By: Michael Dennis
When walking through the McMaster Museum of Art this season, you can expect to come across the elegant and refined works of Bertin and Boucher from the Enlightenment.
You might also discover powerful, thought-provoking works from Indigenous artists like Rob Noganosh and Jane Ash Poitras. But there is no other exhibition quite as curious, fun and explosive as the work of Paul Cvetich.
In his most recent work titled Kuniyoshi vs. Cvetich: Gangnam Style, Hamilton-born artist, and McMaster alumni, Paul Cvetich ties together his own playful sculptures with elegant woodblock prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.
Paul Cvetich was raised in East Hamilton before completing his undergraduate studies in Fine Arts and Art History at McMaster, and his master’s in Fine Arts at University of Guelph. In the Hamilton community, he is best known for his Day of Mourning monument in front of City Hall, as well as his twisting, colourful, polychrome wood sculpture pieces.
Kuniyoshi, on the other hand, was one of the late masters of Japanese ukiyo-e style of woodblock prints and painting. He died in 1861.
His work demonstrates a unique blending of Japanese artistic conventions and a western representation of landscape painting and caricature.
Kuniyoshi’s prints often depict images of battle, landscape, and Japanese mythic heroes, which contrast Cvetich’s abstract sculptures that will jump out of the wall at you in a mixture of colour and shape.
Yet Cvetich’s sculptures were not directly inspired by the prints that accompany them at the McMaster art gallery. Rather, Cvetich discovered and fell in love with Kuniyoshi’s art while teaching in Japan.
He was unaware that McMaster had a collection of Kuniyoshi’s prints, and he found a connection between the shapes and movements of the historic prints, and his own abstract works.
“I’m having fun and I hope people can read that from the work,” Cvetich said.
“[I hope] they feel that this guy must be having a ball, and then… maybe make these associations with the other work, [Kuniyoshi’s prints].”
While Cvetich’s work depicts a cross-cultural union spanning over a 150 year period, it more accurately aims to simply show fine art’s more playful side, a trait often lacking in cold and austere art galleries.
Through this, Cvetich also wants to put on display parts of McMaster’s incredible collection unknown to members of the public. One of the most striking aspects of Cvetich’s work is the title itself. Kuniyoshi vs. Cvetich: Gangnam Style is named after the popular pop single written by South Korean pop star Psy. Like Psy’s music video, Cvetich’s work when paired with Kuniyoshi’s prints evokes the same sense of playfulness and imagination.
“I thought something kind of goofy, like Kuniyoshi vs. Cvetich: Gangnam Style… might appeal to people who think art is so serious. It’s not that there isn’t a place for it, but I’ve come to think why not? Why not a bit of goofiness?”
Kuniyoshi vs. Cvetich: Gangnam Style is available for public viewing from Jan 12. to April 15. at McMaster’s Museum of Art. There will also be an artist’s talk on the piece at Mill’s Hardware in Hamilton on Thursday, Jan. 19, 7:30 pm.