A Tune to Art: Sculptures and Song brings back into perspective the out-of-whack-ness of the contemporary art scene where galleries resemble corporate businesses, the entire world is digitalised and one-to-one has become a novel marketing concept. A Tune to Art is a road show and like a medicine wagon pulling into town it delivers a much sought for remedy to “the worrying well”, the condition that plagues this era when divorced from the insights derived from commonality.

The concept, production and presentation of A Tune to Art is built from the most basic of human constructs — family. It is the theme of the tune and like the great family circuses that once thrilled, there is a balance between skill, support and risk in creating feats that marvel. Sculpture is the focus and Joe Fafard is without doubt the ring master while his son Joël (the Song) is on the high wire captivating his audiences with a sincere hilariously witty narrative built upon antidotes of his life with his Order-of-Canada, famous, creative father.

An eighteen foot trailer pulls up and three Fafards —father, son and nephew, Phil Tremblay, who is in charge of the foundry when back in Pense, Saskatchewan, emerge from the truck with the musician Joel Schwartz (in the concert referred to as “Father, Son and Holy Schwartz”). Everything is designed, precise, fluid — from the manner in which the pieces travel to the design of the plinths and the fold-out stage. The tour alights for an evening in diverse but culturally convivial centers between Gibson’s Landing and Quebec City. The evening begins milling amongst Joe Fafard’s patinated bronzes followed by a concert with Joël Fafard and Joel Schwartz, each an accomplished guitarist, playing interpretations of classics as well as their own soul stirring compositions. Many of the tunes relate directly through the lyrics or honed instrumentals to Joe Fafard’s sculptures. Long Black Veil is the title of the sculpture depicting a raven displayed high so that a par with the beak enables a view down the throat to a hollow darkness.

Canadians often link Fafard’s work to domestic animals and the intimate portraits of the people from Pense, Saskatchewan or the art world — both ‘inside tracks’, insular and shaped through context. Fafard now introduces wild animals, approachable, like the Caribou, On Top of the World or disarming like the racoon or bear waving a hand for acknowledgement.

“There are many animals. The human is one of them. Some animals are local. The human is everywhere,“ Fafard says.

The last works completed (three didn’t make the catalogue) are four figures where mythology makes an entrance on the farm at half human height. The transition that occurs on each body, from black skin to leathery white makes for a curious mulatto but the pigmentation adds to the visual logic of an animal’s head upon human shoulders. Domestique Minotaur and Ms. Hathor mid life, paunchy, pinch-ably plump, have bovine heads that seem correct for their unabashed nakedness. In Fresh Evidence, a bull-headed bare-chested male with legs crossed casually in white pants and two toned shoes seems to be hanging out in some southern clime. Madame Toulouse has a sheepish vulnerability. Bare nubile breasts and girlish legs suggest that she is young, waiting in sensible shoes and a mini skirt, purse clasped demurely. She is appealing, even love-able, and this character that Fafard has created reveals the pathos of prostitution in face of such sweetness. It also brings to mind Edward Albee’s play “The Goat”.

Joël Fafard and Joel Schwartz’ album Borrowed Horses, produced for the tour, is as beautifully crafted as Fafard’s sculptures with the roughness of Fafard’s voice exemplified in comparison to Schwartz’s lyrical musicianship. Fafard’s gritty delivery comes to the fore and even if the repertoire often speaks of the darker side of existence (Walking Boss, Solid Gone, Ain’t No Grave — even Schwartz’ instrumental is titled The Disappearance of Madame Toulouse) a justification comes round when the titles attach to the sculptures. The sculpture, Walking Boss turns the table on the song as the underprivileged bear gains an upper hand initiating a greeting.

A Tune to Art: Sculpture and Song — because it is built on the firm foundation of Joe Fafard’s lifetime achievements, created through community with family involvement and backed by quality workmanship — is invested with belief. And the Fafard show does it all with a sense of humour that is a delight to be around. This is truly an evening to catch. 

A Tune to Art: Sculpture and Song is in Winnipeg at the Mayberry Gallery Nov. 08, in Toronto at the Gladstone Hotel on Nov.12, in Ottawa at Cube Gallery on Nov. 14 and 15, in Montreal at Chateau Ramezay on Nov.16, in Sherbrooke at Musee des Beaux Arts de Sherbrooke on Nov. 19 and finishes in Quebec City on November 20 at Les Musees de la Civilisation.

A Tune to Art: Sculpture and Song began touring in Regina at Slate Gallery October 15 and 16. It travelled to The Bassment in Saskatoon on Oct 18, Lloydminster at the Roots Emporium on Oct 19, Edmonton at Festival Hall on Oct. 20, in Calgary at Festival Hall (presented by the Calgary Folk Festival) on Oct. 22, at Headbones Gallery in Vernon on Oct. 24, at Summerhill Winery in Kelowna on Oct. 25, in Vancouver Oct 28 at Heritage Hall and finished the first leg of the tour in Gibson’s Landing at the Gibson ‘s Public Art Gallery.

Joe Fafard is represented in Montreal by Galerie de Bellefeuille.