For Robert Fones, receiving the Governor General’s Award for Visual Arts in 2011 was a nice acknowledgement of the body of work he has created over a more than 40-year artistic career. The London, Ontario-born artist did not expect sudden fame and fortune as a result, but was pleased by the “flurry of attention” that ensued.
Fones has achieved a significant level of renown. He has exhibited throughout Canada, as well as in the U.S. and Germany. His work can be found in the National Gallery of Canada, The Art Gallery of Ontario, and other public and corporate collections.
Like many young artists, he took on other work over the years to supplement his artistic earnings. In the early days, it was carpentry – a skill acquired from his father, and one which he says “has been very valuable to me in my art field.” His mother’s talent as a quilt maker was also influential: “It was a model for the way that I work as well – systematically working on a large-scale project to keep it moving along. Even stretching canvas onto wooden stretchers is similar to quilt-making.”
Robert’s formal artistic training was limited to one year of a specialized arts course at H.B. Beal Secondary School in London, but his more profound learning took place outside the classroom, in London’s small but burgeoning arts community. Among its members was Greg Curnoe, an established artist who enlisted Robert’s help to install one of his murals at Dorval Airport in Montreal. He also became a mentor, introducing the young Fones to French writers like Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and to the Dada art movement. “I was still at H.B. Beal when I first met him. He was one of my teachers in a way and provided a model for me of how I could live and work as an artist. There were other people in London, who also influenced me, including Keewatin Dewdney, Murray Favro and James Reaney.”
“I wanted the letterforms to look alive, to look as animated as the natural forms and automata that Hobbes talked about” – Robert Fones
Over the years, Robert has passed on his own knowledge and insight to generations of Sheridan students. His association with Sheridan dates back to 1987-1988, when he taught in the School of Crafts and Design at the former Lorne Park Campus. He taught part-time during the 1990’s, and has been a full-time professor since 2006 in the Art and Art History and Communication, Culture and Information Technology programs – both joint degrees offered by Sheridan and the University of Toronto at Mississauga.
Recently, Robert made a significant and lasting contribution to the college, with his donation of a photographic installation to the Davis Campus in Brampton. Entitled Leviathan 1 for Sheridan, the piece is an enlargement of a single panel from a series of 8 photographic panels that are now in the National Gallery of Canada’s collection.
The phrase that runs through all 8 panels is from the introduction to Thomas Hobbes’ book Leviathan, a 17th century work of political philosophy:
NATURE (the art whereby God hath made and governs the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal. For seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within, why may we not say that all automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life?
“The whole phrase was almost incomprehensible to me when I first read it,” says Robert, but “once I felt I did understand it, I decided to use it in my artwork.” The first few words of the quote are depicted in Leviathan 1, using letterforms made out of clay as the basis for the piece. They were then photographed and assembled in PhotoShop with another photograph of clouds reflected in water as the background. “I wanted the letterforms to look alive, to look as animated as the natural forms and automata that Hobbes talks about,” he says.
Robert’s gift is a lasting legacy to the Sheridan community, one that he hopes will “contribute to the creative learning environment that we are trying to foster.”
Pictured at top of page: Robert Fones in front of his piece Leviathan 1 for Sheridan. Photo by Sheridan alumnus Jonathan Bielaski
Written by: Susan Atkinson, Manager of Communications and Media Relations at Sheridan.