not something I'd have suspected.

I tried to convey some of these impressions in a profile of James that was posted on Yonge Street Media this week. Here's an excerpt:

Tell most people that you've found paradise in Pickering, and they'd likely look askance. But artist Dorsey James seems to have discovered it. And you just might feel the same way after visiting his light-filled studio.

Housed in a converted garage on a quiet street along Dunbarton Creek Ravine, the bright, white space is filled with well-used carving tools and fresh sawdust smells. African masks, sketches and inspirational quotes (like Henry Miller's "Art teaches nothing, except the significance of life") hang from the walls. Wooden sculptures in various states of development rest on workbenches, shelves and floors, while offcuts fuel the brass and iron stove, creating a cozy retreat from winter's cold—one that James' friendly black lab, Merlin, and golden-eyed cat, Boo, often avail themselves of as well.

"This is my Shangri-La," James says with a smile. "But be careful of Merlin—he might just lick you to death."

This is pure James: a mix of centuries-old mythical references and warm, down-to-earth presence. That characteristic combination threads through more than 30 years of his artworks, from a small in-studio sculpture that renders Greek gods Selene and Endymion in glowing blonde ash wood to a totem-pole-like public piece at Alex Robertson Park that depicts Demeter and Persephone etched out of flame-coloured cedar.

To find out more--including James' past as a US air force mechanic, and its relationship to his work--read on at Yonge Street Media.

(Image of Dorsey James in his studio by Voula Monoholias for Yonge Street Media)

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