Joseph H. Y. Fafard
C.C.; B.F.A.(Man.); M.F.A.(Penn.State); LL.D.(Reg.)
Today we honour an immensely gifted and creative Canadian artist whose sculptures in clay and bronze are animated with an uncanny vitality that embraces human and creaturely existence. Through the realistic forms of his cows, horses, and other animals, or his favorite artists and neighbours, his work reaches us with immediacy that transcends academic analysis. In his art we recognize ourselves and our fellow creatures with an affectionate understanding accessible to the entire human community.
The remarkable relationship that Joe Fafard has established with his audience shows that fine art can still create a direct exchange with the public that feeds their imagination and energy without relying on a meaning separate from its own visual poetry. Immediately accessible, yet fundamentally mysterious in its power to embody feeling, his art expresses an experience of the fully alive human or animal presence, with their characteristic postures, gestures, and attitudes. The work requires no explanation but itself, and in this lays both its originality and subversive nature.
Born into the rural French speaking agricultural community of Ste Marthe, Saskatchewan, as a child Joe Fafard worked on the family farm with an innately keen observation and appreciation of the animals around him, especially the cows that he later sculpted as "partners" on this earth, or as he says, "the vegetarian is enemy to the cow." He studied fine art here at the University of Manitoba, where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Art in 1966, while it grappled with its purpose as a fine arts academy or university. His studies continued with an Master of Fine Arts in1968 from Pennsylvania State University, where ironically he found that his instincts had more power than the hobbling self-critical analysis that he was taught. Of this he says, "When you are having a great time laughing with friends you don’t stop to say, Why am I doing this?"
He returned to Regina and taught sculpture at the University of Saskatchewan from 1968 to 1974, when he was driven to a full time commitment to sculpture. Except for a teaching engagement at the University of California at Davis from 1980-81 where he connected with the equally irreverent ceramic artist Robert Arneson, Joe Fafard has worked in Pense, Saskatchewan for most of his artistic career.
In a distinguished career as an artist, Mr. Fafard is the modest recipient of many awards, including the Order of Canada in 1981, and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Allied Arts Award in 1987. Among other recognitions, he received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 2002; the National Prix Montfort in 2003; and most recently in 2005 the Lieutenant Governor's Saskatchewan Centennial Medal for the Arts. Steadily exhibiting in increasingly prominent venues, Mr. .Fafard has had exhibitions at Canada House, London England, at the 49th Parallel, New York, the Dunlop Art Gallery, Saskatchewan, and many others. In the 1980’s he turned to bronze for his larger sculptures, and established his own foundry Julienne Atelier in Pense in 1985. His major exhibition "Joe Fafard: The Bronze Years"; at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts garnered major critical attention. His art is collected nationally and internationally, and represented in significant museum collections world wide. We anticipate with pleasure his forthcoming exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 2008, originating at the McKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, which also will travel to the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax.
Possessed of an extraordinary ability, craftsmanship and a dedication to his art, Mr. Fafard consistently provides the lasting imprint of an articulate hand allied to an intensely curious and empathetic personal vision. In an art world context increasingly dominated by the intellectual agendas of high minded cultural critique, with insightful and unpretentious wit Mr. Fafard proves that art can thrive on the periphery and without the dominance of ideological machinery. While his animal sculptures have led some critics to the mistaken notion he is a folk artist, this is because his manifest sincerity goes against the increasingly obscure currents of contemporary art discourse. Equally informed and engaged with art history, Mr. Fafard's fellow feeling for the creativity of Picasso, Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Frieda Kahlo animates his sculpted portraits with the artist's attitude of quizzical and self-critical creativity. Joe Fafard says that he works from a real sense of being a human being who observes life in the society in which he lives. Mr. Fafard presents the minute particulars of our world without an obscuring message, and we experience his art directly.
If as William Blake says, "everything that lives is holy, life delights in life" then Mr. Fafard, we thank you for your lively art that provides us with such delight.
Mr. Chancellor, it is my honour and privilege to ask in the name of the Senate and The University of Manitoba that you confer upon Mr. Joe Fafard the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
-citation delivered by Dr. Celia Rabinovitch, Director, School of Art