Weird Science

exhibition review by Wes Lafortune

published in Calgary Strait, vol. 4, #168 - September 20 to 27, 2001

Tim Westbury presents Device for Seeing the World in a Grain of Sand. Intrigued? If so, proceed to the Nickle Arts Museum on the University of Calgary campus and find out for yourself how this local artist puts the world in a grain of sand and at the same time allows a glimmer inside his psyche. 

"The work is conceptual," Westbury said. The concept is humour and a healthy dose of irony all mixed together in the construction of a series of assemblages and devices. What first appears to be a finely engineered item on closer inspection turns out to be cast off junk with bits and pieces of mechanical guts all put together in order for Westbury to comment on the world with his tongue firmly planted inside his cheek. 

"I live out in Bragg Creek," Westbury said while giving a tour of his show. "The woman at the Bragg Creek dump knows me pretty well, she even puts things aside for me sometimes." 

Westbury is a full-time graphic designer and part-time artist who's always had a curiosity about what makes the world tick. "My father was a family doctor. Sometimes he would bring home a urine sample from the office and it would be right next to the apples in the refrigerator." 

The early insight that the human body, the family, the world, is all made up of individual components assembled to form a whole, sparked a lifelong curiosity. Following that curiosity led Westbury to study at Trent University, graduating with a degree in Cultural Studies and then returning to Calgary to pursue art training at the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) from 1985-89. 

However, Westbury did not restrict himself to simply learning the fundamentals of perspective and line. He joined a band that he still plays with occasionally more than 10 years after leaving ACAD. 

"It was an art school band called Curse of Horse Flesh," Westbury said. "It's a cowpunk band." 

Westbury admits the halcyon days of art school seem far away now and that pursuing a career as an artist can be challenging. With a family that includes five-year-old triplets to support, he's pragmatic about his future in the world of fine art. 

"There are maybe five people in the whole country that make their living as artists," Westbury said. Instead of being bitter or disillusioned, he's settled down to earn his keep as a graphic designer and seems content to be creating art on a part-time basis. 

"I work at home in my studio/garage," Westbury said. "I work until winter when the cars have to come back inside." 

Many of the devices Westbury constructs in his jury-rigged studio are clearly ironic statements, yet other pieces in the collection are infused with hope and strands of nostalgia. 

A series of glass domes titled Crystal Palace # 1, #2, and # 3, with collections of items from Westbury's life placed inside, are powerful in their simplicity. The domes help create feelings of reverence for what is contained within. A jar full of ash from incense sticks he burns while working in the studio, a root from the family garden, a graduated cylinder perhaps reminiscent of his father's medical office-all these items placed inside the stunning glass domes evoke stories, memories, and splinters of time. 

The show in its entirety offers a chance to peek inside someone's private thoughts and get a new perspective on the world. Westbury may not be a household name but his work is fresh and appealing. Hopefully in the future he will be able to have an entire garage bay to himself all year long to continue to make art that he obviously loves. 

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