Jeff de Boer - This local artist fashions unforgettable objects out of imagination forged with copper and brass
By Jill Sawyer
If it's true that the meek will inherit the earth, then the meekest will be well-prepared. Local artist Jeff de Boer has fortified them in medieval plate armour and antique samurai gear.
Twelve years ago, de Boer became the first person to build a fully articulated, historically accurate suit of armour for a mouse. His designs got a little bigger and he armoured rats and cats (including a kind of jet-pack catsuit). Then came armoured ties and briefcases for "corporate warriors" and the "analog rocket" series, models of pre-digital era space capsules.
de Boer's current work builds on the rocket series' idea of objects inspired by a mid-20th century vision of the future. His designs seem to be influenced by the streamlined industrial architecture in '30s films like Fritz Lang's Metropolis and the gleaming metallic pods of '50s sci fi classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still. They also owe some inspiration to the mail-order world of early comic books, in which X-Ray vision was available for five bucks and a coupon.
Right now, he's working on ray guns. One of the first versions he's designed and built is a set of duelling pistols stamped with the maker's mark "Raymington". They come in a handsome display box with operational instructions for both humans and martians, and in de Boer's world they can be used to zap invaders from outer space from a safe distance. He's got plans for a couple of dozen different ray gun designs to make and add to the collection.
de Boer is constantly answering questions about why he continues to live and work in Calgary. At one of his shows, someone wrote in the guest book "Why aren't you in New York?" as if truly unique work can only be created in certified art capitals. But he's proof that imagination can thrive even here in the foothills, and in fact much of his current work is inspired by experiences he had growing up in Southern Alberta.
As one of the only kids in town who didn't play hockey, he spent a good portion of his formative years dreaming up fantastical systems of defence against team-sports-obsessed kids on the block. And he's one of those rare adults to hold on to those imaginings and make something out of them. In his case, armour and elaborate ray guns.
The son of a tinsmith, de Boer began working with metal at the age of five, and had built his first complete set of armour before he finished high school. A graduate of the Alberta College of Art in 1988, he gained a measure of attention with the mouse armour and went on to exhibit at galleries such as Calgary's Muttart, the Chicago Cultural Centre and Vancouver's Canadian Craft Museum.
He still designs and builds the tiny suits of armour, mostly now on commissions from collectors, and he says he probably will always continue to build them. "My work shows the love affair I have with things that are opposites," he says. "The cat is the opposite of the mouse, but the armour makes it a fair fight."
Now working out of a converted warehouse space in southeast Calgary with a handful of apprentices, de Boer also likes the fact that despite some critics' dismissals of his work (they've said he's more of a craftsman than an artist), he's becoming the opposite of the starving artist.
Western Living Magazine
The Edmonton Journal
Introduction by William Gibson