Vancouver sculptor James Stewart with his sculpture 'Safia,' which is part of his Pangea exhibit. Photograph by: submitted photo, James Stewart

By Lena Sin
September 11, 2011

Vancouver sculptor James Stewart with his sculpture ‘Safia,’ which is part of his Pangea exhibit.
Photograph by: submitted photo, James Stewart

James Stewart created the giant, prawn-like aliens in the film District 9 and the noble lion in the Chronicles of Narnia.

But for the Vancouver artist — who studied business in university and started sculpting 25 years ago as a hobby — it’s travel and people that really inspire him.

For his latest exhibit, Pangea, Stewart stitches together his experiences of travelling the world in a series of eight lifelike sculptures.

While each one represents the ­spirit of specific individuals he met in countries such as Peru, Italy, Egypt and Zimbabwe, collectively they reflect human dignity in all its different forms. The figures, meticulously sculpted in clay before being cast in bronze, each took an average of six months to create.

Pangea is on now from Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. until Oct. 2nd at 5 W. Pender St.

Q: What is Pangea about?

Stewart: Pangea was the name of the continents before they drifted apart. So Pangea is the foundation for what became our continents today. The exhibit is a collection of artworks, all different scales with subtly different expressions. But like the land masses they have a common thread, in this case, dignity.

What drew you to these specific individuals?

All are off the beaten track. I spend my holidays in remote areas where I can find people who are part of the landscape. I love finding the ­fisherman or the farmer who is using oxen to plow fields. These people are overcoming tough conditions and it is through this struggle that they are filled with life. Like farming, sculpting is a physical profession with an obvious hands-on approach, so I try to relate. It is in the eyes of the underdog overcoming adversity that I connect.

Can you give us an example of how the people you’ve chosen to sculpt represent their cultures?

Yes! Absolutely. This is key to the series because this is a facet that needs to be there and without it I cannot begin.

All sculptures are named after a place. Let’s take Chapoto. Chapoto is a town on the shores of the ­Zambezi River.

I was paddling down the ­river with my family during the time when Mugabe had taken over control of Zimbabwe. He was “cleansing” ­[the capital city] Harare by bulldozing the shantytowns on its outskirts.

As we paddled down the river dodging “hippedoes” — hippos that come at you under the water like torpedoes — we started seeing people ­randomly perched at the shores of the river. They looked like they were in their Sunday clothes, with a suitcase, sitting in groups of one or two.

We pulled over to see what was going on and learned that these were people who had made it to the fertile shores of the river from the ruin of their homes outside Harare. It was next to the village of ­Chapoto. This town had a number of men that were now fishing full-time trying to feed these people.

Chapoto was one of them. I took a number of pictures of ­people who may make good sculptures but this man was the exception.

Powerful like the Zambezi, ­older than the rest yet had a body that was forged from a lion itself. Strong, yet kind.

After translating to him what I was going use a picture of him for, his inner spirit came alive. As he positioned himself you could see the pride. He was representing not just himself but his fellow fisherman, his town, Zimbabwe, and from what I have seen, southern Africa. Truly amazing.

Advice you’d give to a budding young artist?

Consistency is the key. If you want art to be a part of your life, it is better to do a little bit every day ­consistently over several years than it is to do a tonne and burn yourself out . . .

Do not let passion be your only guide, put a bit of discipline in there by making it part of your routine and trust that you will get back far more than you invest.

The place you want to visit next?

I have Sumatra and southern India pencilled in for November. Quite excited about that!
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