John Jānis Šteins

:: Artist ::

A Wonderful Legacy & Exhibit

Ilgvars SteinsHow lucky I am to have a dad – Ilgvars Steins – who still makes amazing art well into his eighties. Shown above is a recent watercolour/pen & ink titled Soup du Jour.

Since moving in with us he has been busy making new work. He doesn’t get out very much but I’ve tried to include him as much as possible in our active arts scene in town. That means a membership in the Dawson Arts Society which has a hand in our foundation year art school called Yukon School of Visual Arts.

The school’s gallery space is made available in the summer as an exhibition space, so last spring I applied to have a show of dad’s work. My proposal was accepted and we got slotted in for a two week stretch in the middle of this past July at the Confluence Gallery.

Summer around here is nuts, meaning it’s hard to get anything done. Add a few unplanned trips to Ontario into the mix and the clock for putting together a show starts running out in a hurry.

Enter my saviour Kerri Reid! She is a visual artist from Toronto who completed a residency here at the Macaulay House during this summer. Kerri made friends with Ilgvars spending lots of time hanging with him in his studio.

Kerri ReidI asked if she’d help curate dad’s show and luckily for me she agreed. Here’s Kerri in my messy woodworking shop – the only available working space – with two of Ilgvars’ pieces that were selected for the show. I know she was especially partial to the one on the right.

In any case, Kerri’s input was a life saver. And it didn’t end there. Our friends at the Berton House writer’s residence joined the fray as well. Jeramy Dodds and his partner Brecken Hancock, both of whom are distinguished poets jumped in and helped pull everything together.

What a huge compliment to Ilgvars’ art that all three would take valuable time away from their own residencies to help do the work of curating, assembling and hanging the entire show. Over the span of 3 intense days we matted and framed over forty of dad’s works for a show that was scheduled to open at the end of that week.

Brecken Hancock, Kerri Reid, Jeramy DoddsWe did it!

Here’s Brecken on the left fussing over one of the mats from her long cutting list while Jeramy assembles another maple picture frame. I was working the chop saw, bucking up the lengths and feeding them to Jeramy’s station. Kerri did all the glass cutting. What a job!

And I am so, so indebted to these guys, I can barely express how grateful I still am. If it weren’t for their help it would have been not even half the show that it was.

Keri installing the showJeramy transported all the work over to the gallery. Here Kerri surveys the lay of the land and how best to order the pictures and how to tackle the onerous job of hanging.

A wall of Ilgvars' artWe decided to go for a salon type of display for two groupings of similar work. By similar I mean same time period and format. My brother Oliver framed these six earlier. Ilgvars made these images since moving to Dawson City.

gallery viewWe had window openings to deal with but all in all it worked out well.

The purpose of the show wasn’t to display a definitive body of work but rather a casual survey of Ilgvars’ work from his time as a student at the Ontario College of Art to the present day which spans approximately 50 years. I think we succeeded in revealing his indisputable mastery of drawing, composition and use of colour. Not to mention his versatility of technique.

Botanical illustration by Ilgvars SteinsIn addition to his private practice Ilgvars held some amazing day jobs. His favourite was working as a scientific illustrator for the Canadian Department of Agriculture at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa.

Kerri and I thought it appropriate to show some of his illustrative work, so we set up a few plinths in the centre of the gallery which held several binders that people could leaf through and admire. The drawing above is one of the examples that was shown.

Gallery audienceAs you can see the audience is mesmerized by my opening remarks at the vernissage of the show. I’m out of the frame on the right and did all the talking since dad didn’t want to say much although he was delighted with the way everything turned out. It was billed as a Father & Son show but my contribution was a couple of images where Ilgvars was the subject.

Viewing the artwork with Ilgvars in the background.I’m showing Reinald Nohal (red shirt) around the gallery. He co-owns the Paris Café in Berlin which is home to many works by the postmodernist “bad boy” Martin Kippenberger and was a famous hang-out in the sixties and seventies for the local intelligentsia when it was known as the Exile Café. My dad is holding court in the background.

The feedback we received was very encouraging and supportive. I think people were blown away by the caliber of Ilgvars’ work. Let the postmodernists take note and learn about actual artistic skill combined with the ever precious “narrative”. Let them learn about truth and reject falsehood. The medium is not the “message”, rather it’s only a way to expressing a deep and enduring creative soul.

Father and sonThe faithful and adoring son next to the artist himself who’s taking it it all in. Now I’d like to shop the show to some other venues, we’ll see how it goes.

Many thanks to Tara Rudnickas for her photos of the gallery opening.

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  1. Rob Ingram August 21, 2010

    I am totally wowed. I love the strong colour, simple yet calligraphic lines and, yes, the macabre subject matter.

  2. John Steins August 21, 2010 — Post author

    Thanks for your comments Rob.

  3. Shary Boyle August 22, 2010

    If only I could have been there to see all those fantastic works in one room, beautifully prepared and mounted. i recognize many from Ilgvars home in Toronto, works that are completely unique, fascinating and disturbing in the best of ways. Always his dynamic imagination blazes, all together the gallery must have vibrated with the force of his careful lines, wild colours and haunting images. Congratulations to all of you for pulling it together- and especially to Ilgvars for his astounding work. He is a true artist and a role model for all of us following that path. I send my kisses north through space.

  4. John Steins August 22, 2010 — Post author

    Thanks Shary, I know dad would have been thrilled to have you here. I’ll pass along your greetings.

  5. Tots Grins October 21, 2011

    A late comment, happened to stop by. I am glad to see that Ilgvars is still active. He was a good friend of my late father Ervins, and my brother and I have some of your dad’s work from the 60s and 70s.

  6. John Steins October 21, 2011 — Post author

    Tots, thanks for dropping by. I think I met your father a long time ago.

  7. Valters November 14, 2012

    Manaa iipashumaa ir Ilgvara glezna – Puukjis. Paardoshu 5k

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