“About 1969-70, I was making some of my drawings of the inside of elephants; people doing all kinds of things. I began to get the feeling I could build a big thing like that…”
- Russell Yuristy, 1981
This exhibition celebrates the poignantly playful multimedia practice of Canadian artist Russell Yuristy, focusing mainly on the dynamic period between 1970 and 1990. Throughout this period, Yuristy crafted a whimsical portrait of the natural world, rural culture and his place in both; emerging as one of the most unique Canadian anti-establishment artists.
Born in 1936, and raised on a farm in Saskatchewan, trained in art at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), Yuristy drew inspiration from these rural roots for his art practice. From a refurbished church-turned-studio in the 1970s, he embraced the subconscious, absurd and everyday experiences in a series of fantastical drawings and ceramics. Through these creations, Yuristy contributed to the development of Regina Funk Art, a pop art movement in which artists used humour and mixed materials to create anti-consumer commentary. During this time, he also founded the “Creative Playground Workshop,” through which he created public commissions: large wooden animal sculptures that doubled as play structures for children.
These animal sculptures foreshadowed his move into wildlife-based drawings, prints and paintings in later years, following his relocation to Ottawa in 1985. Drawing on a practical respect for nature’s cycles of life-and-death as experienced on the farm, his works position his creatures as mirrors for the frailty and absurdity of the human experience.
Presented by Lawson A.W. Hunter
Russell Yuristy: The Inside of Elephants and All Kinds of Things, installation view, Ottawa Art Gallery, 2020. Photo: Justin Wonnacott