Jeff de Boer: Art with beauty + meaning

Everyday Tourist takes yet another look at Calgary's growing collection of public art (seems like there is a new piece every month), this time the Calgary Stampede's new ENMAX Park public artwork titled "Rainbow." 

Recently, enroute to Reds in Ramsay for an early morning breakfast meeting, I noticed a new piece of public art at the entrance to the new ENMAX Park at Stampede Park.  I made a mental note to check it out on my way home. 

After a very stimulating chat over my Prairie Breakfast at Reds, I did indeed stop to have a look on my way home.  As I was taking photos, a voice said “Hi, Richard!”  It was Jeff de Boer, the Calgary artist finishing up the installation of his newest public art piece. I have known Jeff for years since my curator days back in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  While we hadn’t seen each other for close to 10 years, we immediately struck up an engaging discussion.

Rainbow Trout?

He shared with me how proud he was of this piece entitled “Rainbow” which he and two apprentices invested hundreds of hours making, grinding and polishing hundreds of welds on the 10 high shiny, stainless steel legs (up to 17 feet tall) of the sculpture which support the six rainbow coloured shapes that when you stand in the right place, merge to create a giant rainbow trout. 

It was nice to know this artist actual does the real grunt work on his own pieces and didn’t just create the drawings and farm out the dirty work to others – a process quite common amongst public artists.  He told me by doing the work himself; he cut the budget in half.

He shared with me how, with this piece he wanted to create something not only beautiful but meaningful.  While the rainbow trout makes an obvious reference to the location of the piece next to the Elbow River and the confluence of the Elbow and Bow Rivers, it also makes reference to the LGBTQ rainbow and on an even broader level, the six abstract coloured shapes represent the diversity of people who call Calgary home. 

Cathedral or Waves?

I asked him about the glittery aluminum tubes with balls on the end – looking like some alien creatures to me - and he shared how they are arches inspired by churches he saw in Barcelona last year. Indeed the arches do create a cathedral-like space underneath the elevated Rainbow Trout, which one could be interpreted as a place to worship Mother Nature.

He also shared his hope that families would play under the sculpture and explore the spaces created by the gangly legs sticking out of the plaza.

Collectively, the aluminum tubes - from a distance – are meant to look like waves with the fish breaking the surface of the water, creating splash as it re-enters the water.  To me, they create a sense of energy and movement, giving the piece a dynamic quality often missing from most of Calgary’s public art which too static.

In the daytime, the lines and small circles etched into the six objects reflect the markings on rainbow trout, at night they create a fun light show.

The fact that you have to stand about 70 feet from the piece toward the Elbow River to see the fish shape could be a metaphor for the idea that in life, you have to stand back from the action to see what is really happening.

de Boer also likes how the piece serves as a gateway piece to Ramsay, Stampede Park and the new ENMAX Park. In fact, it is positioned so people walking and cycling to and from ENMAX Park pathway can go right under the piece. 

Evolution And Art

I have always loved de Boer’s dedication to craftsmanship and playfulness – from his tiny and exquisite chainmail mice to the two carousel pieces in the West Jet departure lounge at the Calgary Airport (which are perhaps my favourite pieces of public art in Calgary).

Link: Airports As Art Galleries

At first glance, “Rainbow” could be dismissed as being something cute or pretty, but as you think about, look at and interact with it more, de Boer has moved beyond the beauty of craftsmanship to a subtle commentator on the world we share.  

I expect as more people see “Rainbow,” more meanings will be identified – ones even the artist may not realize are there.  For me, good art is a slow read, with more meanings and images revealed over time. Good art acts as a catalyst for the viewer to think about themselves and world around them.  Good public art allows the public to become engaged with the work, enticing them to explore the work from different angles and see different things.

I love the fact that with Jeff de Boer’s “Rainbow” the Stampede has added a new dimension to its art collection, hopefully beginning an evolution from a collection that celebrated the past to one that also celebrates the present. 

Stampede Art Park?

Did you know Stampede Park is quickly becoming Calgary’s art park with over 15 works of art – murals and bronzes?   One of the murals “The Dream” was painted by Doug Driediger, Calgary’s foremost mural painter.  The bronze sculpture “By the banks of the Bow” created by local artists Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch is one of the largest and most ambitious pieces (it is the size of a city round-about and weights seven tons) of public art in North America, consisting of 15 horses and two cowboys. 

The Stampede has wisely posted a self-guided tour on their website for anyone wishing to spend a weekend afternoon or perhaps a summer evening exploring the art.

Link:  Stampede Park Self-Guided Art Walk 

I am told that over the next few weeks, over 8,000 high school students will invade Stampede Park for their graduation festivities and one of the fun things they like to do is use the public art for some fun and quirky photo opportunities. 

I might just have to wander by to see this for myself.

"By the banks of the Bow" is a popular gathering place at Stampede Park.