‘Bathed’ in his art

Seth Woodyard explores theological themes through performance, installations

April 12, 2012 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | Young Voices Co-Editor

Masculinity, the concept of home, identity, religion, mythology and work are themes that visual artist Seth Woodyard explores in his paintings, sculptures and installation art—including a wooden bathtub from which he performs.

The concepts may seem disconnected, but through his art, Woodyard, 28, who is now a congregant at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, Winnipeg, aims to bring together parts of his life that are often separate.

This stems from his childhood. Woodyard grew up in a very artistic family. His mother and four of five siblings were artistically inclined, but the way the family chose to spend time together seemed rather odd to congregants at Ottawa Mennonite Church. This created a bit of a tension between the family’s everyday art-making and the hardworking practical nature of the Mennonites, he says.

“Art has always been a part of everyday life for my family,” he says. “I understood that [to others] it was something special, but within our family it was something normal. . . . Mennonites traditionally . . . appreciate work and things for their usefulness. They often mistake visual art as not necessarily being that useful.”

This was Woodyard’s experience until he began working with MennoFolk Manitoba, an organization showcasing Mennonite artists and musicians. He found a lot of young Mennonites who were interested in learning how to understand visual art, make art themselves and take art beyond the traditional conceptions. Woodyard participated in the yearly MennoFolk art exhibit and music performance for four years, from 2005-08.

Prior to his participation in MennoFolk, the importance of art in his life became more and more evident after graduating from a fine arts high school and attending Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) for a year in 2004. He studied history and English literature, which left him with little free time to make art.

“I realized that art was more important to me than I thought,” he says of his time at CMU. “I missed it and found that it was necessary for me to make time in my life for art.”

Woodyard then went on to graduate with a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Manitoba. He has since pursued a career in visual art, seeing it as an important part of his life and, indeed, very useful.

Woodyard has created art for the covers of local newspapers and magazines, including Geez and The Uniter; for the cover of local Winnipeg band Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers’ Hans My Lion CD; and for websites. He has also worked as an instructor and mentor at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and a curator of MennoFolk Manitoba, among other things.

Currently, Woodyard is working on an interdisciplinary installation for an upcoming exhibition. He is transforming the gallery space at Ace Art Inc. studio in Winnipeg into a hybrid sacred space and workshop.

The exhibition, entitled “Good Work,” includes large architectural structures with videos projected on to them and on televisions within the structures. The workshop component will feature Woodyard working on sculptures during the actual exhibition.

“The exhibit is my first really big gig,” Woodyard says. “It is an attempt to bring together three parts of my life that are often separate: my art, my daily labour and my spirituality. . . . By spending my life making art, dedicated to engaging in the creative act, I am using my God-given talents to continually work towards a clearer understanding of who I am, where I come from and how I might make a positive contribution to God’s creation.”

The idea traces back to his childhood, when art was a part of his everyday life with his family and he was discovering a personal faith and making it a part of his everyday life. “Making art and looking at art are a part of my everyday life in the same way that my religion and faith are a part of my everyday life,” he says. “I can’t really separate them . . . .”

At the same time, Mennonites and their ideas of work helped him process the upcoming exhibit.

Woodyard has been working on “Good Works” for two years. The exhibition runs from June 8 to July 13.

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