When we are young, we draw as a way to tell ourselves stories. Through play, we create entire worlds, so intricate and complete that they come to feel utterly real. Artists of all disciplines will work their entire careers attempting to get back to the completely immersive nature of that storytelling. It is rare, as adults, to come across worlds that are imagined and still utterly true. Jay Dart’s show “Yawnder” is one such imaginary world. It is a collection of drawings and stories over ten years in the making.
A graduate of the Fine Arts program at the University of Guelph, Dart tells the story of a portrait assignment in an early class. His painting contained small figures and forms scurrying around his representation. The professor observed this and directed Dart to quit the painting and head to college to learn illustration. Dart’s response was to pick up filmmaking and photography, abandoning painting and drawing. It was not until 2007 that he drew a little fellow named Barry the Mannalo “and fell in love with drawing again.”
“I was just doing these pictures” Dart shares. “This character emerged. His name’s Jiggs.” Dart shares that Jiggs acts as his alter ego and became the main character of this story: “Prior to this series, I was doing a lot of random drawings. I was figuring out my style.”
His style has now beautifully gelled. The show is arranged in the same manner as the children’s book Dart self-published by the same name. Delicately rendered primarily in watercolour pencil, the world of Yawnder has a gentle palette of minute details that merit a close reading.
After a period of primarily pencil drawing, Dart began experimenting with watercolours, and in the period of early struggle, Dart was more drawn to the test swatches of colour than the paintings themselves. Dart determined to follow this preference and the small bright swatches appear throughout the show, floating puffs of colour that later settle into magical multi-coloured beards.
“I started to explore what a zeitgeist was, what is the basis for ideas, and the beards.” These swatches of colour are refered to as “geists” each with different properties or powers depending on their colour. Dart smiles when later reflecting on the fascination with beards: “I was trying to grow a beard at the time, and I was a redhead as a child. It grew in bright orange.”
Dart has similarly catalogued and named types of trees, and brightly coloured “geist saps” that grow when the beards are planted. The drawings and texts are interspersed with sculptural elements to assist, Dart hopes, in making the experience as immersive as possible. The storybook is available for purchase as well as “The Field Guide to Yawnder” which chronicles the ins and outs for those travelling through. “I wanted to bring people into the world, show the scope of what I’ve been doing for the last ten years and this is sort of a helpful guide.”
The show also includes drawings that will be a part of the next book Dart is currently creating, as well as some slight sneak peeks that jump ahead in the story arc. It is tantalizing to see new characters emerging without total context. Future story arcs are referred to as taking place in the “Beyawnder”.
“There is a story. This is a world. This is a small encapsulation of this world that I’ve been building for ten years and there’s at least another ten years to come. We’re at a moment in time where I have gone off into the Beyawnder, to this other part of the world, but here at WallSpace, we’re ‘meanwhile back over Yawnder’ and we’re taking a step back to show these pieces from just before Beyawnder happens.”
I ask Dart how he feels about people purchasing the pieces of this story, the idea of the narrative scattering, and he responds without hesitation. “I love that idea. I love the story being dispersed over many homes. And people can essentially own the whole thing by buying the books and knowing what’s in the story and knowing that they have a small piece of it. I think that’s unique about it.”
I, for one, think it fortunate that Jay Dart wound his way from photography and film back to drawing, and that we now have the pleasure of ambling through the world he has created. I invite you to go, and acquaint yourself with Yawnder and its’ whimsical inhabitants.
The show runs May 6 to 29 at WallSpace’s Westboro location. It will entice you in it’s utterly complete and captivating magic. Go and be delighted.