Story by the artist.
Since 1984, I have been working mainly in 4 mediums. Throughout high school and university, I worked on small soapstone and serpentine sculptures ( 1984 – 1992 ). Printmaking became my dominate medium at McMaster University ( 1987 – 1992 ). I produced prints up to 2004; some lithographs and etchings but mostly woodcuts. From 1995 to the present, I have worked on mosaic wall sculptures. In 2008, I started working on watercolour pencil drawings.
I have worked in different cultural institutions across Hamilton; the Carnegie Gallery, DVSA, Hamilton Military Museum, Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology and the Staircase Cafe Theatre ( running its gallery space ). I have done much volunteer work for Creative Arts; nearly 20 years with the Festival of Friends ( 1979 – 1998 ) and I helped out at the Hamilton Artists Inc. doing Bingo fundraising and gallery duties. My art has appeared not just in regular galleries but in several alternative spaces across the city which include, cafes, shops and businesses. Over 60 of my works have been donated to fundraising events at the Hamilton Artists Inc., the DVSA, Centre 3 / Earls Court Gallery ( art lottery ) and The Hamilton Conservatory For The Arts ( Culture For Kids ).
Between 1998 and 2004 I educated people about the proposed Red Hill Expressway. I handed out thousands of leaflets door to door. I helped organize the Mass Rally at City Hall ( 1998 & 2001 ). I made 18 hand painted T-shirts, 2 political cartoons and wrote dozens of letters to newspapers and politicians. I organized 3 large exhibitions against the expressway which had between 40 and 60 participants, both professional artists and amateurs. In 1998, I had a solo exhibition of mosaics at the Central Public Library called, “I Love Red Hill Valley”. I created an installation at the Staircase Café / Theatre called “Letters For The Red Hill Valley” ( 2002 ). In 2004, I helped take care of the sacred fire and longhouse site.
I graduated with a teaching degree in 1994. From 1995 to 2015, I travelled to South Korea 7 times to teach basic English to all age groups from kindergarten classes to businesspeople. For 6 months I taught art to the children of foreign parents while living in Busan. I spent over 14 years of my life in Korea. Ten years were spent teaching and 4 years were spent running 2 different guesthouses. Two bodies of art were begun in Korea, 10 woodcuts (1999 – 2001) and 7 mosaics ( 2002 ). Two other bodies of art were fully made while I was there; 17 mosaics ( 2009 – 2012 ) and 40+ drawings ( 2013 – 2015 ).
THE PRIMITIVE ROCK: This stone sculpture from 1987 is 10″ x 14 1/2″ x 4″. It is made of serpentine from the Canadian Arctic. It weighs about 21.2 lbs ( 4.54 kg ). This abstract form shows off the fact it was shaped using rounded rasps and flat ones. Its entire outline undulates causing viewers to see faces and other things. An abstract face on one side looks like an old man with a big nose. On the other side, one may see an indigenous man wearing some kind of a headdress. This piece of serpentine has these subtle colour changes from black to medium green. Stunning dark black veins run through a green area on one side of the stone.
Around 1982, at the age of 13, I was inside the Beckett Gallery, downtown Hamilton, with my mother. We were in the basement looking at the Inuit serpentine sculptures. I told one of the female staff members that I was interested in trying to carve something. She suggested that I carve some bars of soap. Soon after I cut out bold faces in two bars of soap. The art supply stores in downtown Hamilton sold 5″ or 6″ cubes of Labrador/Newfoundland soapstone. The art stores in Toronto had soapstone from South America and Africa but it was too pricey. Over the next 3 years or so I carved out between 10 and 20 small animals. One was a zebra because my sister, Carol liked zebras and another one was a dragon, because my sister, Judy enjoyed them. My best soapstone work though was a poodle I made for my Aunt Laureen. Its angular form looked Egyptian. At the age of 17, I had my first solo art exhibition with soapstone sculptures. It was held at the Red Hill Library in the east end of Hamilton. The sculptures were displayed inside a glass box table.
