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Big in Japan, David Trautrimas

It’s hard to believe that the last time I saw David Trautrimas was nearly 6 years ago. I visited his Toronto studio last week, which is nestled in a small upstairs apartment on a tree-lined street not too far from the Wychwood Barns. At that time, I couldn’t help but notice the white splashes of hair book-ending his familiar face. Silently, I noted these superficial markers of age as confirmation of the long intermission between my visits. My perception of this interval evolved after we began our discussion of the developments within his practice and his career.

During my first visit, I characterized the artist as young, emergent and on the brink of an exciting career. He had just completed his first museum show at MOCCA, and was embarking upon a public project for Redpath Sugar. His career was budding. The protracted time between my two documentations conveniently archives Trautrimas’ transition into his mid-career phase.  It’s interesting to compare how long six years appears in terms of an artist’s collection of grey hairs, versus how abbreviated it seems in terms of the progression of an artistic career.

From "One Empire Wide," referencing the iconic "Sam the Recordman" signage.

Sam’s, from “One Empire Wide,” referencing the iconic “Sam the Recordman” signage.

Prior to his most recent images, the last body of work I remember seeing was from his One Empire Wide series. Within this first sculptural series, Trautrimas created miniature ice-fishing huts. Like the actual structures, which northern Canadians often create from reclaimed material, Trautrimas’ inventions refer to debris created by defunct articles in Canadian history. Sam the Record Man, the Avro Arrow, Northern Telecom and other  examples of archetypal expired Canadiana have become  themes recycled to comprise each maquette.

"The Bloedel," from "One Empire Wide," references a Canadian forestry company purchased by a US company.

“The Bloedel,” from “One Empire Wide,” references a Canadian forestry company purchased by a US company.

The portability of these wee architectural imitations facilitated the artist’s participation in a cross-cultural art exchange in Japan, led by Toronto artist Daisuke Tayeka. The Field-Trip Project turned 70 traditional Japanese school-children’s knapsacks, (originally collected to be used as relief supplies after the Fukushima disaster) into a mobile art exhibition which circulated the art of Japanese and Canadian artists into remote Japanese communities.

"The Dollar Bill," from "One Empire Wide," references the Canadian dollar bill, which was replaced by "the loonie" in 1987.

“The Dollar Bill,” from “One Empire Wide,” references the Canadian dollar bill, which was replaced by “the loonie” in 1987.

Life, after-lives, the perception of the passing of time, these motifs dotted our recent exchange in much the same way as they have embellished Trautrimas’ work over the past few years. Always a part of his work, a deeper focus on dissolution has emerged circumstantially and unintentionally, but not inconsequentially.  In April of 2013, a week after his return from Japan, the artist suffered a life changing bicycle accident; a hit and run which left him unable to practice his art for a full year. During that same year, he lost a close family member to their struggle with cancer. In April 2014, he decided to visit Detroit to rehabilitate his creative practice. After being accepted at an artist residency at Popp’s Packing  in the Hamtramck district of Detroit, he spent a month wandering streets which breath constant metaphors of death, reincarnation, destruction and renewal. He describes these aimless peregrinations as sojourns to “the thin place,” likening his profound sensation of time-elapse to walking within the gap between this world and the next.

Flinched and Seized

Flinched and Seized

Like so many contemporary artists, the candid entropy of the streets of Detroit has left Trautrimas smitten.  Along with the now  apocryphal (and possibly obligatory) recounting of real-estate opportunities the city has to offer, Trautrimas’ eyes seemed to gloss over with a sort of lovelorn idealism as he recounted the “ad-hoc” socialism at the backbone of the Detroit art community. Similarly, his anecdote about watching firefighters socialize as they stood idly watching an abandoned house burn illustrated the kind of legendary mythology Detroit increasingly embodies. Apparently, the grim magic of this place soothed his desperate need for a fresh creative start. Out of the studio, the wealth of subject matter he gleaned from his city walks left him with hundreds of images from which he created his most recent body of work.

Piles and Ether

Piles and Ether

Interestingly, despite the fact that all of his source material is shot on location, he decision to shoot only on overcast days enabled him to achieve a kind of studio-uniformity that comes with artificially diffused light.  The result is a series of seamlessly joined images forming impossibly degraded structures. This series, Eidolon Point was recently shown at Trautrimas’ second exhibition in Japan, this time a solo show at the Canadian Embassy which commenced March 18 and continued until May  5, 2015.

Me and My Head

Me and My Head

In an almost ironic departure from his Detroit inspired architectural deterioration, Trautrimas’ current project is a public work for the ICE condo development in downtown Toronto on York Street footing the Gardiner Expressway. Occupancy of these brand new buildings is expected early this summer. For his proposal, Trautrimas conceived a series of permanent benches which offer the weary pedestrian a guardrail backrest to lean on. In another design for the same set of developments, the artist has used the patterning from a tire tread as a decorative enclosure for some unsightly plumbing. The work, which pays homage to the changing demographic of the area, will be unveiled some time during the late summer or early fall.

Concept drawing for ICE condo guard-rail park-bench.

Concept drawing for ICE condo guard-rail park-bench.

Concept drawing for tire-tread inspired landscape fence at ICE condos, Toronto.

Concept drawing for tire-tread inspired landscape fence at ICE condos, Toronto.

Header image Geometry of Loss, from the Eidolon Point series.

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