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PMAC exhibition and studio tour: Otto Kamensek, “Shards, Bone Deep”


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Sculpture exhibition opening: “Shards, Bone Deep,” by Otto Kamensek, April 17

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Exhibition: Ceramic sculpture by Otto Kamensek focuses on art and arthritis

Otto Kamensek’s ceramic sculpture will be exhibited in his end-of-residency show entitled “Shards, Bone Deep.” The exhibition, which opens the evening of April 17th and runs to May 8th, will be in the 3-D Gallery at the Port Moody Arts Centre. The centre is located at 2425 St. Johns Street, Port Moody, British Columbia.

On May 1, from 7:00-9:00 p.m, Mr. Kamensek will discuss “the release of pain, frustration, and stress through art” during an exhibition and studio tour at the Port Moody Arts Centre. Call (604)931-2008  to make a reservation for the tour or for more information. A $10.00 donation for talk and tour is suggested, with proceeds going to the OK Bursary.

Colleen Maloney’s article, “Art and Arthritis: Shards, Bone Deep,” was originally published in the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada newsletter for Spring ’14.


“Art and Arthritis: Shards, Bone Deep,”

by Colleen Maloney

Otto Kamensek’s ceramic work has generated interest within the local art circles and the arthritis research community. Living with arthritis is reflected in Otto’s artistic expression and his work has led to invitations to present at community events and at national and international arthritis conferences. Last year, Otto earned a one-year ceramic artist-in-residence award at the Port Moody Art Centre (PMAC) to further explore his creativity.  The residency gives him a private studio space and access to equipment in which to develop his craft.  This year, his sculptures will be showcased in a solo exhibition titled, Shards, Bone Deep, a play on words relating to a piece of pottery or stone and the sharp ragged pain of arthritis.

Otto’s association with the PMAC and his involvement with the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada, as a member of the Consumer Advisory Board, coincided with the creation of what is now a series of pieces depicting the dimensions of arthritis.  He explained that as a student of art history he wanted to “try” to meld his health experiences into his art in a meaningful expression of life with chronic disease.


“Chronic Disease Staircase”

The first piece in his exploration of arthritis, and one of the 12 pieces in his upcoming solo exhibition, is the Chronic Disease Staircase. It depicts a small figure on the bottom step of a multi-tiered staircase looking at risers that become progressively higher, while his shadow falls forward melting into the tip of the second step.

Otto says he knows the feeling of being overwhelmed because he’s been there;  “It’s the end of the day, the sun is setting, and no matter what you have tried throughout the day, you’re still at the bottom of the stairs.  It’s sheer frustration.”

His second piece, The Glimmer of Hope, was a turning point for him.  It began as all Otto’s pieces begin with an idea and a sketch.  But unlike other pieces that progress to the maquete stage and then on to the building of the ceramic sculpture, this piece came to a full stop.

“It is a very personal piece and it was difficult to construct because it required revisiting my past,” he explained.  “I had to decide if I really wanted to do it because it seemed to be pushing me down rather than lifting me up.” It gives those without arthritis or chronic disease a glimpse at the ravages of the disease and its emotional impact.

The two biggest pieces slated for the exhibition are Bone Deep, a hand at just over two feet in height, and a three-foot high caricature titled The Fog of Fatigue.

The hand is exquisite in its detail and artistry.  It shows the findings related to inflammatory and osteoarthritis including muscle, bone and tendons, and muscle wasting in the palm.  On each finger is written the word arthritis.  The letters on one of the fingers are fashioned to resemble bone.


“The Fog of Fatigue”

The caricature is my favourite.  One look and you know it portrays fatigue; you know what it feels like to be constantly tired.  And you know how fatigue can make it difficult to concentrate because it can cloud the mind.  But one look isn’t enough.  His work has many layers and a depth that goes unrealized with only a quick look.  The Fog of Fatigue deserves concentrated inspection and is a must see at the exhibition.

Two of the other pieces in the exhibition are An Angry Joint, and Arthritis Still LifeAn Angry Joint demonstrates Otto’s talent for creating powerful, dramatic faces that capture the emotional and physical scars of living with a chronic disease.  Although I am not an art critic by profession, I do enjoy all forms of art and explore art galleries during my travels.  Based on the quality of his work and the important subject matter it depicts, I would like to see Otto’s work showcased in a major national gallery.  It would prompt a discussion about arthritis and chronic disease in general.

