Host Chris Wolf had the opportunity to chat with Winnipeg artist Jordan Van Sewell about his art, his Gallery, and the pandemic.
The COVID 19 Pandemic and the varying degrees of lockdown have been with us now for almost a year now, and it goes without saying that small business have taken on a significant financial burden through the lockdowns over this past year.
Anyone who is involved in the arts is all too aware of the stress that the pandemic has had on their income. For many artists paying the basic monthly bills has become a trial. Arts organizations and the individual artists have felt the effect of the pandemic, as their crafts have been viewed by many as superfluous, or “extras” in this truly unique time.
Jordan Van Sewell has been a ceramic artist here in Winnipeg for almost 50 years. He has had works exhibited at various art galleries around the world, and has made his living as a full time sculpture artist, which is no small feat even pre-COVID. He has his own gallery at the Forks Market that showcases some of his truly unique work and acts as a gateway to his truly unique artistic world.
The fascination with working with clay comes from his early days as a child playing with what Jordan calls “Red River Gumbo,” simply making mud pies. This tactile fascination with mud, never really went away, and as a teenager he came back to working with clay. “There is an allure of the material,” says Van Sewell, “I get to turn this river bank mud into a permanent piece of art…and with the help of the kiln and many years of experience I can make whatever I want, so that keeps me coming back to the bench every day.”
Sewell describes his art as “California Funk” or “figurative narrative whimsy”. He cites the Peanuts cartoon strip creator Charles Schultz and “Big Daddy” Ed Roth as influences, but also pop culture, and the California movement of tongue and cheek whimsy and the celebration of color and form.
Jordan van Sewell has been operating a gallery at the Forks now for over two years. The space he is in now has had a storied past. Thirty years ago the space was a gallery, and before that it was a freight shed for the railway. “I feel that I am ensconced in this beautiful history of Winnipeg.” says Van Sewell. You can find his gallery on the second floor of the Forks right at the top of the curly stairs.”
“It’s through the generosity of the Forks Market that I am there… I think I have lent something to the whole vibe of the Forks, by having a gallery,” Van Sewell says. He has not only added to the vibe, but also to the aesthetic. On the main floor of the Forks; just behind the Commons indoor bar, there are three canoes that Van Sewell crafted in 2017. The three canoes are painted in primary colors, with a total of 22 characters paddling these canoes. “It’s supposed to be an all-inclusive portrait in time of our society…I hope that people can go there and look up and identify themselves, and perhaps identify their neighbors and what it is to be Canadian,” he says.
When it comes to the topic of the pandemic, Van Sewell seems to be taking things in stride as best he can. When the lockdown at the Forks happened Jordan says he continued to do work out of his home studio in Point Douglas. “A lot of what I created was inspired by the pandemic. Not by the nature of the pandemic, but by the fact that it suggests to everyone that we better get a move on. If you had things to do, that was a pretty good time to be getting them done.” Van Sewell says. “And now I have a Gallery full of new stuff as a result.”
When it comes to giving advice to artists in ways to weather the pandemic, van Sewell says just keep going. “Working as an artist is one of those things you are driven to do…and whether it’s the water or the long frigid winters that we suffer through...there is a resilience to a Winnipeg artist that I’ve never experienced anywhere else…Keep doing it, because if there is not work for those young artists now, I think in the world that we are creating there is going to be a lot of work for them in the future.”
The optimistic outlook that Van Sewell has is helped by the fact that Winnipeg has such a tradition of a strong, incredible arts community. For him it is unique. “It’s as unique as the prairie, as the bison that roam it or the polar bears up north.” And he can’t see the arts community here in Winnipeg dying of neglect. Wonderful and encouraging words from someone who is truly an icon and mainstay of the Winnipeg arts community…
If you want to meet and see/buy Van Sewell’s artwork, he encourages all visitors to the Forks to drop by the Gallery at the top of the curly staircase at the Forks.
If you missed Chris Wolf’s conversation with Jordan Van Sewell, you can see the entire conversation here: