Bright Bears On the Dark Side
Are you wondering why bright orange grizzlies are heading into the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie (AGGP)? The bears are the creation of sculptor Dean Drever whose retrospective show will be featured at the gallery beginning during Alberta Arts Days (September 27 to 29).
The exhibition, curated by Robert Enright, one of Canada’s top art journalists includes, in Drever’s words “everything I’ve ever done.”
Drever has done a lot, and in many different media. From a seven-foot tall human form made of 7500 sheets of stacked paper to very sophisticated stainless steel “knuckle-dusters,” Drever’s works are varied, but have a central theme: examining the human relationship with power and violence.
“The work is slick and economical of expression,” says AGGP curator Robert Steven. “He uses pop culture images that we glorify like pirates, hockey jerseys, guns and bullets, violence symbols that we see as glamorous even though they are horrifying. The subtlety of his art reminds us of the horror.”
Drever’s hope is that the audience looks at their relationship to violence. “There are seductive surfaces. When it’s successful you’re attracted to these things, but then you have to make a decision you’re not necessarily comfortable with. Mostly it’s about sanctioned versus non-sanctioned violence in our society. Violence seems to be okay, until it touches your life in a real way.”
Drever puts the responsibility for society’s ambivalence about violence and oppression on repressed anger. “There is no healthy outlet,” he says, “no encouragement to express and acknowledge the dark side.”
Ordinary objects, when altered by Drever, become markers that change how you look at things. A series of 21 elegant stainless steel baseball bats are inscribed with messages like “The hardest thing that ever happened to you’ and “This is definitely the hard way”.
Are you still wondering what all this has to do with orange bears? The bear is an animal totem for Haida nation member Drever. To him they represent extreme natural power.
These bright bears were originally created for the Toronto Sculpture Garden and have been on display outside AGGP since spring. Robert Steven comments, “They are like spirit animals walking through the landscape reminding people that our relationship with bears is skewed by our lack of interaction with them. A grizzly can tear a person apart.”
Life sized and carved in exquisite detail, but orange, how come? It’s back to Drever’s seductive surfaces luring the viewer into the paradox that is society’s romance with violence and power versus, our experience of those things.
There is no disputing the aesthetic appeal of Drever’s work. His theme of power and struggle persists throughout, covering domestic violence, through racism and mobsters to the supremacy of a huge beast with no natural predators. How the pieces make you respond to these issues can only be answered by attending his show.
Dean Drever has spent much of his life visiting in the Sexsmith area and enjoyed being back in the region. He was also excited to have his exhibition in “what I hear is the most beautiful art gallery in Canada.”