Born September 2, 1942, to a French-Canadian family in Ste. Marthe, Saskatchewan, Joe Fafard has received wide acclaim in Canada and beyond for his ceramic and bronze sculptures of cows, friends, and artistic luminaries. His work is the product of personal history, humanist values, art-historical knowledge, and a strong commitment to his prairie home. Fafard studied art at the University of Manitoba School of Art (BFA 1966) and Pennsylvania State University (MFA 1968). He was an instructor in sculpture at the University of Saskatchewan’s Regina Campus from 1968 to 1971 and a visiting lecturer in sculpture at the University of California, Davis, during the winter semester of 1980–1981. Fafard has an extensive history of exhibitions and public commissions, and his work is in all of the major Canadian collections. His work has been the subject of major retrospectives, including a life retrospective jointly organized by the MacKenzie Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada, which was hosted in six different venues from September 2007 through September 2009. Fafard has received numerous awards and honours, including the Order of Canada (Officer) (1981); the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Allied Arts Medal Award (1987); honorary degrees from the University of Regina (1989) and the University of Manitoba (2007); the Saskatchewan Order of Merit (2002); the National Prix Montfort (2003); the Lieutenant Governor’s Saskatchewan Centennial Medal for the Arts (2005); and CTV Citizen of the Year (2006). In 2012, Canada Post issued a series of postage stamps featuring Fafard’s work.
Untitled (Cow Lying Down) (1977) and Untitled (Cow Standing) (1978) signal the beginning of two of the most significant aesthetic developments in Fafard’s career: the artist’s experimental approach to texture and colour and his unique appreciation of the cow as a sculptural form. It was during the late 1970s that Fafard began his investigation of the surface qualities of glaze, an important characteristic that is absent from his earlier “Pense Portraits” and “Rogues’ Gallery” series. Fafard’s works in the exhibition As It Unfolds also offer an early example of the artist’s exploration of formal issues through the subject of the cow, an investigation that would be integral to his later work in ceramics and bronze. Of particular interest is how these ceramic sculptures foreshadow major commissions, such as The Pasture (1985), an installation which consists of seven life-sized bronze cows that inhabit the courtyard of Toronto’s TD Centre.
Timothy Long, Head Curator