About 1986, my art teacher from Bishop Ryan High School, Yvonne Roach, invited Marvin Cohen to speak to the art students. Soon after I visited his shop, The Arctic Experience Gallery in downtown Hamilton. I asked Marvin if he could get some raw serpentine for me to carve and he said, “Yes”. When he had sculptures sent down from the Canadian Arctic he asked them to add a piece of serpentine. The Inuit would always say to him, “Who is this guy who wants a piece of serpentine?” Maybe they thought that I should be carving stones that come from my own environment. There were times when there were shortages of serpentine for the Inuit carvers, especially when some of the deposits were underwater and the water levels got too high. I didn’t want to carve soapstone anymore because it scratched too easily and I wanted people to touch my sculptures. Also, I learned at some point that soapstone contains asbestos.
TWISTING NUDE: This stone sculpture from 1988 is 4″ x 11 3/4″ x 4 “. It is made of serpentine from the Canadian Arctic. The sculpture sits on a small wooden base; mahogany I am guessing. Its weight with the base is 7.4 lbs ( 3.36 kg ). An abstract nude woman is twisting in space. Her lower arms and part of her lower legs are missing. On some angles, the woman appears to be pregnant. This female came out of my imagination. I didn’t use any photos or models.
RELAXING WITH SOME FRIENDS: This is the first lithograph I ever made. It is an edition of only six. I used a litho crayon to make this spontaneous, loose drawing. It depicts a group of young people floating or laying about in a crowded environment. One person holds up a record and another person is holding a drink. It could be a party. Even though this work is crudely drawn, artistic people are charmed by this print. It has a happy, carefree feeling.
THE SILLY WALK: This print from 1991 is 28″ x 38 1/4″ or 71 cm x 97 cm and it is printed on BFK Rives paper. The man’s T-shirt is a 2 colour lithograph. The head, arms, pants and shoes are deep etched, shaped copper plates. The pants were printed as a litho first. Then an etching was placed next followed by another litho colour. Other areas have the etched pattern printed first and then a litho pattern placed on top. Each print has one litho colour line in it that is different than the others. So each print in this edition of 6 is unique.
I have been doing silly walks all of my life even before I had ever seen the famous Monty Python skit. I used to to do silly walks on the way to elementary school. One could say this work is a self-portrait. I jazzed up the figure with fun patterns; clothes that I would definitely wear.
COMPLEX SITUATION: This stone sculpture from 1991 is 12″ x 12 1/2″ x 4 1/2″. It is made of serpentine from the Canadian Arctic. It weighs about 11.4 lbs ( 5.17 kg ). This triangular abstract work has lots of holes and fingerlike parts that jut out. About a third of the sculpture has a texture that isn’t smooth. I took a drill and pockmarked the surface with numerous holes. In another spot, I placed several saw lines over one another. And there is a line of 8 drill holes in one area. The work looks like it is in motion. One may see flames or that the stone is transforming.
DEAD BIRD: This stone sculpture from 1991 is 8 1/4″ x 9 1/4″ x 3 1/4″. It weighs about 5.6 lbs ( 2.54 kg ). It is made of serpentine from the Canadian Arctic. I conceived this big idea to have this stone bird come flying out of a toilet. It was to suggest the bad smells that were coming out of Industrial Hamilton. I changed my mind about using a toilet after deciding that I didn’t really have any place to store the large sculpture. This abstract bird has nice curvy lines that suggest movement.
I CANNOT HEAVE MY HEART INTO MY MOUTH: This stone sculpture from 1991 has 2 pieces that go together. There is a heart that is 8″ x 9″ x 2 1/2″. It weighs 3 lbs ( 1.36 kg ). There is a large mouth that is 9 1/2″ x 10 3/4″ x 3 1/4″. It weighs 5.2 lbs ( 2.36 kg ). They are made from serpentine from the Canadian Arctic. The heart is completely cratered. Some of the details were made by pockmarking the surface with a drill. The texture in the heart is to contrast with the smooth surface of the mouth. The cratered heart represents a person who is suffering like Cordelia in Shakespeare’s play, King Lear. Cordelia, who loves her father very much, is unable to express how she feels about him in words.
