Will Willyart touch you?

By James Keller

If a person’s life is shaped by his friends, than the newest exhibit at the Nickle Arts museum offers the perfect glimpse into the life of John Will.

Made up of work by friends, colleagues, ex-students and even the wife of the local art legend, Willyart shows March 16 – May 5 in conjunction with John Will: Ain’t Paralyzed Yet. According to Calvin Burns, coordinator of the event, this serves to give viewers a different look at Will than simply displaying his work.

"It’s about what was going on around John Will," begins Burns, who is selecting all of the work in the exhibit from the Nickle’s permanent collection. "Some of the people he influenced… some of them influenced him, so it’s a pretty wide spectrum."

Burns admits that this project has involved a lot of work, from narrowing down the artists to be displayed to picking the individual works themselves. Although he tried to find a common theme between the works, it hasn’t worked out as well as he planned.

"The only real thing these artists will have in common is in one way or another, their lives touch John Will’s," says Burns.

Although at times similarities appeared, Burns wanted to make sure he didn’t force this into the show.

"I have to be careful. I don’t want to misrepresent an artist in the show just because they did one piece that looks similar to something John Will did."

Interestingly, before being asked to put this together, Burns’ knowledge of Will was extremely limited.

"I’m really looking hard at the work because I don’t have many experiences with John Will to draw on at all," says Burns. "For me, it’s all about what I’m looking at here."

This, along with the control he was given when initiating this project, has made this both a challenge and a chance for freedom.

"The open-endedness of it makes it easy, but it also makes it difficult because I have to bring together a show that looks cohesive and interesting."

Only living in Calgary for just over two years, Burns’ current understanding of Will stems from rumours and stories he heard while going through the University of Calgary’s graduate studies program. From a pool shark to a regular at the King Eddy who talked art to interested patrons, Burns isn’t sure what to believe about Will and what not to–a concept that has come out in this project as it evolved.

"If you look at his work, lots of times fact and fiction become all messed up," says Burns. "So for me, it’s interesting because fact and fiction is getting mixed up in my own mind."

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