Local architecture inspiration for art exhibit

     David Aylward had no idea when he was working construction jobs in St. John’s and Edmonton that one day the knowledge he was absorbing about building and architecture would find a place in his art. Indeed, Aylward didn’t even know then he would be an artist.
The fruits of what he learned though are evident in a haunting collection of paintings and models that the Witless Bay artist will exhibit at the Five Island Art Gallery in Tors Cove starting October 4.
     Aylward, 28, says he had no idea why he gravitated towards the Fine Arts program at Grenfell College. He graduated from the four year degree program in 2013.
     There was always some “family art” around the house when he was growing up, Aylward says. His aunt Sheila Harvey is a well-recognized and accomplished artist and a great aunt, Lol, also painted. But Aylward didn’t know he could draw or paint until around the age of 22.
     “I’ve had a few jobs in my life,” he says. “I went to school in St. John’s for a while, I worked construction for a while, I worked out in Edmonton at a printing press and nothing was really hitting. Then one day I decided to give it a shot and I really liked it, the school over there was great and the people were great and I stuck it out.”
     Aylward credits his fellow students at Grenfell for encouraging him to work in different mediums and styles, which helped him figure out what he wanted to do. By his fourth year, he struck on a style that his peers agreed was working for him.
     The exhibit being prepared for the gallery in Tors Cove is an extension of that, a depiction of Newfoundland houses and scenes that seem to shimmer in their own light. Aylward’s traditional Newfoundland frame houses almost beg the viewer to step inside to see what’s been lost.
     “I think it’s an accumulation of everything I’ve been doing,” Aylward explains. “I worked construction a lot locally and up around Edmonton, building new houses and restoring old houses. I think it gave me a perspective and an appreciation for that aspect of Newfoundland.”
     Alyward says he a strong interest in environmental issues and the effect of development, subjects he explores in his art. And while he has travelled a fair bit and explored these themes in other parts of the world, the houses depicted in this series are uniquely Newfoundland, capturing traditional forms of architecture.
     “I really like the old style and representing the symbolism of what they might have,” Aylward says. “A new house has so much attached to it, but an old house has so much more, there’s more story behind it, there’s more feeling and emotion behind an old style house. I think it evokes more story and more imagination for the viewer.”
     Not only are the materials different in older houses, Aylward points out, but in many cases so was the way they were built, often times with family and neighbours helping with the construction whereas today the process is more industrial.
     The two model houses Aylward constructed for this series are based on houses that used to stand in Witless Bay. One was located across the road from where he grew up. He always liked looking at it, but never got a chance to see it inside until just before it was torn down a few years ago. “I snuck in there one Christmas and I got to see everything,” Aylward says. “There were old pictures on the walls and there were curtains still hanging up and the house still existed. It was really haunting. And from that moment I decided I was going to stick with that (idea) and I built a sculpture of it and I tried to represent the idea of what was inside the house from looking at it from the outside.”
     Aylward made a conscious decision not to include an environment of land, or fields or ocean around the houses in this series. “I want the viewer’s imagination to kind of take over,” he says. “I find that if I put an environment around the house, that might take over instead of the architecture itself. But I have been told there is a ghostly, haunting, transparent look (to the work). I guess one of the main themes that I do want people to think about is development and history and family so maybe on some kind of subconscious level I’m trying to get that idea out.”
     This new exhibition grew out of Aylward’s participation this past summer in a show at Five Island Gallery involving a number of artists called ‘Between the wind and the water,’ which was about resettlement. Aylward had a few pieces accepted for the exhibit.
Aylward has a great fondness for the gallery itself because of its architecture – an old Newfoundland school house lovingly restored by the Coultas family. He also likes dealing with the curators, Laura, Bill and Frances Coultas.
     “I went up there (the first time) and I was really nervous,” Aylward says. “I brought some work with me and was figuring I would have to sell myself to them. But after a few minutes they were like, ‘Oh no worries, we’re going to take your work, we’re going to give you a show, we just want to speak about the details.’ There was no question in their minds that they were going to give me a show, which was really awesome of them.”
     Aylward’s larger pieces sell in the $400 to $600 range, while the smaller water colours go for $200 to $350, depending on how they are framed. He also has smaller works available at lower prices. And the model houses, that will be part of an installation including a projector and light show? “I have no idea, because I am so emotionally invested in it,” says Aylward. “There’s about five months of work behind it. It’s going to be on the higher end of the scale. It’s probably going to be an amount that no one is willing to pay, so if they decide they will pay it I won’t have a problem selling it to them.”
     The model houses look good enough to warrant display at The Rooms or even Canada’s National Art Gallery in Ottawa. Aylward is flattered by that suggestion. He would like to exhibit at The Rooms someday, he admits. “I’m working on designs for two more houses, so if I get a bit more exposure I might be able to get another show or two and maybe hook something there. The Rooms is a really nice art gallery,” he says.
     Aylward is grateful for the support, including funding, he received last year for his work from both the City of St. John’s Grants for Artists Program and the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council.

Posted on September 28, 2015 .