Diana Thorneycroft’s new work sees artist branching out into cinema

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Welcome to the extraordinary imagination of Diana Thorneycroft.

In 2021, his thoughts, his world and perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a fairy tale like no other. It’s an animated stop-motion story that follows Quinn, a strange being, who sets out on a macabre journey, visiting a sanatorium that features characters such as Horse-head Girl and Gord the Goat, filling a basket with items that he loots along the way.

Art preview

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Black Forest Sanatorium

By Diana Thorneycroft

  • Platform Center for Photographic and Digital Arts, 121-100 Arthur St.
  • As of October 29

The seven-minute film features the sets Thorneycroft used to create it, 13 desk-sized dioramas adorned with evergreen and twig trim, or designed to look like laboratories, dotted with tiny animal skeletons on their walls.

The animated film, the puppets and the sets are part of Black Forest Sanatorium, Thorneycroft’s latest exhibition, which opens today at the Platform Center for the Photographic and Digital Arts and runs through October 29.

“Some people can come in and look at a thing and run away, which has happened before, but I think there’s something for everyone in there. There is humor, but it’s dark and it’s fun, ”says Thorneycroft.


Diana Thorneycroft’s new exhibit, Black Forest Sanatorium, debuts on September 17. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Her latest exhibition began during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the award-winning Winnipeg surrealist would spend days at home getting back to the basics of art – putting a pencil on paper and drawing.


Diana Thorneycroft (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Diana Thorneycroft (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Thorneycroft had a vision that the drawings would be part of an exhibition, but other artists, including Winnipeg filmmaker Danielle Sturk, encouraged her to take it further and make her first foray into animation.

She was initially afraid of adding cinema to her artistic repertoire, but the suggestion became too good to be overlooked by a risk-taker like Thorneycroft, who has courted wonder and controversy at the during his 30-year career in the arts, as well as numerous awards, including the Winnipeg Arts Council’s Making a Mark Award in 2009 and the Manitoba Arts Award of Distinction in 2016.

She was ready to dive headlong into the project, learning the ropes as she worked, but decided to hire experienced hands in film and animation, Mike Maryniuk and Evin Collis, to take part of the burden.


A work from Diana Thorneycroft's new exhibition Black Forest Sanatorium.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

A work from Diana Thorneycroft’s new exhibition Black Forest Sanatorium. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I took courses at the Winnipeg Film Group. I thought I could do the camera work myself. I thought I could do the animation myself, and if I was 20 I could do it, but I’m not, so I had to hire, “Thorneycroft said during a break in setting up the exhibit. ”Mike entered my brain. I don’t know, we are like we were separated at birth. ”

Thus, in addition to being a designer, painter, sculptor and photographer, Thorneycroft can call herself a director, thanks to Black Forest Sanatorium and teaming up with a small team that helps make the film.


A work from Diana Thorneycroft's new exhibition Black Forest Sanatorium.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

A work from Diana Thorneycroft’s new exhibition Black Forest Sanatorium. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

“It was the collaboration with other people that made it really special,” she says. “For visual artists, we are used to working alone. For filmmakers, you have to hire people.

Puppets are a fusion of found works of art, which have marked many of Thorneycroft’s recent works, including Black Forest (Village), which debuted at the Vernon Public Art Gallery in British Columbia in 2019 and Black Forest (dark waters), which premiered at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba in Brandon in 2018.

Some of the pieces from these exhibitions have been found in Black Forest Sanatorium, she says. Horse heads of childhood models and dolls make up many of the characters’ faces, while these 2020 pandemic designs became the backdrops for many of the film’s sets and dioramas in the exhibition.


Diana Thorneycroft's new exhibit, Black Forest Sanatorium, debuts on September 17.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Diana Thorneycroft’s new exhibit, Black Forest Sanatorium, debuts on September 17. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

An alcove in the Platform gallery next to the dioramas offers visitors the opportunity to view the film. The combination of the two not only makes it easier to follow Thorneycroft’s imagination, but it also makes it possible to appreciate the detailed work that Maryniuk and Collis did to create the film from the sets of Thorneycroft.

“People come in and watch the animation, then look around, or look around first and watch the animation and see it in a different light again,” she says.


Diana Thorneycroft's new exhibition focuses on characters from a mental institution.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Diana Thorneycroft’s new exhibition focuses on characters from a mental institution. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Winnipeg singer-songwriter Christine Fellows, who branched out into sound effects and sound mixing for films and music videos, provides an eerie soundtrack to match Thorneycroft’s unconventional landscapes in Black Forest Sanatorium.

“Basically I said, ‘Here’s the ball, go run with it,’” Thorneycroft says. “I didn’t really realize. I let her play.”

Sturk, whose 2018 documentary, El Toro: the best truck stop in town, landed a spot in HotDocs at the Toronto International Film Festival and was among the Top 10 Audience Picks at the Gimli Film Festival in 2019, was a fan of Thorneycroft photography, but gleaned the film’s possibilities later, having seen other creations from Thorneycroft.


The idea for Diana Thorneycroft's new exhibit, Black Forest Sanatorium, took root in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

The idea for Diana Thorneycroft’s new exhibit, Black Forest Sanatorium, took root in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

“When I was in the studio it was the three-dimensional aspect that we see now, which looks really alive,” says Sturk, who has his own show, Jukebox: El Toro, opening scheduled at La Maison des Artistes on September 23.

She says Thorneycroft’s latest reminds her of Tim Burton movies like Corpse Bride and beetle juice that bridge the gap between horror and comedy.

Comedy and horror are also two sides of Thorneycroft’s personality. People who meet her immediately notice her humorous side; people who have only encountered some of his controversial works and have scratched their heads in confusion or revulsion only see part of Thorneycroft’s world.


Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft at the Platform Center for Photographic and Digital Arts.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft at the Platform Center for Photographic and Digital Arts. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

“When I was doing my black and white photographs in the ’80s and’ 90s, people would come up to me and say, ‘You’re so normal! I thought you would be six foot seven and all black leather with a whip.’ “Thorneycroft said.

“A lot of people think dark things but they suppress them or don’t talk about them. For me, that’s fertile ground to get the job done.”

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Twitter: @AlanDSmall

Alain Petit

Alain Petit
Journalist

Alan Small has been a reporter for the Free Press for over 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

Read the full biography


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