Writing and Reviews
By Jeanie Riddle
Director of the Parisian Laundry Gallery in Montreal Qc.
For his solo exhibition at Parisian Laundry, Saskatchewan based sculptor Clint Neufeld continues to find beauty in the banal while interrupting gendered stereotypes of male identity. Two delicate ceramic cast sculptures of car engines and eight car transmissions will be installed throughout the gallery. Nostalgia and memory play a key roll and act as the contextual impetus behind these aesthetic objects, rendering them useless of their design. They present a dichotomy of a romantic tension of memory and masculine and feminine clichés – delicate motif and car envy. Starting from the personal, Neufeld minds his regional prairie past and relationships with male figures in his life. Men who were not necessarily there emotionally but who, in their ways and language connected the artist to time and observing the extraordinary in the everyday.
“Whenever my hands would get paint or stain on them he would get out the old red gas can have me cup my hands and fill them with gasoline, then he would rub them until they were clean. It was kind of an odd act of kindness, something harsh, something that people would never do now, wash a small child’s hands with gas, but it was done with love.”
Clint Neufeld currently lives and works on a farm in Saskatoon. He earned his BFA from the University of Saskatchewan and a MFA in sculpture from Concordia University. His work was recently shown at the Mendel Art Gallery as part of Flatliners, curated by Dan ring & Jen Bundy . He has upcoming solo projects at Two Rivers Art Gallery. Prince George, Estevan Art Gallery. Estevan, SK and Art Gallery of Prince Albert. Prince Albert, SK.
By Bart Gazzola
Saskatoon based artist, critic, and curator.
To make work about male identity in the contemporary Canadian art world is to invite ridicule (at best), dismissal (the standard) or accusations of “sexism” or “misogyny” (dirty words in the current dogma). But the works presented by Clint Neufeld in “Grandpa used to washed my hands in gasoline” are both beautiful objects, and very meaningful objects, and they speak to notions of art making, beauty, and identity politics on both a national – and very regional – level: and all very much situated from a masculine place.
This is not to say that Neufeld’s work is without contradictions: in fact, its contradictions are its strengths. Being of the same generation in Canada, we know that our grandfathers had no issue or thought about what it meant to be a man, whereas our fathers had to adapt and modify, and our generation’s masculinity is best described as a fluid activity. The title is a point of beginning: Clint has said his grandfather and he had these intimate moments only when the former would wash his hands after working on engines and other “male” activities, and you can see how men are often defined by doing, and making. Its here that some of the beautiful – literal, and figurative – contradictions of Neufeld’s engines and transmissions come to the fore. All the objects presented by Neufeld are beautiful, almost Rococo in their floral patterning and colours, and presentation, and all are useless. All art is useless, we know, as it has no utilitarian function: but Neufeld starts with automotive components that are in our minds only when they don’t work, and eliminates their reason for being, and then takes the viewer to a place where our attitudes about beauty and masculinity are not just challenged, but re shaped – re cast, if you will, in a delicate manner.
There is humour here, as well: an engine regally “straddles” a white leather chair with dark wood arms and feet, like a man displaying his priapus proudly: but the title of “Trailer Queen” suggests other ideas, one that intersects with car envy, and references another kind of size envy (we all know what trucks really symbolize). The rich blues and the delicacy of this work defies this crass interpretation, though: then you remember you’re looking at what used to be an engine, that men would gather around and hit with a wrench, talking and spitting and tinkering and handling. And don’t forget to wash your hands (with gasoline) before you go home.
Another fragment of beautiful automotive detritus reclines on a white leather ottoman, like a reclining exotic, classical nude: the weight and the girth of this object are astounding, and the gentle bends and indentations on the sensual ottoman suggests hips and curves….and anyone who understands car culture knows that engines are just as much objects of desire as a woman’s body, just as projected upon, just as wanted. Transmissions sit proudly atop tables, like china bric-a-brac, like “useless” wedding gifts more pretty than functional, or as ostentatious displays of wealth: what they are is not immediately clear to the viewer, and this doesn’t matter on a superficial level, though to examine the work and see how it came to this place, from its point of origin, offers a more nourishing, if still “post modernist” take on masculinity.
