Sculptor teaching unusual art form

By Diane Campbell

The Ottawa School of Art recently brought Canadian sculptor Jeff de Boer to display his work and teach students some of his techniques in metal-forming workshops.

De Boer, a Calgary native, says his love for art as a child set him apart from his peers.

“Every other boy in my class was in hockey school,” he says. “So I guess I was a little bit outside the world right at the beginning, because I didn’t fit in with the other boys.”

But this doesn’t seem to have hurt de Boer one bit.

From the twisted metal thorns surrounding the Biblical etchings on the nickel-plated face of A Complex Jesus, to the miniature but mighty steel and brass bodies of his Rocket Mice gleaming from their glass case, de Boer’s work combines precision and skill with his own personal vision.

Jeff Stellick is certainly someone who has become an admirer of de Boer’s work.

Stellick, executive director of the Ottawa School of Art, says he first saw de Boer’s work on the cover of a Canadian science fiction magazine, but initially dismissed it as an airbrushed computer graphic.

“The next day,” Stellick says, “I looked at the cover photo again and realized it was a sculpture done in soft-focus.”

Stellick says it wasn’t long before he tracked down de Boer and asked him to send slides of his work, whose quality thoroughly impressed him.

Now, de Boer’s work is being shown at the art school, thanks to a little help from some friends.

Every year, the school runs a “visiting artist” program.

The program is partly supported by the Chawkers Foundation, an Ottawa-area organization that gives funding to Canadian artists.
“The idea is to expose students to new and different work,” says Stellick, “and this is definitely new and different.”

De Boer says he loves the way his art attracts different types of people.

“People are always impressed with my craftsmanship. I always keep hearing, ‘Oh, it’s so nice to finally see an artist that makes nice things’,” he says.

“I guess I’m a bit of a champion for the return to craftsmanship, but that’s not what it’s all about. I just happen to be a good craftsman.”

Many pieces featured in de Boer’s exhibition, Articulations, combine images of medieval Europe and the Far East with futuristic images.

That is the case with de Boer’s carefully constructed “exoforms,” some of which resemble ancient warrior helmets, others taking on more abstract forms.

Of all his sculptures, the pieces of miniature armour he’s created for mice, rats and cats are getting the most attention.

“When you pick them up, they all feel like toys. When we were setting up for the exhibition, it was like Christmas morning for us,” says Stellick.

“The mice are nice, but the cats are to die for.”

De Boer says his art is meant to make people laugh. But he believes it should also make people think.

“It’s a good thing to introduce yourself to people with a sense of humour,” he says. “But I also think I’m producing some very serious art at the same time.”

Aline Dubois, a student who took de Boer’s metal-forming workshop during his stay in Ottawa, says she was really impressed by his work.

Dubois adds she has developed a new respect for metal as an art medium.

“It’s really interesting to see work in this type of medium, and it really opens up a vision of new art forms,” she says.

De Boer’s unusual works will be displayed — for the first time in central Canada — at the Ottawa School of Art until Nov. 27.