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Cover Up sculpture at Lakeshore breaks conventional gallery setting

Kristen Cussen, News Reporter

A bronze figure standing just outside C building at Humber Lakeshore gazes out toward the street unflinchingly as his hands reach up to his hood.

Thomas J. Price, a U.K.-based artist, stood next to his nine-foot-tall sculpture, Cover Up at the unveiling meet and greet on Tuesday.

Price’s figure sculptures have gained notoriety for the “honesty of the unguarded moment,” he said. Dealing with issues of social identity, his artwork is often linked to the underrepresentation of Black people.

“I don’t want to shout or wag my finger,” he said. Instead, Price would rather place responsibility on the viewer than say “this is what this is, this is your fault” and declare a concrete stance.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily the best way to create a lasting impression,” he said.

Price’s sculptures are physical invitations to “engage in self-reflective understanding of how we form the world around us.” By removing descriptors, he aims to emphasize schemes used to decode body language.

Abandoning the traditional gallery setting, Cover Up has been able to connect directly with people in natural settings like parks or sidewalks. Gallery displays tend to be more formal and rigid in terms of rules. Outdoors, Price said he’s seen more people interact with his art, taking photos and feeling the texture.

“It can be used to explore other aspects and other instances of that kind of violence or privilege or, you know, institutional actions against people,” he said. With this outlook, Cover Up has been able to fit in and stand out on the Lakeshore grounds.

Cole Swanson said the statue’s placement reminds of the Lakeshore Campus’ former use.

“This site is the Mimico Asylum,” the coordinator for Visual and Digital Arts said. “We have a history of institutionalized violence against marginalized members of society.”

Just a few kilometres away, deceased patients rest in the unmarked graves of the Lakeshore Asylum Cemetery.

“It keeps the conversation going in the present,” Swanson said.

Sculpting candid and relaxed poses with modern materials like bronze is part of Price’s twist on traditional Western sculptures. Conventional Western figure sculptures stand tall and proud with idealistic bodies.

Choosing off-guard poses creates “a power in vulnerability, to be able to slouch, to really own one’s space,” he said. The figures question who people are told to idolize and who they’re supposed to be wary of, Price said.

He typically hollows out the pupil and iris of his figures’ eyes, but at nine feet, there’s no way to make eye contact with Cover Up as he gazes out towards Colonel Samuel Smith Park Dr., south of Lake Shore Boulevard West.

“They don’t make contact because it’s not about you, they don’t need approval, they’re there whether you are or not,” Price said.

Breaking free from the critic-created mould is a constant battle for Price.

“I’ve been described as difficult,” he said. “As a black man in the U.K., and the U.S., wherever I go, basically, it’s an issue that I’ve dealt with on a daily basis.

“That comes down to a refusal to accept the role that I’m expected to play or the way that I’m supposed to facilitate a level of comfort throughout an interaction with someone in order for that conversation to be pleasant,” Price said.

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