A netherworld of nostalgia

Graeme Patterson’s Secret Citadel exhibition at the Surrey Art Gallery explores childhood memories and friendships.



If you happened to be a childhood friend of Graeme Patterson’s, consider yourself, one way or another, remembered.

The New Brunswick artist spent five years building four massive, intricate sculptures – dioramas, in a sense – dedicated to young male friendship, from childhood through to adulthood.

The solo exhibition is on display at the Surrey Art Gallery, part of a two-year, cross-Canada tour.

The history of the exhibition, he explains, stems from a friend he had from about age five to age nine while growing up in Saskatoon.

Though the exhibit’s four sculptures might have been a linear memory of events, they contain seemingly unrelated elements that include art (in once case, an ideal art studio inside a mountain), conflict (including a wrestling gym), a fiery bus crash and a player piano with a bar inside.

Patterson admits it’s not easy to make sense of it.

There are recurring motifs, an anthropomorphic bison, representing Patterson himself, and cougar, representing his old friend Yuki. The two figures show up as human-sized torsos, as well as tiny figures around the sculptures.

When not full-sized torsos or miniatures, they can be seen throughout the exhibition in stop-motion animation, wrestling, sitting at a bar, jumping on trampolines or engaged in mortal combat.

Patterson says he’s taken liberty with his “reconstruction of memories.”

The first sculpture, for instance, is called “The Mountain,” and contains childhood homes of the two boys and what was definitely not a mountain, but East Hill in Saskatoon.

“To us, it was a mountain,” explains Patterson. “(I was) trying to make something bigger than it really was.”

The second sculpture, called “Camp Wakonda,” features a miniature bus crash based on an event that took place when Patterson was 16.

“No one was hurt, but a friend was lost,” he notes.

“Camp Wakonda” features the most tension of the four in the exhibit.

The third, “Grudge Match,” features an elaborate wrestling gym (photo at left) tucked underneath a set of life-sized bleachers.

Miniature scenes beside the gym include a locker room and exercise room – with incredible detail. Patterson says “Grudge Match” is based on his teenage history of wrestling.

The bleachers, which were clean before the exhibit was launched, were covered in graffiti in Quebec – on purpose – during the start of Patterson’s tour.

The final sculpture is “Player Piano Waltz,” with music composed by Patterson.

It’s a complicated piece, with more stop-motion animation and the darker theme of being alone in a bar (inside the piano), with more visits from the bison and cougar.

Yuki, the childhood friend the cougar is based upon, hasn’t been heard from since the artist was about nine years old.

Patterson has searched high and low for him and suspects he may live in Japan.

It’s a place, says Patterson, where “there are a lot of Yukis.”

Graeme Patterson’s Secret Citadel is on display at the Surrey Art Gallery until March 20. A panel discussion about the show takes place Feb. 20 and an exhibition tour takes place March 2. The gallery is located at 13750 88 Ave.

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