The Edmonton Journal
Saturday, November 15, 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Chivalry is dead: Art is not
Jeff deBoer continues to delight us with his fantasy pieces
If the definition of fine art is the capacity of the artist to engage the rest of us in his or her singular personal vision, the identity of Alberta's finest practitioner is a no-brainer.
That would be Jeff deBoer, whose spectacular work opens a two-week run at the Douglas Udell Gallery this afternoon.
"Raymington" dueling atomic ray gun pistol boxed sets, armoured mice, cats and rats, chain-mail ties and tooled briefcases for corporate samurai, unearthed "exoform" sculptures that marry trilobites to armour, rocket ship lamps, rocket cats, jousting French felines, Norman conquerors meeting Japanese warlords on the set of a Buck Rogers two-reeler from a script by Jules Verne, new draft by William Gibson. An Ornette Coleman transcription, performed by a gaggle of medieval sackbut-istes in exquisitely-detailed, articulated suits of bronze and copper. Parallel realities where past, present and future tenses are tossed around like (metal) pick-up sticks in the Big Void.
Here is but part of the universe inside the head of de Boer, a 34-year-old Calgarian who stands poised on the edge of greatness. For Udell, who noticed this French-Canadian guy from Saskatchewan who "did cows" 25 years ago, de Boer is "the next Joe Fafard," that rare artist of a generation destined for serious recognition (and big sales) on an international scale.
Art is a family thing here. Born to a large Dutch Catholic family, working in metal came naturally to young Jeff, whose father is a craftsman for a Calgary sign company ("draw him a sketch and he'll do it") who encouraged the art career from the beginning. Indeed, de Boer and his two assistants still work at the converted garage workshop in the old suburban family home.
He looks forward to his father's retirement, when Dad can come on staff full-time. Wife Debbie is a full partner in the operation, a former editor who handles the print and finishing details.
"We even look alike," he quips over a lunch of lamb and red wine, and there is some truth to it. Neat, short hair, turtlenecks, nifty earrings, sensible shoes, a certain healthy glow. Must be soulmates, dept.
An affable, articulate sort, de Boer rolls over his days at Calgary's Bishop Grandin High ("drug capital of North America back then, what was Grade 11?"), leading to studies at the Alberta College of Art, where he still teaches a course. Inspirational forces included his father, ("use metal whenever possible and get a bigger hammer if it doesn't work"), a priest named Father Cahill, Dan Boss, a working blacksmith, and Neil Seedhouse, a swordmaster who schooled him the discipline and philosophic underpinnings.
Kicked out of the chess club (or so he says), the hockey-challenged "sort of loner" ended up building model remote-control airplanes, hanging around the Glenbow armour collection and eventually parlaying an interest in medieval history to membership in the Society for Creative Anachronism.
Much has been made of his links to the organization (including meeting Debbie, who liked sewing the costumes) that stages jousting tournaments, faires, sundry combats etc., but the all-new Jeff for '97 says it's become historical in his own life.
"I announced my own death - I died in the Holy Land - this year, which seems to have ended a lot of active participation in the SCA."
It isn't the only change.
Although very much a supporter (and beneficiary) of government funding, de Boer's direct ties to business patrons, his own perceived entrepreneurial attack and no-nonsense, 8:30-to-5 work habits have been the subject of various articles in business publications - and odd sniping by critics and other artists.
"I got worried around '92 and '93 when it looked like government grants might essentially dry up altogether, so in order to protect myself I forged some personal ties in the business community. You might say I learned to speak broken corporate-eze. But every artist has to fight their own battles and find their own truth. If my wife hadn't been supporting me for a decade I might have been in the front of the line looking for government help. One thing is for sure - without art we become a culture of workers, eaters and sleepers - in other words, animals."
The whimsical nature of some of deBoer's work provides fodder for the art-establishment bores who tend to equate a well-developed sense of humour with a lack of substance. Happily, de Boer will have none of it.
"Take the ray guns. In the gun world, the guns are real, but most of the issues around them involve a lot of fantasizing. With my guns, they are fake, but the issues around them are quite real. At a gun show, many of the objects are amazing pieces, incredible stuff. But you wouldn't want to go in and hang around a lot of those people. Anyway, there's nothing wrong with making people laugh when that's your intention. There's enough negative art out there."
At any rate, after a banner year, de Boer is inclined to worry less about being taken seriously, with good reason. "I'm learning to relax. Maybe there is something subconscious about being from Calgary - the same holds for Edmonton - of problem solving in a hostile environment.
"I've planned these things down to the last minute detail, the technical end of it is now a given. I've learned that one plus one equals three, that the third step in quantum physics is infinity. The landscape is in my head, and all I have to do is find the time . . ."
Western Living Magazine
Introduction by William Gibson
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