Wylie: Infusing art into departures at YLW

Wessels was thinking about a travelling side show as a metaphor for a touring exhibition of work by a contemporary artist.

The six-month-long commissions of single artists to produce work for the Kelowna Art Gallery’s 40-foot-long wall at the Kelowna International Airport continue to be fascinating enterprises.

Johann Wessels: Side Show detail

This public space is very unlike a gallery setting, so from the outset, the Okanagan artists who participate in this program have to consider the passersby carefully. What would be likely to engage their interest as they head to show their boarding passes, remove their belts, shoes and empty their pockets?

A visitor to an art gallery has made a decision to enter the space. A person encountering art in a public space may have a very different frame of reference from which to experience that art.

The installation entitled Side Show by Penticton-based painter Johann Wessels will surely pique the public’s interest, no matter what they know about contemporary art. The pieces are skillfully painted on distressed and oddly-shaped wooden panels, each of which has wheels. With all six of these components in place, one gains the impression of an old-fashioned travelling caravan, featuring freaks, jugglers, sword swallowers, etc.

But depicted emerging from the windows of Wessels’ depicted tents and wagons are instead other sorts of objects—a pool of water, a white dress, an artist’s hand, for example. All are painted with wonderful verisimilitude.

The works are bright and colourful and whimsical—with a Tim Burton-esque dark edge to them. One may also recall artists from the past who worked in a dark or frightening manner, such as James Ensor or Francisco Goya.

In fact, Wessels was thinking about a travelling side show as a metaphor for a touring exhibition of work by a contemporary artist. The production rolls into town and people turn out to look. The artist is a master of mimesis and verisimilitude, but also of distortion and the surreal. Whether consciously on his part or not, his work embodies a dark vision of life.

Wessels holds a BFA from the University of the Free State, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He moved in Canada in 2000 and to the Okanagan in 2011, where he has been exhibiting his work.

As people go by to be processed through departures, they will see the painted, wheeled carts in their peripheral vision and may have the fleeting sensation that these are rumbling along, heading from one town to the next. And then who could blame these passengers if they imagined they caught a whiff of popcorn and developed an urge to have their palms read, or their fortunes told by a mysterious woman consulting a crystal ball?

Johann Wessels: Side Show will remain on view in the well-wishing area (en route to departures) of the Kelowna International Airport until May 11, 2015.