Artistic Fusion is a Canada Arts Connect Magazine original column that looks at Canadian arts companies who are blending genres, styles and media in their work and exploring what is unleashed when those artistic boundaries are broken.
In this installment, we talked to actor, writer, and painter Bruce Horak, who is currently touring his one-man show Assassinating Thomson, produced by Monster Theatre, across Canada. In Assassinating Thomson, Horak delivers a compelling 75-minute narrative that flows from his own introduction to visual art, to the history of Canadian art, to his personal journey as a painter with only nine per cent of his vision (yes, Horak is legally blind), to the startling similarities between himself and the painter Tom Thomson, to the conspiracies surrounding Thomson’s death in 1917 – all the while, he’s painting a portrait of the audience sitting in front of him.
How did you find the idea to paint the audience during Assassinating Thomson?
The idea for Assassinating Thomson came as a result of doing hundreds of individual portrait sessions over the course of the last two years. During a session (usually lasting two to three hours) I would chat casually with my subject and inevitably the questions of how I see, how I paint, why I paint, and what inspires me came up.
The “script” of this show is a condensed (albeit rather one-sided) version of a portrait session.
The story of Tom Thomson has intrigued me since I first learned of it almost eight years ago. I love a good ghost story, and I love the fact that there are so many different versions of the events… mystery compels me.
Have you ever mixed art and theatre like this before?
I’ve never mixed visual art and theatre in this way before. It’s quite a challenge to paint and talk at the same time. I’m trying to access the Visual side of my brain while also engaging the Verbal side, and it’s fascinating to see how the two pull at each other and how telling the story influences the art I create.
I felt that it was easy to hang on to your story partly because I was so curious about what you were painting – was this part of the plan?
I rarely begin a painting with any sort of plan. The “goal” is to capture a feeling, which can’t be expressed in a verbal way.
The conversation between the artist and the canvas and the “source” is something I’m intrigued by and following that seemed the most natural thing to do.
There were moments when you went quiet to focus on the painting, and the room went silent. Were these moments structured into the storytelling, or do they happen naturally? Did it surprise you how well painting and storytelling work together?
This show continues to surprise and inspire me. The moments where I shift my focus to the art are never planned out – I just want to let them happen; to keep it alive, and to try and capture the actual process.
Besides the obvious answers, how are art and theatre different for you? How are they similar?
The more I practice painting and theatre, the more similarities I find between them. I feel that the basic principles are the same in every art form I encounter: the desire to communicate, the desire to create, getting past the internal (and external) censor, exploring the unknown, having an effect on the audience, capturing a feeling….
Do you think Tom Thomson was a great storyteller?
Some of the books I’ve read about him describe him as a story-teller, but there are few records of his actual life – other than what the Group of 7 and his close friends tell. As a storyteller myself, I like to think that Tom was one as well…. but that’s just my own filter coming through.
The Myth of Thomson is fascinating, and how it changes over time and through the person doing the telling is intriguing.
What’s next for Assassinating Thomson?
Assassinating Thomson will be touring throughout the summer to the Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Victoria Fringe Festivals.
The FireHall Arts Centre in Vancouver will be presenting the show as part of their 2013/2014 season in October. Director Ryan Gladstone and I will be adding technical “bells and whistles” to the upcoming production – all of the visual magic that isn’t possible to tour on the Fringe.
I would like to take this show to galleries, museums, and schools, as I feel that it would be an excellent tool to inspire future artists.