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Jim Holyoak and Matt Shane - The Hills Are Shadows at MAC

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by dpm (subscribe)
dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
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Artists have unique view of the world
Visitors to Midlands Arts Centre can enter mysterious worlds created by two Canadian artists who have been in residence at the Birmingham venue.

Jim Holyoak and Matt Shane have been working on the exhibition 'The Hills Are Shadows' this autumn. They have now finished their residency and visitors to the centre in Cannon Hill Park can see both finished pieces and their work in progress.

Jim Holyoak and Matt Shane
Jim Holyoak and Matt Shane


The two artists have known each other for 20 years after they met at the University of Victoria in British Columbia and they have developed a special way of working. They begin with a rough idea beforehand and then, when they come to the venue, they both work on one drawing, developing it as they go along. Each picture is huge but is packed full of tiny detail so the artwork can be seen as a whole from a distance or as tiny miniatures when viewed up close.

The current work brings together a dinosaur and a shipwreck and is exhibited alongside drawings they have created over the past two decades. And all their work has a timely ecological message.

The Hills Are Shadows
The Hills Are Shadows


Jim explains: "We do hope this artwork will enable people to consider the world as bigger than the world you immediately see in front of you. And as a world that also belongs to animals and other living beings. We like to challenge that sense of human ownership of the world. By being able to step back as if you were in a satellite looking down at the world you are able to see things differently – you see the magnitude of the world and how harm happens to a place. And then you come in close and see the life that is there."

And he adds: "There's an incredible complexity to the world and even as it dies it gives birth to new life. With decay comes regeneration. All the pictures are of somewhere and something and there are also ideas of decaying and growing. The world is constantly moving and changing, even if we are not aware of it."

The Hills Are Shadows brings together these ideas in a mix of nature and construction, says Matt. "We start with a loose idea of what the composition should be. In this case, we started back in British Columbia by drawing two different figures – one was a nodosaur, a kind of dinosaur washed up on a beach which is in a state of decay, and then there's a shipwreck. These were two separate drawings and they represent the way we work because I'm really interested in architecture and structures and Jim loves dinosaurs, mythology and monsters. The original idea was to have those two crashing into each other on a distant beach somewhere and then when we got here, as often happens when we start working, we changed our minds! So much of the drawing process for us is adapting to the space we have. And so we decided to create one figure which brings together the shipwreck and the dinosaur."

Jim Holyoak and Matt Shane
Huge ideas in miniature


Matt and Jim began work on the picture in September and the exhibition can be viewed until November 24 in the First Floor Gallery at MAC. Having worked together over such a long period of time they have developed a process of improvisation, much like performing dance, drama or music. "With all of our large pieces we continually trade places," says Jim. "If we've been working on something for an hour we'll switch. So one of us will draw in pencil and the other will come in with ink. Matt will draw a house and I'll draw a monster destroying it. It's back and forth, back and forth all the time. So there is no part of the drawing which is Matt's or mine. We're always improvising and adding details."

'The Hills Are Shadows' won't be completed at MAC. At the end of November, the artists intend to remove the picture, roll it up and take it on to another destination – where it will be exhibited and completed at some point in the future.

'The Hills Are Shadows' is a free exhibition in the First Floor Gallery of MAC, delivered with support from Manif D'art, the People's Postcode Lottery and the Postcode Culture Trust. It is open daily between 11am-5pm until November 24. See https://macbirmingham.co.uk/exhibition/the-hills-are-shadows for more information.

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Why? Art on a maxi and a miniature scale
When: Until 24 November
Phone: 0121 446 3232
Where: Midlands Arts Centre
Cost: Free
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