Otto’s sculptures from his solo exhibition are not for sale.  It is part of his commitment to promoting arthritis advocacy and will grow in size as time allows and ideas develop.  His greatest wish is that the collection will be exhibited in other cities so that people can develop a better understanding of what it is like to live with arthritis.

There is sadness in his voice when he says that his residency at the PMAC ends on May 1st.  “It’s been fun”, he says.

Otto and His Sculptures

The Glimmer of Hope is a sculpture that reflects Otto’s visual journey of pain.  It portrays a man bent forward in a chair, his arms resting on his scar streaked knees and his body infused with spikes, nails and needles.   Otto says he wanted to illustrate old rusty pain, sharp needle-like pain, and festering pain that seems to go on forever.  At the same time he wanted to depict hope, maybe even trust, that something better was around the corner, hence the name The Glimmer of Hope.  And there was.  His work is intricate and expressive and appeals to people with chronic diseases.  It depicts how they feel and helps them to better translate their feelings.  It gives those without arthritis or chronic disease a glimpse at the ravages of the disease and its emotional impact.

Arthritis Still Life is fashioned in the Flemish style, when artisans created pieces depicting possessions that illustrated prominent features of their lives and status in the community.   Within this genre Otto has created an arthritis still life.  It contains a table, and beside it is a raised chair and a cane.  On top are all the items associated with arthritis treatment including a small splash of red that I will not reveal.  You must see and discover the significance for yourself.

About Otto

In 1974, Otto was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis — he was 9 years old. It was an era he refers to as the stone age of arthritis treatment. The disease brought changes to his body that necessitated changes in physical activity. When soccer was no longer an option, he turned to drawing and building models. In his  20’s and early 30’s, he worked as a buyer in the electronics industry; by his mid 30’s arthritis had played havoc with his body, resulting in hip and knee replacements and four long-term in-patient stays in a rehabilitation centre. Prowling the halls at night  he discovered the rehab centre’s art studio, and, one day he ventured in. His life became much sweeter. Otto left the centre with paper mache masks tucked under his arms and enrolled in clay classes at the PMAC. This was the beginning of his affiliation with sculpture and his dedication to working with clay. In 2005 he collaborated with a friend to produce a ceramic sculpture title Joan of Art and won second prize at the Port Moody Society’s Wearable Art Show, a bi-annual event that attracts entries from around the world. Otto continues to mold his experience of living with arthritis with his artistic endeavours.


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Joseph Boehm’s Juliana in repose

Sculpture by Sir Joseph Boehm. Sarcophagus of Juliana, Countess of Leicester, 1870. St. Withburga’s Church, Holkham Hall, Norfolk. By mira66 via Wikimedia Commons

While reading Richard Mabey’s eloquent Nature Cure, I became interested in northeastern England, Norfolk and Suffolk, which make up East Anglia. The wetland areas seem mysterious and the ancient history intriguing. Mabey’s narrative style gives you a intimate peek at his relationship with fauna, two-legged, four-legged, aerial or earthbound. Learning about the region’s flora motivated me and seasonal gardening plans now cover my own table. Curious about dwellings he described, I searched online real estate, looking for 16th- and 17th-century homes, half-timbered ones. At some point, I came across the beautiful photograph of the sculpture pictured above. As I studied the delicacy of the face, the intricate pillow and exquisite draping, I came to wonder about the artist who so lovingly sculpted this unknown woman.


Caricature of Thomas Coke, 2nd Earl of Leicester (1822-1909). Caption reads “Agriculture,” 1883, Vanity Fair, 4 August 1883. By portraitist Leslie Ward via Wikimedia Commons

Juliana was born into the Whitbread brewing family in Cardington, Bedfordshire. In 1843, she became the Countess of Leicester, wife of Viscount Thomas Coke, the 2nd Earl of Leicester. He came from an Anglican family, art collectors known for their benevolence and philanthropy. As I began researching Juliana Coke, I kept coming back to the marble sculpture. It has an immediacy that made me want to know what she was like. Click here to see a full shot of the monument by the same photographer. The beauty and tenderness conveyed by the sculpture speaks volumes and, by all accounts, she was a lovely creature, known for her kindness and charity. She became benefactress of a church in which the monument is housed, St. Withburga’s. Her sarcophagus sits in the north chapel of St. Withburga’s, itself located on the ancestral estate, Holkham Hall, which lies on the north coast of Norfolk. During her 27-year marriage, Juliana Coke bore 12 children, three of whom did not survive. A photo of two of her daughters can be seen here. In 1870, the countess died of bronchitis.

