Tuesday, July 08, 2008


This profile of ceramicist Wendy Walgate marks the final instalment in our series highlighting artists that will be participating in the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition – which begins this Friday and continues until Sunday. This has been but a tiny sip of the sea of talent on display at Nathan Phillips Square this weekend…see you at the show!

Profile by Michelle Rothstein

A past president of the Ontario Crafts Council with an extensive career and fine arts education that includes a Harbourfront Centre residency, shows throughout North America and a Masters of Fine Arts from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Wendy Walgate is a prolific ceramicist bringing her dynamic sculptures to this year’s TOAE.

Walgate in Studio
Wendy in her studio

On first viewing, Walgate’s towers of vibrantly coloured animals are extremely playful and amusing. But beneath the merriment lies a deeper subtext to her pieces that speak to our society of mass consumption and treatment of our furry friends. “At first glance, my work appears to be lighthearted and whimsical…(but) along with the central theme of accumulation, there is a conscious animal welfare subtext which comments on the care, use and detainment of animals.” Each piece begins with a vintage toy or found object laden with memory and nostalgia. Then the excess is built from there. Mountains of animals are piled one on top of the other each attempting to reach the summit in order to grab a gasp of air or freedom.

Bye Baby Bunting Cradle
Bye Baby Bunting Cradle

Even with these poignant and timely themes, the whimsy to Walgate’s work is not to be ignored. Her vessels help to express the playful aspect of her work. “I generally start with a container such as an old toy box, stroller, baby carriage, etc… By filling up these discarded toys with bright, new, shiny animals, I am giving them hope – giving a chance for childhood, playfulness and wonder to live again. Plus I love the opportunity to “play” again myself“. As do the viewers. The temptation to touch and rearrange the figures threw me right back to playing in my room with all my porcelain animal figures that used to come free with a box of tea.

I Am Not Greedy
I Am Not Greedy

Walgate’s use of a remarkable spectrum of colour is motivated by the container, rather than theme or the animals themsleves. “The colour of the piece usually determines the colour of the objects.” Walgate explains, “For example, a turquoise baby carriage is filled with turquoise objects; an orange tool box would hold orange objects. But sometimes, if I find a red wagon or a red toy box, I fill it with a collection of many different coloured animals. For some reason, it seems that a red container is a catalyst for multi-colours.” This technique of colour-blocking generates a truly powerful impression and dessert for the eyes.

Life is a Red Rebus Stroller

Life is a Red Rebus Stroller

Found and commercially distributed molds used to create Walgate’s trademark tower of animals has been met with a degree of controversy from both the public and ceramic viewers. “Interestingly, it is not the moralizing tone of my current work that has attracted criticism, it is the fact that I now slip-cast commercial molds of domestic and farm animals such as sheep, pigs, calves, chickens, turkeys, cats and dogs...There is no need to begin with an original carved model of a pig, chicken or calf since the “blanks” from commercial molds represent predetermined traits, encoded into each animal through folk and fairy tales and current day media.” In a climate where many art forms are reinterpreting found objects and creating new pieces, this approach to her work feels both dated and arrogant and ignores the larger context and achievement of her works. Wendy Walgate’s fascinating pieces may be absorbed on a multitude of levels, but cannot be dismissed.

White Crib
White Crib

In a departure from her colourful collection, Wendy will be bringing a black and white series to the Outdoor Art Show and welcomes the opportunity to speak with new viewers about her work.


Michelle Rothstein is a Toronto resident with a passion for design and a love of the hand-made. Her business MOB, is a travelling salon-style show and website (www.mobcollection.com) which brings individual and sophisticated works to the design hungry for the sheer love it. She is psyched that Toronto is getting much more styley in its old age.


Blogger krissy said...

i saw this in person today and to say it was beautiful and brilliant would be an understatement.

10:13 p.m.  

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