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Niagara-on-the-Lake
Wednesday, October 5, 2022
Arts: Family is focus for ‘Labour of Love’ exhibit at RiverBrink
One of the exhibits pieces of photography.
One of the exhibits pieces of photography. Supplied

Debra Antoncic
Special to The Lake Report

If you are looking for a special outing this summer, make time for a visit to RiverBrink Art Museum in Queenston.

The current exhibition, Labour of Love, features photo-based work by St. Catharines artist Danny Custodio.

The exhibition is a retrospective and looks back to the artist’s early explorations of family in Toronto’s Portuguese community, continues through his move to St. Catharines in the mid-2000s, and culminates in a recent series titled Potions.

The artist’s preoccupations with the immigrant experience in Canada, with family, and labour, link the various themes in the exhibition.

Drawing on his lived experience, and working around and with members of his family, Custodio charts the effects of distance and displacement, of individuals forced to leave their home country for both temporary employment and permanent resettlement.

These themes, explored in earlier work, have been carried forward to a new series of work produced with his young children, the next generation.

The reality of migration resonates with a second-generation Canadian and informs series such as Ships (2010 ongoing), for which Custodio photographed workers of diverse national origins onboard ships in the Welland Canal.

In other series in the exhibition, the global experience of migration, prompted by aspirations of safety, security, and prosperity, bump up against the reality of hard physical labour.

Images of trees that have been forcibly shaped to conform to the presence of overhead wires, workboots caked in tar and a lush backyard fig tree, are rendered with an eye to aesthetics.

But these are the realities and materials of blue-collar labour familiar to “new Canadians,” including the men and women in Custodio’s immediate family, who found work in roofing, construction, road building, agriculture and the garment industry.

In other series, Custodio expands on this personal history by embracing traditional Portuguese motifs and materials. Series based on tile mosaics (azulejos) and flower carpets (tapetes floridos) have their roots in traditional cultural practices, transported from Portugal (specifically the Azores) to Canada and adapted by the artist through the medium of photography.

From working initially with members of an older generation of men and women and the wider experience of displacement and settlement in Toronto, Custodio has more recently transitioned to a project with his young children.

For the Potions series (2019 ongoing), Custodio worked with his children and their neighbourhood friends to assemble plant materials into whimsical, colourful, visual concoctions.

A large circular pot filled with twigs and bark, leaves and flowers, ice and snow, suggest the imaginative play children engage in while exploring the natural world.

The titles of the potions add an additional layer of whimsy, playfully recalling the incantations and spells of storybook characters and fairytale plots. Bright flashes of colour and a diverse range of plants substitute for a needle, a red apple, a chorus of mice.

Playful and yet deeply serious, this recent body of work conveys the hopeful aspirations for the next generation, safe and secure in a new home.

The exhibition continues to Aug. 28.