Visual art: Cathy Busby's Giving Notice

See this impressive show at Dalhousie Art Gallery before the words on walls disappear forever, October 3.

"MOVE." It's a loudly painted, red word peeking around Dalhousie Art Gallery's reading nook, calling to visitors at the gallery's entrance. Feet move almost involuntarily, and gallery viewers find themselves in front of the lettering, uncovering two more: "IN NOW." Sterile black couches frame the lower half of the three walls and words, providing a space to move into.

You sit. You've moved in. Now.

Cathy Busby's installation for Dalhousie Art Gallery's exhibition, Giving Notice: Words on Walls, was born from her north end neighbourhood. While cycling along Gottingen Street one day, the grey, derelict building across from Eyelevel Gallery stopped her.

"On the front of it was a sign that said 'Move in Now,' with pictures of the imagined interior of the condo that would be there," remembers Busby. "And I just thought that that was a funny projection into the future, when the reality was that there was nothing there and that where it was saying 'Move in Now' was definitely a place that you could not move into now."

Learning later that the sign was for Glubes Townhouses---a space you could move into at anytime---is just a matter of splitting hairs for Busby; the dialogue had begun for a playful piece that spoke to north end development.

"For me, there's no sense in making work that doesn't talk about something that matters," says Busby, explaining why the sign spoke to her. "I'm not someone who just says, 'Oh, well, that would be a beautiful thing to make.' It has to be engaging and interesting, it has to have something to say."

When Dal Art Gallery curator Peter Dykhuis asked Busby to create a piece for Giving Notice and she saw the gallery's reading nook, she knew she'd found her installation's home. The exhibition is a collection of projects by artists who used hand-paint or use custom-cut vinyl to apply font-based words onto the gallery's walls---creating an exhibition of installations, of which Busby brought two pieces ("Move in Now" and "Inspiring"), as did Garry Neill Kennedy, along with work by artists Brad Buckley, Gordon Lebredt, Micah Lexier, Christian Bok and Lawrence Weiner.

Once the show's finished October 3, the only remaining proof of the artworks will be the catalogue, which launched last week.

Installed among the rest of the pieces, Busby's "Move in Now" is the only one that loudly proclaims its hand-paintedness---a detail owed to sign painter Wanda McQuinn.

"I really used the north end as a kind of inspiration, and so I had noticed this kind of painting on the windows. This is at O'Regan's," says Busby, pulling out a printed photo of a neon green zero painted on the car dealership's window. "It says: '0%, Save Big,' and then it says 'Employee Pricing.' But as a painting, in a sense of neighbourhood folk painting, I really like this."

A sign painter by trade, McQuinn does the window paintings at O'Regan's and Steamy's hot dog place, among others. Fascinated by McQuinn's style and trade, Busby hired her to paint "Move in Now," asking for specific painting details such as the blue squiggly line that runs under all three words, and the big shapes McQuinn incorporates.

"I really like the idea of connecting with this sign painting, where it's pretty much becoming an obsolete form of sign-making," says Busby, elaborating on her fascination with McQuinn's work. "And so I think it would be really great if there was a revival in demand for sign painting. And if my work contributes to that, if [people] decide that they want to have sign painting in their houses instead of wallpaper...I think that would be great."

About The Author

Support The Coast

At a time when the city needs local coverage more than ever, we’re asking for your help to support independent journalism. We are committed as always to providing free access to readers, particularly as we confront the impact of COVID-19 in Halifax and beyond.

Read more about the work we do here, or consider making a donation. Thank you for your support!

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment

Get more Halifax

Our Thursday email gets you caught up with The Coast. Sign up and go deep on Halifax.