Obsolete objects find new life in Shiny Steel

Peter McFarlane exhibit at Steffich Fine Art

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Local artist Peter McFarlane has a unique talent for creating works based on the creative treatment of found materials, with a strong message about human waste and destruction often at the root of his work.

McFarlane was a People’s Choice Award winner at the last Salt Spring National Art Prize for his piece Reclaim Saw, in which he sculpted a chainsaw’s blade to become the forest the tool was destined to harvest. In his new series, now showing at Steffich Fine Art as Shiny Steel, McFarlane deepens the investigation into our use of objects by contrasting refurbished, found metal objects and with hand-carved steel human figures and animals. Working with reference to the readymade’s role in modern art history, he has selected items that have an archetypical Canadian significance and/or industrial use as the base for each piece. The intention of these arrangements is to elevate the viewer’s personal experience with the found objects.

“My hope is the audience will reconsider that ‘mundane’ obsolete object, which fills our landscape and landfill, and realize that garbage is just a lack of the imagination,” McFarlane says in his artist’s statement.

As he explained during Friday night’s opening reception, McFarlane has in fact been engaged with this idea ever since university, since he’s aways had “an innate distaste for waste.” As with Reclaim Saw, the new pieces don’t just work esthetically (although they do this as well), they make a comment on our ongoing impact to the natural world with a particularly Canadian lens.

Sections of steel rail reclaimed from the railway are buffed to a brilliant silver sheen in Bull Elk and Rail. The majestic animal is poised to traverse the narrow rail as if it were a balance beam, suggesting the dangerous interface of industry and animal life in wilderness areas, the extirpation of animals that were once common in this landscape, and escalating global species loss.

McFarlane’s keen eye for form finds delightful expression in Out Foxed, a collaged piece where the layers are cut from old circuit boards rather than paper. A large fleet of yellow hunting dogs races toward the left side of the scene. Meanwhile, the crafty red fox is headed in the opposite direction and just about to leave the right side of the frame.

It’s rather remarkable to learn that McFarlane has only recently taken up steel carving to create the figures in the show, giving himself a new and difficult task.

“Metal is a very slow process. It’s just days of carving,” he said.

The time that’s required to create each small sculpture, though, has allowed him to forge a deeper connection with those figures. Shiny Steel may be just the beginning of a long and fruitful artistic inquiry.

For more on this story, see the July 24, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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