STAIRS THROUGH A DIFFICULT SPACE: This stone sculpture from 1991 is 6″ x 9″ 4 1/2″. It weighs about 2.2 lbs ( 1 kg ). It is made of serpentine from the Canadian Arctic. This work used to have 3 pieces and it used to be called “The Quest For Love”. This sculpture has about 4 or 5 stairs on one side but throughout the rest of the work, there is a network of holes looking like roots or vines. This abstract sculpture can be positioned in many ways. It is typical of the sculptures I was making at the time where I removed much of the stone to reveal holes, linear elements and thin walls.
NOT FOR YOU: This collage from 1992 is 26 1/2″ x 30 1/4 ” or 67 cm x 77 cm. Seven prints, some etchings, some lithographs and one monoprint that had been combined with a woodcut, have been cut up with scissors and glued down with acrylic medium / varnish on an acid free foam board.
There is half a man’s head on the right side. He is wearing sunglasses. A tie is shown going upwards suggesting possibly that he is having an erection. A sink is coming out of his head. He may be having some dirty thoughts he needs to come clean about as he looks over at a nude woman depicted twice. The woman in the centre of the work stands in front of a giant dress. She represents the average woman. Her feet are planted on the muddy ground. The second nude twin is mermaid-like with one giant leg ending in a platform shoe balancing on her toes like a ballerina. She represents the man’s dream girl. This is emphasized by a long arm coming out of the heavens above.
At the top are 2 personifications from my etching, “Intelligence Meets With Nature”. Intelligence has a staircase coming down the back of its head which merges into an odd turning wheel. Its eye is pointy. Its outline is wavy. Its nose and lips contain a circle, triangle, square and rectangle. Nature has a fishlike shape. Its outline looks like cells. It has rootlike shapes inside its body that turn into smaller roots or veins.
Intelligence seems to be voicing the message, “NOT FOR YOU” and at the same time an airplane seems to be pulling the message through the sky. Nature is shown with 2 drops containing hearts. The hearts are distanced from one another and they are going in different directions. Intelligence and Nature are pointing out that this man chooses women he is not compatible with. He looks for love in the wrong places.
In 2019 this one-of-a-kind work was one of the 100 works in the Centre [3} “art lottery” fundraiser at Earls Court Gallery in Hamilton. This piece quickly got snapped up after the third name was drawn.
A SLAVE TO THE MONSTER: This highly popular print from 1993 is 21″ x 29 5/8″ or 53 cm x 75.5 cm has 4 small woodcuts combined on BFK Rives paper. The ornate hill was printed 4 times in different shades of green and other colours were added. The spiral tree is a two colour reduction block. The monster is inked with a rainbow roll. The couple is a 3 colour reduction block with some hand painting in ink. Eight prints were made. Some prints have more colour in the background hills than others.
An unhappy couple is carrying a large monster; a symbol of their burden in seeking fame and fortune. The woman has a star on her shirt while the man has a dollar sign on his. They are so busy trying to get rich and famous that they are ignoring the lush beauty that is around them.
Some people thought I was inspired by Asian art because of the made-up patterns I used. People described the hills as “elephant hills”. In 1993, I had not travelled to Asia yet. My main goal was to create a sense of lush vegetation. My inspiration may have come from the Red Hill Valley in east Hamilton which is close to where I have lived for most of my life.
Many professionals bought this work; 2 lawyers, a nurse, an interior designer and a couple who owned a yacht. The “Monster” woodblock was turned into a painted wall sculpture after I was finished using it for printing. It sold to a wealthy woman at the Idee Gallery in Toronto in 1995.
