Remembering Joe Fafard (1942–2019)

Renowned Saskatchewan visual artist, Joe Fafard, died on March 16, from stomach cancer at the age of 76. Spanning five decades, Fafard’s imaginative sculptures captured the spirit of the Canadian prairies for local, national, and international audiences alike. His artwork is an iconic mélange of vivid prairie imagery and his legacy as a unique and groundbreaking Canadian artist is undeniable. 

Fafard was born to French-Canadian parents near the Manitoba border in Ste. Marthe, Saskatchewan. In 1966, he graduated from the University of Manitoba and completed his MA at Pennsylvania State University. Fafard was well known for his sculptures of both farm and wild animals, particularly of the prairies—buffalo, cows, and horses. “I think he was a Prairie artist, and I mean that in the best sense of the word,” said Winnipeg-artist and friend, Bill Lobchuk in an interview with CBC News. “He established that imagery from the Prairies as unique.” 

Fafard also created sculptures of people such as Pierre Trudeau, Vincent van Gogh, local folk, and his family—done in a quaint and playful style that was unmistakably his own and instantly recognizable—while still providing his portraits a sense of dignity and composure. He had a profound influence on generations of artists. “His significance was in making art, making work that stated: The stuff around here, our own lives, our own ways of living, this landscape that we find ourselves in, is just as worthy of attention as whatever the heck is happening in New York, whatever the heck is happening in Paris,” said Andrew Kear, chief curator of Canadian Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, in an interview with the Globe and Mail

“Joe died the way he lived: simply, unpretentiously, in complete serenity, with a twinkle in his eye, but above all with the full love of his family and friends,” his partner Alyce Hamon said to the media upon his death. 

This "twinkle of the eye" is apparent in the image above that appears in Wilf Perreault: In the Alley / Dans la Ruelle, published by Coteau Books and the MacKenzie Art Gallery. In the book Timothy Long tells of a remarkable friendship between Fafard and Perreault. They met while attending the Summer School of the Arts in Fort San in 1974, a renovated TB sanatorium near Fort Qu’Appelle. “Wilf soon became friends with Joe, calling him ‘mon oncle,’ in deference to the older artist. On a visit to Joe’s studio in Pense, Wilf took a picture of his friend sitting on the back porch. Unknown to Joe, Wilf used the photograph to paint a portrait that he later presented to him.” (Long, 18-19)

A ceremony celebrating Fafard’s life will be held privately by the family and a public ceremony will be announced at a later date.

Image: Wilf Perreault, Joe Fafard, 1975, acrylic on canvas, 91.4 x 73.6 cm. Collection of Joe Fafard. With permission of Wilf Perreault and the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

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