Neufeld’s works are nostalgic: the “source” parts are currently useless, he says, and would pass out of parlance (save for a few) if Neufeld hadn’t “preserved” them, in this manner. And this nostalgia seeps into other aspects of “Grandpa washed my hands with gasoline”: nostalgia for masculinity, for labour, for beauty, and these works can’t be removed from their site of creation, in Saskatchewan. This is a site of contested narratives, that often privileges the “past” over “now”, or the necessity of remembering, and the artifacts that Clint Neufeld gives us here serve as catalysts for this. And after all that extrapolation, one might postulate that is in part a nod to masculinity, on a personal level in Clint’s grandfather, but also in that which may be lost, and what might be remembered.
By Jen Budney
Associate Curator at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, SK.
write up from “Flatlanders” Saskatchewan artist on the horizon catalogue 2008
Clint Neufeld’s sculptures involve an intricate play between contradictory forms, materials, and purposes. For the last few years, since graduating with an MFA from Concordia University in Montreal, Neufeld has been working with the most “Saskatchewan” of forms: engines, excavating buckets, and other mechanical devices that are employed with great frequency throughout the province. Yet, unlike the real objects, Neufeld’s sculptures are not made with industrial materials. Rather, they are lovingly handcrafted from such substances as porcelain and wax.
“Although I acknowledge one could read a comment on gender in my work, that’s not my primary intention,” Neufeld said. “I’m simply interested in taking familiar objects and transforming them just a bit, so that we can look at them from a different point of view.” Influenced initially by sculptors such as the minimalist Donald Judd, who simplified his forms in order to make people pay close attention, Neufeld has also been inspired by installation artists like Ann Hamilton, whose works are much more theatrical and literary. There is an element in his work that hearkens to a different time, a time that was both simpler and perhaps a bit more genteel.
The title of Neufeld’s sculpture, Ten thousandths over, refers to the standard to which a rebuilt engine is initially bored to, 10/1000 of an inch over the original cylinder size. Neufeld’s engine has been constructed form ceramic in parts, and decorated in blue and white in the tradition of Delft china. The engine rests on a metal cart, which resembles a tea service, but also recalls the carts used by mechanics to run engines to different locations for diagnostics. Neufeld’s second sculpture, the wax bucket, is part of a larger body of work called Model 105: the elegant series. In this work, a giant hydraulic bucket made of wax and fashioned with porcelain teeth, rests atop a chaise lounge on wheels. The image is incongruous, decidedly elegant as the title suggests, yet a bizarre juxtaposition of brute force and beauty, labour and leisure.
In some of its materials and its deliberate ambiguity, Neufeld’s work bears a resemblance to the early sculptures of American artist Matthew Barney, who shot to fame with an installation of barbells made of wax and petroleum jelly, a gym locker of pink plastic, and a cryptic climbing wall. Like Barney, a former wrestler and football player, Neufeld has a background in decidedly macho activities: before becoming an artist, he was both a corporal in the infantry and a firefighter. But Neufeld’s work is less jockish than Barney’s and more rural—and in this regard decidedly prairie. A stunning new sculpture recently displayed at the Montreal gallery Parisian Laundry—another engine, partially gilded and appliquéd with a delicate rose motif, and resting on an ethereal transparent stand—brings to focus the question of craftsmanship and the exquisite and delicate work that engine builders and designers do. In this respect, Neufeld’s work functions more as an homage to the traditionally male activities of building and mechanics than a critique of any gender associations. “Guys gathering round to tinker on car or truck engine together—it may be a dying art,” Neufeld says. “In part, what I want to do is celebrate this activity and all it entails.”