Mark-Making in Space 

A few days ago, while looking for knitting needles, I found a most surprising thing: a copy of a Times Colonist article about Sean Nattrass, the artist whose piece Split: Wound That Separates became the cover of a Crwth journal. The article, dated January 6, 1996, is written by Robert Amos, a Victoria artist known for painting urban landscapes.

The article is about a show at the Greater Victoria Art Gallery that Nattrass shared with Jeremy Borsos. Amos discusses Sean’s signature style, the combination of painting and found objects that at the time Sean called “mark-making in space.”

black and white photo of a man.
Artist Sean Nattrass

Amos notes that while Sean’s work is technically sculpture, most pieces have little physical depth. Sean called them “2.5-dimensional” work. I think of his work as something more along the lines of 18-dimensional. His mark-making in space has a universal quality; the sparse details allow the viewer to interpret the work in many ways.

Amos seemed to have a similar view which he expresses in the title of the article, “Sean Nattrass makes you reconsider reality.”

Sean’s work has influenced academia as well. Many years ago, a good friend of mine, Cara Segger, wrote a masters thesis that explored a pattern of development that begins with abandoned industrial spaces. Artists move into those spaces and transform them, creating a nexus between art and industry. One aspect of her thesis that stuck with me was a term she used, necroindustrophelia (love of dead industry).

Artists like Sean channel their necroindustrophelia to make the spaces appealing, which attracts new investment in the area. That investment drives gentrification and ultimately prices the artists out (I didn’t promise this story would have a happy ending). This development pattern happens all over the world.

Split: Wound that Separates Cover
Split: Wound that Separates front cover

In the 1990s, Sean was a partner in a gallery called Buzzard’s Lunch in an abandoned meat locker in an industrial part of Victoria. Today that neighbourhood is known as the design district. Sean and his partner were among the first to bring an artist aesthetic into the area.

In Canada, we understand the arts to be important. At all levels of government, federal, provincial and municipal, funds are available for projects with artistic and cultural merit. And yet, except for the few who make it big, artists have a tough time making a living.

When I started the journal program at Crwth, I was looking for a way to create ongoing revenue for artists, an income stream they don’t have to think about. I added profit sharing to the business model in recognition of the fact that Crwth’s success will be largely due to the artists and writers who contribute their work.

Obviously, Crwth can’t compensate artists for the immense job they do in shaping our culture and our cities and bringing beauty into our lives, but we’re doing what we can.

Want to have a piece of local art history for yourself? Check out the journal: Split: Wound That Separates by Sean Nattrass.

This post was written by Melanie Jeffs, Publisher at Crwth Press.