THE DICE OF LUCK: From 1993, each of the six etchings in this set is 10″ x 10″ or 25 cm x 25 cm. and printed on BFK Rives paper. All the copper plates were deep etched and aquatinted (where there are circles). The plates were printed using a combination of methods; hand printing, surface rolls, smudging, double printing, wiping and blotting. Colours and methods were frequently changed so there are many one-of-a-kind prints. Editions of each die vary between 7 and 10 prints.
The six sides of a die have been given symbols representing things that people can be lucky with throughout life. Side #1 represents fame. It has an eye shape going vertically and horizontally, both overlapping each other. The four-pointed eye shape looks like a star and there is a star shape that appears in the middle. Side #2 represents love. There are 2 double hearts joined on each side joined at the point which is the centre of the whole square. In the centre, an infinity symbol appears. Side #3 represents wisdom. A 9 square grid occupies the whole space. In 2 opposite corners, a light bulb, a question mark and a magnifying glass appear. Side #4 represents wealth and direction. Four dollar signs come together in the middle forming a flowerlike pattern. An arrow comes out of the middle on each side of the flower and goes out to each edge. Side #5 represents beauty. A flower in the middle is being touched by four geometric suns. Side #6 represents family, friendship and unity. Two flying birds overlap each other at the head.
These prints show a lot of experimentation and energy. The ink shows a lot of depth and sculptural qualities with its translucent bits, colours blends and grittiness. About 4 full sets were sold and some individual prints.
CAFE D’AMUSEMENT: This woodcut from 1994 is 22″ x 26″ or 56 cm x 66 cm was formed by 2 pine boards put together and printed on BFK Rives paper. Twelve prints were made but there are 3 versions with different colour combinations.
In this whimsical nighttime scene, there is a crowd of people in a cafe. Nobody has a full body except for the man who is entering the building carrying balloons. These doodled faces came off of my note pages that I kept from my university courses. I see a range of personalities and dramas unfolding in the different groupings. This cafe is a made-up place but it is definitely inspired from my teenage years when I went to see bands performing in the house-like bars of Hess Village in Hamilton.
In one version of the print, I mixed silver ink into the dark blue sky and fence. This version is the most popular but the ink was so oily that it drenched the BFK Rives paper. I called the ink company to ask them about this problem. The front of the print looks fine but the back of the work is a dark yellow.
UNKNOWN JOURNEY: This abstract wall sculpture from 1995 is 12 3/4″ x 15″. It is made of 5 or 6 pieces of wood glued together and two small pieces of polished serpentine. The wood has been carved and shaped in various places and then covered in thick acrylic paint. I made this work just before I left for South Korea for my first time in 1995. When I came back to Canada, I looked at this work in amazement. The shapes and colours reflect many of the landscapes I saw in Korea. I saw the ocean, mountains, deep caves and rice fields for the first time in my life. I hiked on many short, rounded mountains. From Spring until Fall, I enjoyed watching the green rice seedlings grow into tall golden yellow masses.
This work is one of the first wall sculptures I made. It incorporates two scrap pieces of serpentine; something I did in about 5 more works.
HAPPY MOUNTAIN: This mosaic wall sculpture from 1996 is 11″ x 24″. I have shaped a piece of pine and covered it with materials from Van Wagners Beach in Hamilton; green glass, stones and some manmade materials, possibly fiberglass. The materials have been set into acrylic paint which acts as my grout.
This abstract scene shows a close-up of the edge of a Korean mountain; although most viewers see a path. The pathlike green and red line is supposed to be a line of short pine trees. In Korea, a stand of pine trees usually marks where a grouping of graves is located. The top of the work is shaped like a traditional Korean house. The bottom is shaped like a traditional Korean grave, which looks eye or womb shaped. The house and the grave shapes together symbolize that the earth is our home both in life and death. Almost every mountain in Korea has graves on it. Koreans say that when they die they go to “Happy Mountain”.
