Dogs of War (George W. Bush and Dick Cheney) by Oryst Sawchuk
The United Steelworkers Hall Gallery 6500 continues its tradition of featuring “Art That Matters” in its latest installation, Pretty Pictures, Passionate Perspectives by the late Oryst Sawchuk.
Friends, family and fans gathered at the grand opening Sunday to experience the pieces in a new light and share their fond memories of their creation and creator.
Among them was Vicki Gilhula, life partner of Sawchuk’s for the past 25 years, who described the man as a prolific artist and passionate social activist.
Gilhula is a long-time journalist and editor of Sudbury Living magazine, who during her time as editor of Northern Life newspaper, had the opportunity to periodically feature some of Sawchuk’s work.
These were mostly pen and ink, said Gilhula, which resulted in this becoming what she considers his most popular medium, but the artist was never one to limit himself.
In addition to the art he brought to the city through his 60 years as an architect, Sawchuk created countless pottery, ceramic, watercolour, pen and ink pieces throughout his lifetime.
His more ‘lived-in’ pieces (architecturally speaking) include Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, the Downtown Transit Terminal, the original Grecian-style Grace Hartman Amphitheatre and N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre.
Pretty Pictures, Passionate Perspectives was curated to showcase the ‘pretty pictures’ of Sawchuk’s earlier career, in contrast to the ‘passionate perspectives’ he voiced later in life. These perspectives included commentary on the care of veterans, poverty, workplace safety, climate change, Indigenous restitution and protection of heritage buildings.
“He always wanted his art to say something, a pretty picture wasn’t enough,” she said.
A life-long social activist, this evolution occurred gradually over the course of his artistic career said Gilhula, more as a result of his growth than a distinct change in motivation.
“Even (as) a journalist you write stories, but there’s always things that at some point you need to say or want to say after you’ve done it a lot,” she said.
One of the best examples of these passionate perspectives said Gilhula, is Sawchuk’s vibrant and textured piece entitled “Dogs of War.” It represents former U.S. President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard (Dick) Cheney she said, in response to America’s invasion of Iraq following 9/11.
“Some of its not pretty at all but it tries to say something,” said Gilhula.
These pieces were created for the message they carried rather than their visual appeal said Gilhula, which in her opinion, makes them much more suited to a professional gallery than a living room.
Gallery 6500: Art that Matters was established in October 2015, following the Sudbury Arts Council’s decision to find a space suitable to host art of social significance. Sawchuk was integral in its creation and passionate supporter for the remainder of his life.
Following Sawchuk’s passing May 2, Jo-Anne Mashall, curator of Gallery 6500, said it felt only natural to host his work.
In addition to showcasing his talent for the benefit of the public, Marshall said the exhibit was an opportunity to inspire others with Sawchuk’s message of social justice.
“He was an artistic pillar in our community,” said Marshall.
Pieces were curated from Sawchuk’s studio, Acorn Gallery on Oak (198 Oak St.), which Gilhula said will remain open by appointment only for the foreseeable future. Those interested in viewing the full-collection are encouraged to contact Gilhula at [email protected].
Some of the items will be donated to organizations the artist was involved with or cared for such as Sudbury Secondary School, where Sawchuk graduated from back when it was called Sudbury High. The remaining items will be sold, aside from a personal collection Gilhula has set aside.
Having these pieces are a pleasure, but Gilhula said there is a special kind of joy that comes from sharing Sawchuk’s work with others.
It keeps him alive, as does the mural on Elgin Street — it’s a monument, said Gilhula.
Oryst Sawchuk died in May 2019.
Pretty Pictures, Passionate Perspectives is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday until March 15, as well as during weekend events. Admission to the gallery space is free of charge, even if a ticket is required for an event being held next door.
Find more information on the exhibit by visiting the Sudbury Arts Council website.