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Drawing on the wall

[Photo of art installation]Derek Sullivan's Problems That Arise from Continually Confusing Left & Right will greet visitors as they walk into the atrium of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer

Who says coloured pencils should only be used on paper?

Toronto artist Derek Sullivan is working with red and blue pencils to render Problems That Arise from Continually Confusing Left & Right, his architectural scale wall drawing located in the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. The art piece, which depicts a 10-segment folding ruler, stretches across the wall above the front desk in the Art Centre atrium.

Mr. Sullivan prefers coloured pencils for his drawings because the small parallel hatch marks from the coloured pencil strokes create a solid form at a distance, but reveal something different up close.

“Although the ruler reads as one dramatic gesture along the wall, it becomes much more methodical and obsessive as you approach it,” says Mr. Sullivan, a finalist in 2012 for the Sobey Art Award, Canada’s largest prize for young artists. “I hope the viewer has a changed sense when they look closer and see how the work is done.”

[Artists Derek Sullivan and Aida Sulcs]Derek Sullivan installs his artwork with the assistance of artist Aida Sulcs.

The idea for the piece, his first mural, came several years ago when Mr. Sullivan was driving around London, England, with his cousin. He was seated on the passenger side, more familiar to him as the driver’s seat, and he struggled to keep left and right straight in his mind as he provided directions to his cousin.

From that initial spark, Mr. Sullivan came up with the motif after working with Belgian and French artists and seeing their dedication to the folding ruler. “There is something nice about the left-right turn that happens with these sorts of tools. It’s the wrong tool to think about direction, but it is tracing a path across the wall so that there are constant left-right turns.”

The arms of the ruler alternate between blue and red, playing off the political significance of the two colours in Canada and the United States.

“Colours are perceptual phenomenon, but culturally we ascribe so much meaning to them,” he says. “So the piece is also a question of one’s ideology. As you look at the work, it’s not following a middle line at all. It’s flipping back and forth.”

This work fulfills the Art Centre mandate of ensuring dynamic representation of contemporary art in our collection while at the same time sympathetically transforming our reception space.

Sunny Kerr, Curator of Contemporary Art

The piece will live on long after the Art Centre paints over the wall in a few years. Mr. Sullivan has created a milled acrylic template for tracing the shapes and written a manual outlining the rules for showing the work. That way, the Art Centre can install the piece somewhere else in the gallery or lend the work to another institution without Mr. Sullivan actually being present to recreate the piece.

Mr. Sullivan’s work follows a long tradition of wall drawings. For instance, American artist Sol LeWitt created more than 400 wall drawings; two of his works have been on display at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa since it opened.

The wall mural builds on the Art Centre’s acquisition last year of Mr. Sullivan’s piece #32, Le poeme de l’angle droit, Corridor, Folding Stair, an accent misstep.

Art Unfolding

Do you want to see artist Derek Sullivan at work? Drop by the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (36 University Ave.) this week as he installs Problems That Arise from Continually Confusing Left & Right.

“This work fulfills the Art Centre mandate of ensuring dynamic representation of contemporary art in our collection while at the same time sympathetically transforming our reception space,” says Sunny Kerr, Curator of Contemporary Art. “The drawing signals a shift in Mr. Sullivan’s approach, indicating a more monumental scale and attention to the site of the artwork, while retaining the conceptual base of his earlier projects.”

Mr. Sullivan continues to install his piece this week with the assistance of artists Jane Derby, Erin Milliken, Sara Perosa, Joan Scaglione, Anna Soper and Aida Sulcs. This commisioned work of art was made possible by Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Grants program and the Donald Murray Shepherd Bequest, Queen’s University, 2014