Finding Muse at Home

“In the end don’t worry about, I don’t need you”

“Do not leave the bubble. It will kill you,” harsh words offered by Jennifer Saleik, or Jenn of the artist duo DaveandJenn. Granted she was warning against the perils of space travel, but she could just as easily have been describing her relationship with husband David (Dave) Foy, the other half of their artistic alter ego. Rest assured, neither suffers from the compromised immune system that plagued a young John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Both are healthy, strapping young adults. That doesn’t mean however, that they haven’t cocooned themselves away from the perils of the outside world.

“We are terrified of meeting strangers. We’re actually quite hermetic, and we’re very shy people,” proclaims Jenn. This shyness is one of the reasons the two adopted the DaveandJenn moniker. “Having this name for ourselves helped us deal with all the public aspects of having to be an artist.”  Another is that together Dave and Jenn are creating some of the most dynamic and well-recognized art in the city.

The two began collaborating during their fourth year at the Alberta College of Art and Design. Since forming their partnership, they have collected numerous accolades. In 2006 and 2009 they were semi-finalists in the RBC Canadian Painting Competition. They received the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award in 2010, and just this year they made the 2011 Sobey Art Award Long List, the pre-eminent award for contemporary Canadian art – remarkable accomplishments for two people who haven’t even crested 30. These accomplishments have come as the result of hard work and dedication that borders on the obsessive.

The couple rents the main floor of an aging house in Hillhurst, an arrangement that gives them leave to convert the basement into a studio – their own private bubble. Having received sufficient support through federal and provincial grants to dedicate themselves to a fulltime art practice, Dave and Jenn spend six days a week cloistered in their creative fortress of solitude developing their fantastical landscapes, often losing track of what time, or even day, it is.

Do not leave the bubble. It will kill you,

Their studio looks exactly as you would expect it to. Sketches and photos cover the walls and support beams, offering a trail of intellectual breadcrumbs that leads from one concept or painting to another. Bottles of acrylic paint sit in clusters throughout the room, residing next to old plastic containers filled with brushes, pens and pencils. A series of bird skulls cast in green wax takes up much of a table. Books on art and science (Dave and Jenn are self-professed science nerds) are piled up on almost every available surface. The studio embodies the notion of organized chaos, a concept reflected in DaveandJenn’s work.

Collages of small images, drawings, and paintings are sandwiched between layers of resin a quarter of an inch thick, creating grandiose landscapes that are exquisite in their detail and almost hypnotic in their depth. Jenn describes their creations as “landscapes that look like something drastic has just happened and the human world is maybe completely gone, or everything is changing, and the universe is just doing its own thing.”

Concepts of failure and loss are also touched upon as DaveandJenn use their work as a means of navigating their world. “We’re always trying to pinpoint where we fit in with everything else on the planet. Maybe if we see ourselves as part of a whole, that is an important lesson to learn.”

Although searching to find their place in the grand scheme of things – a bubble adrift on the currents of existence – Dave and Jenn have become firmly entrenched in the Calgary art scene, a community they applaud for the support it gives. “Here we’re all really nice to each other. The community is small, but it’s tight and they hold on to each other. And it’s senior artists who support younger artists. Inter-generational friendships and stuff, and that’s one of the greatest things about (Calgary).”

So what’s next for DaveandJenn? They’ve been selected to participate in the largest review of contemporary Canadian art ever held outside of the Great White North. Titled Oh, Canada, the exhibit will showcase 60 artists from north of the 49th Parallel, including locals Chris Millar and John Will, as well as renowned author Douglas Coupland. Three years in the making, the show will be housed at MASS MoCA, the largest centre for contemporary art in the United States. Oh, Canada will open May 27, 2012 and run until March of the following year, after which it will tour the U.S. and Canada.

Not bad for a twosome whose only real focus is on making superb art. “We just keep our heads down and we just keep working,” and they definitely do not leave bubble.

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