Bergland artist subject of Fort Frances museum exhibit

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

An area artist is the focus of a brand-new exhibit at the Fort Frances Museum and Cultural Centre.

Titled “All Of Us One Family,” the exhibit features the artwork of Tony Sepers, a Dutch-born artist who lives in Berglund. Sepers says he has been an artist for as long as he can remember, making art as a toddler when he refused to take a nap.

“My mother would set me downstairs with paper, pencils, scissors, whatever, and I would create circuses,” he explained.

“It’s just gone on from there. For a long time I was self-educated and then when I was 29 I went to university and got an Honours in Fine Art from the University of Guelph. In the year 2000 [wife] Karen and I came to Lake of the Woods, settled in Bergland and I was entirely free to paint without having to do external work, whereas before I did.”

Sepers’ exhibit at the museum features a number of his large paintings both on the main floor and in the upstairs space. Each of the featured works is brightly coloured and detailed, and was created using a number of different techniques and materials, like cutouts and articles of clothing. Most of Sepers’ paintings prominently feature a humanoid stencil figure similar to the one seen on crosswalk signs, or stenciled letters, or often both at the same time. Sepers explained the stencil figures and letters are something he uses extensively in his artwork because they are inherently neutral, carrying no built in meaning or ideology, allowing Sepers to mold them to suit the message or theme or feeling that is being expressed through the piece.

“I loathe to use the human figure as a packhorse for my ideas,” he said.

“What happened is, because of all the ‘watch for pedestrians’ signs in the reserves and communities around here, it was the ideal symbol to pick up on. For 20 years I’ve worked with that symbol; it is in most of the paintings even if you don’t see them.”

Sepers has also done direct figurative work, including one of the larger pieces on display. That one, occupying a majority of the museum’s east wall, is a collaboration between Sepers and his friend, artist Dwayne Yerxa. Sepers said he and Yerxa work together on occasion and that the pair have been working on the massive piece since 2013.

“It’s an ongoing thing,” Sepers explained.

“It sort of started out a little bit as a competition as to who was going to invade whos property or whatever, the same old white/native question. It turns out that diminished, diminished, diminished to the point where both of us were working really, really hard to create an image and piece of art that’s memorable.”

Artist Tony Sepers poses with one of his pieces on display at the Fort Frances Museum. The exhibit runs until October 27 and features some art that has been a collaboration between Sepers and fellow artist Dwayne Yerxa. –Ken Kellar photo

Sepers said the two men traded off work on the piece, in what he described as a “question and answer” kind of relationship. Sepers said the final work attests to the fact that both men are “pretty even.”

“The cultural differences between the two halves are obvious,” he said.

“I use lettering. The nature of the stencil letter isn’t packed with stuff, and you can fill it. To me letters are like people, and the letters come together to make meaning of our existence, whether it be a word, paragraph or sentence.”

On his artistic process, Sepers explained that he begins with a new white canvas, something he said “scares the bejesus out of you.” Once Sepers has started on the painting, however, he said he’s almost working backwards in a way to find the original idea of the artwork.

“Once you’ve put a brushstroke down you’ve made an error, you’ve spoiled the purity of the whole thing and you’re trying to repair it,” he said.

“How it works for me is a little bit like Plato’s Cave. You see the shadow but you don’t know the individual or object of your search. So from the shadow you have to work towards finding whatever it is that makes that shadow, and you follow your nose to get there.”

As for what the public itself will take away from his pieces on display at the museum, Sepers said it’s one thing that he is not in control of, and it’s not something he would want control over even if he could have it.

“Each individual has their own triggers and if the work triggers anything in anybody, I’m grateful,” he said.

“I leave a path for what I thought, but what I thought is not as important to what the individual looking at it brings to it. We all have our own experience, we all have our own triggers, and hopefully what I’ve done has been able to trigger some of those ideas within the individual, whether it’s about beauty or the meaning of life or whatever. I hope something triggers something, even if it’s just the joy of colour.”

“All Of Us One Family” will be featured at the Fort Frances Museum and Cultural Centre until Wednesday, October 27, and Sepers will be at the museum to discuss his art on Saturday, October 2.