In the spring of 2018, New Brunswick abstract expressionist artist Jared Betts reached out to the New Brunswick Museum (NBM) about the possibility of examining butterflies in the NBM insect collection. He was seeking inspiration for an upcoming art exhibition – Images rémanentes – in Moncton.
Images rémanentes, a permanent, public, art project features the work of thirteen contemporary artists. The exhibition is based on aspects of the history of art in Acadie, in south-west New Brunswick. The new works will highlight the exceptional contribution that cultural events, entities and figures have made to the vitality of the contemporary Acadian art community from the 1960s to the present day.
The impressive collaborative effort involves: artist-run print studio Imago, the Galerie d’art Louise-et-Reuben-Cohen and Galerie Sans Nom. It is one of the 200 exceptional projects supported by the New Chapter program of the Canada Council for the Arts and it has also been supported by the province of New Brunswick and the City of Moncton.
Betts is one of the thirteen participating artists who were each given a theme from an historical Acadian exhibitor artist. Born in Moncton and graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 2010, Betts’ work can be found in several international public and private collections. His project is co-organised by independent curators Michelle Drapeau and Elise Anne Laplante.
Betts’ contribution is a grouping of eleven mixed media screen-printed works inspired by a 1995 group exhibition called Night Glow Highway. In it, artists screen printed on signs and placed the signs along the Dieppe riverfront walkway. Betts’ new works for the project will simultaneously refer to the hybrid techniques of Paul Édouard Bourque and natural subjects drawn from the local surrounding marsh by Marc Cyr and Nat Snider.
Soon after his initial contact, Betts met with NBM Natural Sciences and Humanities Departments team members including, Dr. Donald McAlpine, Head of Natural Sciences; Peter Larocque, Head of Humanities, and Mary Sollows, Curatorial Assistant in the Zoology Section, to look at various trays of insects. Ever since he was young Jared noted that he has been fascinated with insects, so the project fulfilled a lifelong aspiration to learn more about them. When he began preparing for this project, he was extremely excited to learn about the range and importance of the provincial museum’s collections and expertise.
Mary Sollows and Jared Betts ponder a tray of exotic tropical butterflies in the NBM insect collection. (Photo credit : Nienke Izurieta)
The NBM insect collection includes over a quarter of a million specimens, some dating to the late 1800’s. After a period of little growth, from about 1930 to 1980, the collection has since grown rapidly, both through NBM field programs and donations from both amateur and professional entomologists. Although primarily consulted by those engaged in the scientific study of the insects of the Maritimes, artists have made increasing use of the resource. McAlpine, who has done plenty of insect collecting himself, marvelled that he is “ always quite amazed with the outcome when creative people spend time in the NBM natural history collections.” Likewise, Mary Sollows reported that she found it “was a pleasure to experience Jared’s enthusiasm as he viewed the museum’s insect collection. It is fascinating to see how his perceptions have developed into his works of art.”
Betts, Drapeau, McAlpine, Larocque, Sollows look at one of the native specimens from the NBM Collections. (Photo credit : Nienke Izurieta)
Although the focus of NBM insect collection is Canadian Maritime species, there is a good selection of breathtakingly beautiful tropical species represented as well. (Photo credit : Nienke Izurieta)
The NBM’s art curator, Peter J. Larocque, commented, “New Brunswick artists have been drawing inspiration from many aspects of the museum’s collections for generations. New artists who come to use the resource are not only enthralled by its scope but they are also pleased to realize they are sharing in an extremely important part of the continuum of the province’s creative heritage.”
During his research time at the NBM, Betts sketched and photographed many of the insects as part of the process, looking at both native and exotic species of butterflies, moths, beetles and dragonflies. He also examined some of the species under the microscope so as to gain better insight into their details and vibrant colours, which he would later translate into his abstract works. Having gathered enough material to prepare his compositions, Betts became engrossed in his creation, carrying out technical experiments at the artist-run print shop, Imago.
Silkscreening his work from images of butterfly specimens from the NBM , Betts titled his project Nymphalidae Phosphorescence…Nymphalidae is the scientific name for the largest family of butterflies, and phosphorescence is an allusion to their often dazzling colours. For Betts, this title evokes both his longstanding interest in these insects, as well as their sometimes surreal beauty.
Butterfly silkscreen preparation as shared by Betts during his time at the Imago Print Studio in Aberdeen. (Photo credit: Jared Betts)
Jared shares, “I kept seeing the word- Nymphalidae– on the [storage cabinet] doors of many of the butterflies I looked at in the NB Museum. I thought it was a beautiful word, very poetic and ethereal sounding. The whole experience of opening cabinet door after door was very magical for me, as I have been so fascinated by butterflies since I was a child.”
“I wanted to have words that had to do with the moon, the tide, water and also first and foremost, words we associate with glowing, to honor the original Acadian project Night Glow Highway which inspired this project. I remember growing up how sometimes at night, if you move your hand in the water of the Northumberland Strait, you get a slight phosphorescent effect, like fireflies in the ocean. The word phosphorescence, the process in which energy absorbed by a substance is released in the form of light, seemed to capture that”
This stage, Betts stretching them all on wooden stretchers and followed by painting the rest. (Photo credit: Jared Betts)
Betts finished the print stage of the project. These photos were taken at Imago Print Studio in Aberdeen and also Betts studio in Aberdeen.
Betts when he was working on this project at Imago, an artist-run-centre specialized in silkscreening at the Aberdeen cultural centre in Moncton. (Photo credit: Annie France Noël)
Samples of finished documentation photos by Mathieu Leger with the design on panels. (Photo credit: Jared Betts / Mathieu Leger)
The panels are being printed on aluminum di-bond panels and will be installed on permanent exhibition along the waterfront boardwalk behind Chateau Moncton Hotel for the December 19, 2018 inauguration.
We will be updating this blog in the very near future following the inauguration with images of the installed works of art, to complete this full process of beginning to end that Betts has shared with us and the NBM encourages you to visit (time and again) these unique New Brunswick public artworks.
To learn more about the NBM research opportunities please email email@example.com or call 1-888-268-9595.
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