MAIN SPACE EXHIBITION
JUNE 12 – JULY 17, 2015
RECEPTION: FRIDAY, JUNE 12 AT 8 PM
After a spiritual awaking, following a near death experience MANWOMAN committed to a passionate means of expressing his deepest motivations while embracing a new form of inner guidance. As a visionary artist ManWoman embarked on a path of spiritual transformation. This dedication is reflected in the expansiveness of ManWoman’s profoundly extensive body of work. ManWoman’s art practice covers enduring concepts and themes, existing with a sense of urgency, the artist feverishly blurred lines between art, life, and spiritual eternity. ManWoman was a nonconformist reflecting in an existential means to critique pedagogy and social binaries. HEART OF LONGING is an exhibition that will highlight these aspects of the artist’s prolific practice.
MANWOMAN experienced a flood of transcendental visions initiating an extensive pursuit of spirituality, accepting the mission of restoring the swastika’s scared symbolic gesture, the legal changing of his name, and the eternal refusal of simplistic binaries such as gender. These concepts are woven throughout the substantial artistic career and life of ManWoman.
Patrick Charles Kemball was born in Cranbrook, British Columbia on February 2, 1938. He had a typical, uneventful life growing up in the forties and fifties; he eventually developed a love of cars, as did many of his peers. He was drawn to art from an early age, but was influenced by parents and councillor’s to study Engineering and then later, Architecture as it was understood to be a more secure and lucrative profession. As such, he went on to the University of British Columbia (UBC) for the purpose of enrolling in studies related to these programs. In the summer of 1958, while back in Cranbrook from university, he was working on his parents’ car when a life-changing incident occurred. The car was raised up on blocks when he heard a disembodied voice warning him to get out from underneath the auto. He quickly moved out from under the car just as it came crashing down, he narrowly escaped a spring piercing his chest. If he had not listened to the voice he would have been killed. From that moment forward, he declared himself as Gods artist.
That fall he returned to UBC to continue his studies, and it was there that he had his first, of many, out of body experiences. This, coupled with his earlier brush with death, convinced him that he should dedicate his life to a higher calling, and for him that meant art. He left UBC and subsequently enrolled at the Alberta College of Art (ACA) in Calgary. He left the college in his fourth year, prior to graduation, as he felt restricted by traditional art practices and the pedagogical approach of the ACA. In February of 1965 he had the first of many intense visions that led him to continue transforming his art and ultimately of his life. He tried to capture the mystical essence of the visions in his paintings. He also began having vivid dreams that he recorded as quickly fashioned drawings, eventually filling over forty sketchbooks; which he called The Book of Astonishment. The visions became a predominate source of inspiration for his paintings, performances, and other aspects of his art and life. A recurring theme in the dreams was the union of the male and female principles, which ultimately led him to, legally change his name to ManWoman.
In 1968 I first met ManWoman on the occasion of his first solo exhibition, ManWoman Lives, organized by the curator of ACA Gallery John Hall. I had the fortune of working alongside Hall as an assistant while in my final year of studies. It was during this time that the artist transitioned from Pat Kemball to Manwoman. I met him while installing his exhibition and I was impressed by the unique vision of his work, but meeting the man, the ManWoman, equally impressed me. ManWoman was unique as he exuded confidence and artistic integrity. He had a wonderful sense of humour and was full of verve. He was not interested in making art that fit within, the then current, concerns of the art world. He was obsessed with his own visions and making those visions manifest while communicating his ideas to an audience without compromise. These attributes would be associated with ManWoman and his art practice throughout the rest of his life.
ManWoman and I became friends after that initial meeting and we stayed in touch for forty-four years, until his recent untimely death. I had the opportunity to follow the development of his art, to attend numerous exhibitions; performances, events, and lectures over the years. When I first met him, if I recall correctly, he only had a single flame tattoo on his brow, but nonetheless unique — there was not another person I knew that had the third eye tattooed on their forehead.
In one of his visions he was instructed to take the ancient swastika symbol, which is considered to be sacred and auspicious in a number of religious cultures, and redeem it from the evil symbol it socially transitioned to under the Nazi regime. The redemption of the swastika was an impossible task, which ManWoman pursued throughout the majority of his life. He eventually had nearly 200 swastika tattoos on his body, including a large one on his back and countless various sized tattoos on his hands and arms. He wrote and self-published three books including Gentle Swastika in 2001. Swastikas, and various other themes became a recurring visual response in numerous pieces created by the artist. Some of the other themes addressed throughout ManWoman’s practice included; the Soul as the bride of God, death and transformation, spiritual products for a material world, freedom from sexual tyranny, and a celebration of the cosmic dance of life. Mystical experiences guided ManWoman to celebrate a non-conformist mandate through his lifestyle and artistic aesthetics.
In the first circumstance when I met ManWoman he was dressed in work clothes and could have passed for a tradesman, except for the tattoo on his forehead. Over time he transformed himself into a living work of art, with his body a canvas for tattoos. His life became his art and his art was his life. He began to wear long flowing; intense yellow robes, and at one point owned a Skullmobile – this was a van painted with a giant skull. At another time he had a unique vintage yellow car that matched the palette of his robes. He was a living artwork, a walking and talking sculpture; his life was an extension of his practice, an expanding performance piece that continued for decades. ManWoman never wavered from his commitment to his work and HEART OF LONGING serves as an exhibition to present his longstanding persistence to his practice and his vision.
– Don Mabie, June 2015
DON MABIE has been drawing, performing, assembling, trading and mailing art for five decades. In this time he has completed thirty-five solo exhibitions in Canada and Europe; participated in group exhibitions and performances in Canada, USA, Mexico, Europe, Australia and Japan.