Burnaby Art Gallery adds a touch of art to every day routine

Haydn Thomas' artwork is partly inspired by patterns he was surrounded by in his childhood. (Courtesy Harry Booth)

Haydn Thomas’ artwork is partly inspired by patterns he was surrounded by in his childhood. (Courtesy Harry Booth)

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of every day life,” Pablo Picasso once said.

Residents of the Lower Mainland are surrounded by local art in their daily routines: on SkyTrain platforms, downtown street corners, and on the walls of numerous coffee shops.

Burnaby Art Gallery found a new way to share art in its community. The gallery has made it a tradition to display art in public libraries, adding a touch of aesthetic beauty to a place of knowledge.

Three offsite exhibitions have been launched at the Burnaby libraries in November: The Natural Numeral at McGill; Rare Books at Tommy Douglas; and ESC CTRL at the Bob Prittie library. While the first two exhibitions draw from the gallery’s permanent collections, ESC CTRL displays some of the works of the local artist Haydn Thomas for the first time.

While his work has been featured in several exhibitions around the Lower Mainland, this is Thomas’ first solo show. The artist said he is most excited by the fact that the works are displayed in a public space.

“It’s really exciting to put up in a place where there’s a lot more viewers, and you get people that don’t normally go to see art seeing it,” Thomas shared with The Link.

“Art’s pretty alienating, I find, for most people. Not very much of the public goes to art galleries, so it’s really nice to have them up in a public space, where they are forced to see it. And it might ring a bell, it might grab their attention – might not, but then at least they get a chance to see it,” he added.

Jennifer Cane, assistant curator at the Burnaby Art Gallery, agrees with Thomas. She said the offsite exhibitions offer a great opportunity to display the work of local artists, and reach out to a larger audience.

“It’s a way for us to take some risks, and show some up-and-coming artists, and to let people know what we’re doing here,” Cane said in a phone interview.

“More people visit libraries than they do art galleries, so it’s a way for us to show work that audiences wouldn’t generally get to see, and it’s also a chance to show specific types of exhibitions that we wouldn’t show normally at the gallery itself.”

After hearing Thomas talk about his work, a public library seems like a perfect setting for his drawings. His art draws a lot from his surroundings; while it may not immediately look that way, it is a result of an interactive process.

ESC CTRL features a series of doodles that he describes as coming naturally from a set centre point and slowly unfolding into patterns reminiscent of his childhood environments.

“The more you stare into them, the more they unfold and their points of reference reconnect,” said Thomas, describing the drawings featured in the exhibition. “Hopefully it is not stuck on just a piece of art itself, hopefully it reminds you to keep staring until you come out the other side, to nature.”

Thomas finished all the works featured in the show in a month-long drawing challenge two years ago. The project, called Drawuary, forced the artist to complete one drawing for every day in January. The challenge was welcomed by Thomas, leading him to discover a love for organic symmetry in art.

“I’ve been focusing a lot on symmetry; I found that it was an avenue I could keep pursuing, and get excited about and be interested in; it illuminates things constantly,” Thomas explained. “Just like symmetry of a face, or any symmetry you see in nature, it’s not perfect.”

Thomas gave The Link a sneak peek of his latest project: similar to drawings featured in ESC CTRL, it focuses on symmetry in nature; but unlike those works, it uses no pencils or paints.

“I set up the mushrooms in a symmetrical pattern on paper, and they emit their spores after 12 to 48 hours, which leads each mushroom’s spores has their own pattern,” Thomas described. “It makes somewhat of a symmetrical pattern, but due to the fact that they are part of nature, they do their own thing which I can’t control, and I like that element of letting go. If I knew what I was going to end up with, why would I even start?”

To the question where one can see the mushroom prints, Thomas says he will surely include them if he is ever featured in another art show. And who knows, maybe the beautiful symmetry of nature will once again be found in one of Burnaby’s public libraries.

Haydn Thomas’ ESC CTRL will be displayed at the Bob Prittie Library until February 2, 2014.

A version of this article was originally published as a web exclusive for The Link, BCIT student magazine. Read the story and other articles by Olsy Sorokina here.

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