Inspired by his own exploration of family history, a local artist has created a fascinating exhibit reflecting the importance of legacy and remembering those who have gone before.
Grave Matters, a series of collages incorporating drawing, photographs, textures and colour by Paul Boultbee runs through to the end of November at the Corridor Community Gallery (located in the basement of the Recreation Centre).
Last year, Boultbee spent two weeks at Spark Box Studio in Ontario studying an extensive genealogy of his father’s side of the family.
“One of the things I found that was particularly fascinating was the number of people who were either artists or Church of England priests,” he explains with a smile. “Every generation would have one or both of those from at least as far back as the mid-1700s.”
A knack for artistic interpretation certainly runs in the family. Boultbee is of course one of Red Deer’s most talented artists – on many levels. Besides his mastery with the visual arts, he’s also a gifted actor.
“I thought, well, I guess I’m fitting in where I’m supposed to be fitting in.”
He also explored Picton’s Glenwood Cemetery while in Ontario, photographing gravestones and then later spent time doing the same in the Red Deer cemetery.
“While I was in Picton, I was also reading this genealogy of family history back to the 17th century on my father’s side. And it all started to come together.” Boultbee was actually working on a different project at the time, but during his time out east he began thinking about mortality, legacy, family and appreciating the connections in life that we all ultimately share.
“We know about these people; we can read the gravestones. But what died with them? What secrets did they take? I just started to piece all of that together.
“What do we not know about our families, and what do we find out as we investigate?”
The works are incredibly interesting – moody, dream-like; sometimes vibrant and stark. His clever use of charcoal injects the works with kind of an surreal, other-world sensibility. Outlines of gravestones are washed over by muted tones and often convey peaceful and thoughtful tones.
As mentioned, inspiration also came from walking tours through the Red Deer cemetery with staff from the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery. One of the more poignant and striking pieces in the exhibit has reference to a particular gravestone Boultbee came across.
“This series reflects the lives of the well-known and the not so well-known, as well as those Red Deer citizens with whom I have had a close relationship.”
Looking back, Boultbee has had an interest in cemeteries since his youth – he once was a groundskeeper for one in his hometown of Paris, Ontario for a summer.
“It was isolated, I was there by myself and I found it very peaceful. I still find cemeteries peaceful places to go and wander through.”
In his artist’s statement, Boultbee explains that he’s at a point in his life where reflection has become more of a focus.
“I turned 60 last week, and I was thinking that is a milestone. My father also passed away this past spring. It makes you think about what you are doing and why are you doing it. This sort of thing helps me think about that,” he explains, referring to the portraits. “It doesn’t give me any great revelations. At least it hasn’t yet. But at least I can ponder it.”
Ultimately, Boultbee describes Grave Matters as a personal and community response to those who have come before. The exhibit also asks viewers to consider those who have passed on, whether we knew them or not, because as he also points out they are the ones who helped make the community what it is today.
“I hope people draw from it a sense of community or a sense of belonging. We all belong – at some point – to a family,” he says. “If you start looking back far enough in your family, you realize how huge it gets. Even if you are an only child, you have two parents who each had two parents and so on. You don’t have to go far back to realize we are all connected to each other.”
Check out www.paulboultbee.ca.