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Seth Exhibit at the AGO -- by Diana Tamblyn

On Wednesday, June 29th, the Seth art show began at the AGO (the Art Gallery of Ontario). It's part of the "Swing Space" series at the museum (billed as Contemporary art in Unexpected Places), so you'll find lovely large Swing Space posters around Toronto advertising the show, as well as smaller Swing Space posters, bookmarks and fun t-shirts all designed by Seth available for sale in the AGO shop.

Seth shirts available at the AGO On Thursday night, the curator of the show Ben Portis, interviewed Seth about the exhibit, followed by a Q&A from the audience. In attendance where some of the area's comic literati like Dave Sim, Chester Brown, Jay Stephens and Jeet Heer. Although it could have been structured a little better as Portis had nothing prepared and just shot out questions as he and Seth stood at one end of the room and people stood (or sat on the floor) around them for the length of the presentation. Luckily Seth is very well-spoken, funny and self-effacing, and he had a lot of great quotes about the show, Clyde Fans, and comics in general.

Swing Space Poster The Show
The show is a seminal event for comics in Canada. The AGO is one of the largest and most influential museums in the country (the big show the gallery right now for instance is "The shape of Colour" featuring modern and contemporary paintings by the likes of Mark Rothko, Jack Bush, and Barnett Newman), and not only have they given Seth his first solo museum exhibit, but they have also purchased one of his works for their permanent collection - "Hush", an oversized one-page black and white story done a few years ago for the National Post. Portis described the show as a "momentous event", as the AGO looks at Seth as: "a contemporary artist no different than other artist here at the AGO". 

Seth said of being in the show:
"It's extremely exciting to be exhibited here. At no point would I have ever imaginged that my work would be displayed in this sort of setting... It's good for cartooning, and.it's a move toward normalacy, so maybe people won't think about as much as a bastard art form."

He added that he moved to Toronto at the age of 19, and on his very first day in the city went to the AGO. He said he never dreamed of being exhibited at the museum, simply because it wasn't something he thought was a possibility for a cartoonist. He noted it was just a few short years ago that comic stores were closing up, publishers were going out of business and print runs were horrendous. In fact hhe and Chester Brown thought that this might be the end of their art form and that they might someday soon be xeroxing their work and selling it on the street!  

The Set-Up
The exhibit takes place in a hexagonal-type shaped room of the AGO and is very nicely set up, with the following pieces on display:

  • selected sequences from "Clyde Fans" along the walls.  
  • two of Seth's sketchbooks under glass cases.
  • the Hush comic that was acquired.
  • an old 1930s standing Clyde fan.
  • a couple of small watercolour portraits of Simon and Abraham Matchcard (the Clyde Fans brothers).
  • Approx. 20 meticulously painted buildings constructed from cardboard boxes representing the city of Dominion (the fictional Northern-Ontario town where Clyde Fans takes place), in the middle of the room.
  • The model of the Clyde Fans building in its own in a separate case.
City of Dominion buildings by Seth

What I found to be the most interesting part of the show was definitely the cardboard buildings of Dominion, as I knew nothing about them previously and they're incredibly beautiful to look at. There's a good reason that no one has known about them as Seth has been secretly working on them for years, and has kept them in his basement gathering dust. We can thank Portis who saw them in Seth's house in Guelph and fell in love with them that they're part of the show.

Constructed out of FedEx boxes, Seth has developed a whole history and backstory for each building. For example one building is a puppet theatre, and Seth has worked out the history of the puppeteer who puts on the plays, the plays themselves, and the inevitable decline of the building after the pupputeer's death (the building is now a dollar strore he says). Some of these details may work their way in the comic, and some may not but the process helps him in writing the story.

He said "There's something about the urban landscape that evokes melancholy. I created the city to be a backdrop for Simon in Chapter Two of Clyde Fans, then I became really interested in the city itself. That's when I started building some of the models."

Comics as a Process
Seth spoke a bit about his process as an artist, saying that for him:
"Cartooning is a slow and labourious process... Most of storytelling in comics comes from the decisions you make - you arrange panels on a page to create a flow, and there are 100 decisions you could make going from one panel to another."

He also wanted to make it clear that he does not consider the artwork displayed on the walls to be the final art. It's a just "part of the process to get to the final art. The book is the final art".

When someone asked if he would ever use a computer, he jokingly said he had made his first step in that direction because he now actually owns a computer at home! He added that he will never stray from the hand-crafted process that he loves, but he is interested in using the computer to give him more control over the final product. For instance he says that now someone scans all of his artwork for him, but that in the future he'd like to do this himself. 

The exhibit runs through October 16th, 2005, and if you're in the Toronto area, I would stronly encourage you to check it out.        

Further Reading:

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