Gentle artist finds his ‘place’

Sobey Art Award nominee Mark Clintberg brings personal voice to work

For 2013 Sobey Art Award nominee Mark Clintberg words are images and writing is drawing. Like images words have flexible and malleable meanings both in the way they are made to look and in what they can signify literally. Clintberg’s work emerges out of a note-making process which imbues words with a personal voice and hand that he transposes to public spaces proposing and effecting a situation of increased intimacy vulnerability and transparency.

Before pursuing a PhD and MA in art history at Concordia in Montreal Mark was a student of the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) which he calls “a cultural bedrock for the province of Alberta and beyond.” He cites the lasting influence of teacher Mary Scott “always such a subtle smart provocateur” who lent him books by feminist author bell hooks and encouraged his writing and text-based practice. He also recalls the high standards set by teachers such as “Geoff Hunter Laura Vickerson Susan Menzies and Blake Senini [who] definitely raised the bar for us every week of term.” Senini in turn remembers the energetic and eager student as “gentle never arrogant or aggressive or eager to prove a point. He simply became involved in the ‘ place ’ of ACAD and his place in it.”

Place as a specific coming together of landscape and community is a major catalyst for Clintberg’s work as he has demonstrated through recent residencies including Fogo Island Arts and ACAD which culminated in a solo exhibition at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery this past March. These two residencies were opportunities for Clintberg to work collaboratively with traditional rope makers and fiber/textile students respectively creating both a giant fishing net to be cast into the ocean and a massive theatrical curtain which resembled a 1979 lost Polaroid photograph by Daniel Boudinet. These grand sweeping gestures and others — such as his repurposed barn façade that reads and is titled “Behind this lies my true desire for you” — materialize the literary device of oxymoron in their contradiction of scale. This physical poetry proposes that subjective feelings are felt much bigger than oft represented publicly.

The Sobey Art Award is the pre-eminent award for contemporary Canadian art. Now shortlisted as the Prairie and North contender for the $50000 award Clintberg’s empathetic and considerate body of work will be seen by an even greater audience. Despite recent newsworthy denouncements of similar prizes such as the Polaris Music Prize by winners Godspeed You! Black Emperor and last year’s smear of the Sobey presentation as “an appalling spectacle” of pageantry by critic Sholem Krishtalka Clintberg is gracious and honoured “to be a part of the important cultural legacy that the award represents.” Past nominees and recipients have gone on to internationally reputable careers. For example 2009 shortlisted nominee Shary Boyle represented Canada in this year’s Venice Biennale.

Part of Clintberg’s larger philosophical project is not just the negotiation of public/private languages but also the coherent mediation of institutions and artists. In an interview about his recent installation of the barn mural piece in the Art Gallery of Alberta he says “it’s useful to remember that [art institutions] function because of the very individual and subjective feelings and views of each person who works there. All of them have come together because they believe in art for one reason or another.” His originality echoing Senini’s words seems not a case of typical criticality which is easy but in the gentle pulsating reminders of how we can keep lines of communication and understanding open between communities which is harder.

The winner of the award will be announced at a gala ceremony at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia on Wednesday October 9.