Artist combines art, genealogy

Shary Boyle’s artwork is unquestionably jarring. The elaborate visuals she creates possess a quality of impressive duality that allow them to be grotesque yet divine, dreamlike yet sincere. Boyle’s work communicates fantastic and often dark ideas about personal identity and human culture from a feminist perspective.

“I’m always introduced as a Canadian artist,” Boyle began, speaking to an audience in McConomy Auditorium on Tuesday evening. “But there is blankness to that description. What is the status associated with being a Canadian artist?”

Through a recent project she calls “Canadian Artist,” Boyle aimed to answer that question. The Toronto native fabricated a genealogy to connect a diverse group of characters from cultures across the globe. She then constructed a physical representation of her narrative by creating 45 plaster faces, mounting them to a wall in the Bank of Montreal Project Room — an exhibition space in Toronto — and using colorful ribbon to demonstrate familial relationships. At the center of her construction is the face of the “Canadian Artist.”

Boyle explained how she grew up with only a vague understanding of her family history and that this ambiguity motivates her work. Boyle has invented stories of unlikely genealogies. Some of the characters in Boyle’s imaginative project include an Ashkenazi Jew who reproduced with a deity, a Malinke slave who reproduced with a Seminole healer, and a Barnum & Bailey performer who reproduced with a juvenile captive.

“Artists have no boundaries. We self-invent constantly, and so this project was kind of perfect for me,” she said.

Nicole Anderson, a first-year student in the Bachelor of Humanities and Arts program, appreciated Boyle’s artistic imagination. “I’m really interested, in general, in this idea of creating false narratives. I like that she invents experiences to communicate feelings that real-life experiences don’t exist for,” Anderson said.

Another of Boyle’s pieces, titled “The Clearances,” explores similar ideas about cultural identity. The mural is constructed from colorful cutout drawings and depicts a diverse group of people in a mob of forward motion that Boyle referred to as the “march towards progress.” The people, drawn wearing garments representative of their origins, are also accompanied by mythological creatures. Boyle described the piece as her “attempt to grapple with the human impulse to colonize.”

Boyle has not confined her art to the boundaries of a single medium, and works with everything from drawing to live projection to porcelain. Works falling into the latter category are amazingly intricate, many of them involving the tedious construction of lace-draped porcelain. Boyle honed her skills under the guidance of talented porcelain hobbyists from around the world.

“I was never one for institutional learning,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be influenced by the world at large, not a large group, which is why a lot of my work doesn’t fit in with contemporary art. I also like to see what people outside of the art world are doing.”

This work outside of the contemporary art world gives Boyle’s art a unique flair and brings her international recognition.