Stephen Near

Arts Beat Throwback THURSDAY

Sculpture for the Eaton Centre is Now Off the Drawing Board and In the Works.
February  1992

“A work of architecture, as a whole and in its parts, acts as symbolic statement, which conveys through our senses, humanly relevant qualities and situations….

The cupola of dome may no longer specifically signify a religious image of heaven; but as an overarching and surrounding hollow it forever preserves an affinity with the natural sky and shares some of its principal expressive connotations….

It is true that the spontaneous symbolism of practical experience has paled in our civilization, not only because of traditional foundation of philosophical and religious ideas has all but vanished, but also because physical activity and contact with nature have been so largely replaced by the handling of rarefied concepts, especially in buying and selling.”

Hamilton Eaton Centre to House an Enthralling and Amusing Sculpture

Cadillac Fairview has a team of designers and architects working on every project to ensure each of their buildings is as unique and beautiful as possible. The Corporation has also sought to enhance the various interior spaces with works of art. The new Hamilton Eaton Centre is no exception. The domed rotunda will soon be home to an original piece of sculpture which, if it works as intended, should enthral and amuse shoppers and sightseers alike.

Karin Mills, of the Toronto-based corporate consulting firm Anthony/Mills Fine Art Ltd., explains that Cadillac Fairview is no stranger when it comes to commissioning works of art for public areas within its buildings. The Canada-wide competition for the Eaton Centre art work, held in 1990 and organized for the Eaton Centre by the Hamilton and Region Arts Council, generated great interest and a wide variety of proposals. The $100,000 commission was awarded jointly by the Centre’s developers, Cadillac Fairview, and the owners, Eaton Properties.

Ms. Mills admits she is leery of such large competitions because of the real possibility of receiving a great deal of inferior submissions. However, she was very pleased with the “high calibre” of the 80-plus submissions received.

Because of the technical constraints of the site, the selections committee was looking for artists experienced in designing and displaying large constructions in public spaces. Naturally, they were also looking for an aesthetic piece of high quality which would “work”. The winning proposal is a multi-piece sculpture by Toronto artists Susan Schelle and Marke Gomes. It is composed of bronze figures in various stages of suspended movement.

Susan and Mark’s proposal caught her attention, says Ms. Mills (she did not sit on the jury), because it showed that they “understand the difference between public art and art in public places”.  Public art, she maintains, has to be able to “work on different levels”. It must attract the attention of the casual observer and hold some appeal for him, as well as stretch the interest and understanding of an art connoisseur.

Although admitting he was “totally surprised” by the honour, Mr. Gomes, 42, says he had every confidence in their proposal. After viewing the site, both artists felt that a hanging piece was inappropriate. Independently of each other, they spent some time walking around the Centre. When comparing ideas later, they both had come to the same conclusion: the panelled rotunda with its domed skylight was the perfect site for a sculpture.

As Mark explains, the area has an “historical reference”. Since the classical age, domes have been the favoured spot for works of art, especially sculpture. The domed skylight atrium area in the Hamilton Eaton Centre “was just waiting for something to happen!, he explains.

This is only the second project for which they have submitted a proposal together, and the first one to be successful. Both artists have been working at their separate Toronto studios for almost 20 years. Mark, who is a graduate of Fanshawe College, exhibits his large-scale sculptures in the Isaacs Gallery. Susan, 44, a graduate of Sheridan’s School of design, started the Harbourfront Art Gallery (now the Powerplant) in 1977. She is also the founding member of the Cold City Gallery, where much of her work is exhibited.

The Eaton Centre skylight, which is fifty feet above the ground, is surrounded by 16 panels with the whole area totalling about 168 running feat. The proposal calls for 95 bronze statues to be placed around the panels, each approximately two feet high. But these are not stiff, classical-looking figures in long flowing robes. These are wonderfully animated androgynous shapes. Indeed, the images as they appear in the artists’ submission, are reminiscent of the stylized dancing figures on an old Greek Vase. Mark describes them as not being truly abstract, but neither do they involve any great detail.

The artists chose bronze as the primary medium not only because of its classical appeal but also because it is relatively maintenance-free. Each of the figures will stand out from the panel so that they will appear to float. Since each one depicts a movement - such as running, striding, vaulting, etc. the effect should be very startling.

Some of the figures will hold letters in granite and bronze. The words “Nature” and “Culture” are in green and pink granite respectively. “Beauty” and “Humour” will be in bronze. As Mark explains, granite is an “organic material while bronze is a manufactured one. Humor and Beauty are also fabrications, subject to changes imposed by the "audience".

The natural light as it pours in through the skylight will play an important part in how the piece is perceived. The “view’ should be constantly changing as the direction and intensity of the light varies.

Susan Schelle notes that she particularly enjoyed working on this project as she is partial to “site specific” pieces. Works of art plunked down in front of a building with no reverence to it or the surrounding area are not for her. A piece, she says, has to be integrated with the site. She agrees that public art is a different medium; the artist strives to “take something familiar and take it to another level”. For Mark Gomes, the challenge in planning a piece of public art is meeting the criteria of physical conditions, use demands and expectations of the audience.

The public will soon have its chance to determine whether their sculptured graceful figures “work”. There is no doubt that the Eaton Centre’s interior will be greatly enhanced by this exciting lively piece.

Down, Trudi. “Hamilton Eaton Centre to House an Enthralling and Amusing Sculpture” Arts Beat, vol. 5 , no. 5, Feb 1992, p. 1 & 17.