'Art of War' brings ghosts of war into present

Western grad reinvents concept of historical art

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Historical paintings are nothing new, but Western alumnus Todd Tremeer has put a unique spin on an old art form.

The Master’s of Fine Arts graduate is currently showing his contemporary take on historical art in the exhibit Painting History/History Painting.

A quick glance around the gallery confirms Tremeer’s talent. Each of the 22 paintings depicts a detailed event in war history. From Vimy Ridge to Sarajevo, the range of events on display is sure to fascinate students of both art and history.

It takes a much deeper look to uncover and appreciate the inner meaning attached to each painting. These pictures are not just reflections of our past; they are a comment on how history is understood today.

This brings us to the most interesting part of the exhibit. None of the paintings are products of any historical research; each piece is actually a painting of an existing museum diorama, model, or hobby kit.

“It’s representing representation. Basically there is no history in my history paintings. It’s about the presentness of history " how it’s presented now,” Tremeer explains.

Tremeer’s interest in war history stems from his childhood.

“You know there are those kids that could only draw fire engines?” Tremeer says. “I could only do soldiers.”

The unconventional history-free approach engages audiences, asking them to second-guess the way they understand history. Such thought-provoking paintings ask us how we have come to distance ourselves from the past.

“Unlike Canadian war artists, my job as a painter of history is completely different. They actually went to the battlefield to document first-hand. I’m documenting a diorama. The idea of history today is that it’s always at arm’s length. It’s always a sort of construction.”

The paintings shed light on how historical art does not necessarily reflect fact.

In the painting “Vimy Ridge 1917,” the words ‘fixing the past’ are scribbled beside the diorama of battling soldiers.

“Fixing the past is the idea of a model freezing time,” Tremeer explains. “A model is something that is idealized, the way things are supposed to be. There is some sort of order that is not representative of the chaos.”

One of the exhibit’s most outstanding pieces is “Sarajevo, 1992.” The ambiguous nature of the painting makes for many interpretations of Tremeer’s works.

“The reason [for the ambiguity] is because [the piece] sits between a painting of a model and a painting of reality,” Tremeer says. “It is somewhat unclear whether the picture is a window, a billboard, or a painting.”

The two largest paintings entitled “Camp 30” are worth mention. History enthusiasts are bound to appreciate the bit of trivia in the artworks’ name.

“The title is a German POW camp of the Second World War,” Tremeer shares. “It’s elusive because it’s not laid out in the title; it’s encoded. The artwork doesn’t always reveal itself in the first viewing.”

The best part of the exhibit is its interactive quality. A participatory mural entitled “Make Me” invites the public to make their personal mark on historical art. A print station is set up complete with linoleum blocks of army men, cowboys, and knights.

“The audience is sort of allowed to create a story, or engage in making it,” Tremeer says. “It’s an invitation to play with history.”

Painting History/History Painting is on display at the McIntosh Gallery until Sept. 9th. For more information visit www.toddtremeer.com

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