Not only is James Tughan a highly recognized Canadian visual artist, but he is also a friend of Northwestern English professor, Samuel Martin.
Nov. 10-11, Tughan will speak in chapel, share poetry in a Deep Song Reading and display his artwork in a show entitled “Triage: New Drawings and Poetry from the Forest Psalter” in the Te Paske Gallary.
Tughan taught Martin Intro to Art at Redeemer College in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada. However, the two didn’t always see eye-to-eye.
“I thought I would hate him,” Martin said. “He marked one of my assignments harshly, and I was upset about the grade, so I made a collage of his written comments for my final project. I was an angsty student.”
Martin went on to say he was unaware the impact this project would have on his relationship with Tughan.
“He loved it, and said that it did what art was supposed to do,” Martin said. “It started a conversation between us.”
Martin was studying creative writing and was amazed by Tughan’s ability to tell effective visual stories. He began showing interest in Tughan’s work.
“I took classes with him all the way through college, and he inspired me to take up an art minor,” Martin said. “James ended up being one of the evaluators at my senior art show.”
Martin has the privilege to introduce his old professor and friend to the NW community. Martin invited Tughan to bring his show to northwest Iowa. Tughan will also be sharing something new.
“Poetry is new with this show, but he has done storytelling before,” Martin said. “He has a famous series that’s traveled around the world called the ‘Dreaming of Lions’ project. This is a series of drawings all telling one visual story.”
Tughan’s fantasy narrative, set in rural China, follows a large cast of characters passing through great adversity and out of imprisonment with the help of a gang of circus characters.
“Jugglers and hang gliders begin an exodus and help a people find their way out of the prison colony,” Martin said. Tughan’s art explores the drastic contrast between extremely close-up scenes and massive panel drawings featuring hundreds of characters. And he does this intricate art with pastels.
“It’s incredible,” Martin said. “People don’t think of using pastels for photo-realism, it is an uncommon medium. But James’ use of pastels is stunning.”
“This show is a return to the style of art he was doing before his ‘Dreaming of Lions’ project,” Martin said.
The style Tughan explores in his show is called cartographic realism. This style involves looking closely at the world and human objects evident in nature.
“These new works explore humanity’s place in the natural world,” Martin said. “They’re incredibly beautiful.”
“A lot of the work tends to have lyrical, visually soothing lines set against dark subject matter,” Martin said. Tughan’s work is rooted in lived experience, and is created to help him and others deal with their experiences.
“It is about dealing with wounds,” Martin said, “The show is closely tied to James’ recent loss of his son.”
Participants at the show will be exposed to detailed images of the often neglected surfaces in nature, such as the Canadian wilderness. Tughan’s pieces invite all to question what spaces in life are often overlooked.
“Unless we look closely, we miss the beauty of these surfaces. There is beauty, even in the wake of tragedy,” Martin said.
“This show is for anyone has ever lost someone, or knows of anyone going through a dark time,” Martin said. “It is for anyone asking how they heal while still acknowledging their hurt, examining these questions through the lens of poetry and art.”
For more information, visit jamestughan.blogspot.com.
Tughan’s show will open with a Deep Song Reading on Nov. 10 at 7p.m. in the Te Paske Art Gallery. The artwork will be displayed in the gallery until Dec. 12. He also will speak in Christ Chapel.