My father passed away when I was working on this piece so I think of him when I look at it. Some people say the piece looks like a shield. That aspect also reminds me of my father who once got a shied / logo made with the Basciano family name.
A PIECE OF NATURE: This mosaic wall sculpture from 1998 is 11″ x 25 1/2″. The armature is made out of many pieces of pine glued together and the grout is acrylic paint. It has stones and glass from Van Wagners Beach in Hamilton. It has several small pieces of polished serpentine and 1 blue tile.
This abstract work is made to suggest a group of plants in a field. Many earthy colours are arranged in linear and circular designs. The pine has been carved and assembled to come off the wall in a semi-rounded form. From the sides, one can view some materials that are on the back of the work.
THE MONKEY HOUSE: This mosaic wall sculpture from 1998 is 2 3/4″ x 23 1/2″ x 25 1/4″. The armature is carved out of pine and the grout is acrylic paint. It has a chair leg and coloured glass from Van Wagners Beach in Hamilton. There is one wooden bead from Korea.
No matter how beautiful a cage is made to look, it still represents captivity and all of its terrible aspects. I visited 2 zoos in Korea that were horrifying to me and to most other North American tourists. I saw animals in tiny, barren cages. The animals were pushed up to the front of their depthless homes. There was nothing for them to hide behind. They would often cower together, sometimes shaking. Some animals would completely face away from visitors. Other animals paced or moved about frantically.
This architectural piece is decorative with its elaborate pattern of holes made with a drill. The swirl pattern is made with a thick layer of acrylic paint. A chair leg has been cut in half to create a nice roof moulding. The wooden bead blends in with the moulding. Glass on the roof has been covered in a layer of translucent silver paint.
This is the first mosaic I created where architecture was an inspiration. Some later mosaic works draw inspiration from east Asian architecture, Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Victorian homes in Hamilton.
THERE’S SOMETHING EVIL COOKING WITH THAT DEVIL, TERRY: This mosaic wall sculpture from 1998 is 11″ x 17 3/4″. The armature is carved out of pine and the grout is acrylic paint. It contains stones and glass from Van Wagners Beach in Hamilton and lava rock from Jeju Island in Korea. I have also used 2 marbles for eyes and shaped nails for the teeth.
This beast symbolizes the anger I have towards arrogant politicians at Hamilton City Hall. Politicians are elected to serve the people, not just big business. I was upset when Regional Chairman, Terry Cooke was quoted in the Hamilton Spectator for saying, “Stop whining.” to the people who have valid concerns and questions about the proposed Red Hill Expressway.
This work shows the influence Korean art has on me. A lot of animals portrayed in that country have a fierce look about them.
PARADISE IS MADE OF GARBAGE: This mosaic wall sculpture from 1999 is 22 3/4″ x 34 1/8″. The armature is made out of carved pine and the grout is acrylic paint. It has glass from Van Wagners Beach in Hamilton. There are shells from Molundae ( one of its small beaches ) in Busan, Korea. It has tiles, white game pieces ( Paduk or Go ), plastic bits and crushed toys from the streets of Korea.
When I walk along Van Wagners Beach in Hamilton and along Haeundae Beach in Busan, I can see the sandy beach curve far into the distance around the water. The grand views are beautiful. These places first look like paradise. A closer look at the sand and one can often find much garbage washed ashore or left behind by previous visitors. It always amazes me that this occurs because there are plenty of garbage cans around. Many city halls don’t employ enough workers to pick up trash off the sand.
My beach view shows Haeundae Beach in Busan a hundred years ago or more before it got filled in with big hotels and other skyscrapers. My work has found objects from the streets of Korea and discarded, polished glass from Van Wagners Beach in Hamilton. I have made this scene out of garbage.
This work weighed 30 lbs when it was completed. It made me nervous that this piece was so heavy on the wall. At some point, I decided to carve about 7 lbs of wood off the back. I found a way to hang the piece safely using a 2 hanger method.
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