I felt lucky when I came across Susanna Wade Martins’ A Great Estate at Work: The Holkham Estate and its inhabitants in the nineteenth century. It is a well-researched history book that covers the earls of Leicester and the villagers for which they were responsible. Her account fleshes out the characters in this story. Martins writes that Juliana Whitbread “was only seventeen at the time of their marriage and we know that the trustees of the Holkham estate (the new earl still being a minor) settled 3000 pounds a year from the earl’s private estate for her use. This marriage seems to have been a very happy one and Juliana was much liked.” In fact, Thomas and Juliana Coke married so young, they were “like boy and girl, as indeed they are,” relates Martins, quoting a Mrs. Pickering. Juliana Coke’s character is further illustrated by Lady Elizabeth Stanhope, the earl’s step-sister. “I shall be very fond of her, nothing can be more amiable or purer in mind and feeling.” Martins also states that Holkham Hall was an efficiently run estate, “maintained in style but the number of servants was still not lavish.”


Juliana Countess of Leicester with eldest child Lady Julia Coke, by Sir Francis Grant

In an effort to find out more, I came across a publication, dated 2012, about the Church of England’s Norwich parishes. Regarding Juliana Coke and St. Withburga’s Church, the piece relates that “by the mid nineteenth century further substantial repair and restoration work was needed and in 1868 this was undertaken by Juliana, the wife of the second Earl of Leicester. Because of her we have our Church as it is today, including a magnificent peal of six bells.” The publication further states, “Her beautiful marble memorial lies in the Church with the inscription ‘Juliana…by whose pious care this church was restored and reopened Dec 14th 1869.’” Juliana had employed architect James Colling, according to Martins, who said “the east end was entirely rebuilt and the pulpit, font, reredos and stone staircase in the tower were all designed by Colling.”

(Note: my next post addresses St. Withburga, so more on her soon.)

Joseph Edgar Boehm, Vanity Fair, 1881-01-22

Caricature of Mr JE Boehm ARA. Caption reads: “The Queen’s Sculptor,” 22 January 1881. By portraitist Leslie Ward via Wikimedia Commons

Joseph Edgar Boehm was an ethnic Hungarian born in Vienna, Austria, in 1834, and his father was director of the Imperial Mint there. The elder Boehm was also an avid art collector and his son grew up around fine art and antiquities. A prodigy, Joseph learned how to sculpt at an early age in Paris and Italy. After his education he returned to Vienna to work as a medalist and, at age 22, he won the Austrian Imperial Prize for Sculpture. Then, in 1862, he moved to England and, three years later, he became a naturalized citizen. It was quite a feather in the cap of the British and the accomplished Boehm was appointed Sculptor-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria. His clientele included the British royal family and the aristocracy, for whom he sculpted medals, medallions, busts, statuettes and life-size and larger-than life works. To see photos of his former studio, click here.


British sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm, with Princess Louise, the sixth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, in about 1885. Carte de visite scanned by Tim Ross via Wikimedia

The sculptor became friends with other artists of the day, including James McNeill Whistler, whom he called ‘Mac.’ “He became an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1878, was appointed sculptor in ordinary in 1881 and was elected to the Royal Academy in 1882,” states an article focusing on British peerage.” Boehm also lectured on sculpture. Referring to his sculptural style, biographer Bob Speel said he had an “instinctive perception of character.” Speel also relates that Boehm had no interest in mimicking classical sculpture, that he preferred contemporary expressions over classical copies. He quotes Boehm as saying:

It is in vain to complain of the paucity of inspiring subjects in our age, of our ugly costume and the dearth of suitable figures for sculpture. You may regard objects and compose like Homer, but you may not inanely copy from the antique. Do not return from Rome with some more bad nymphs, another Venus or another Cupid. Try to use the much-abused dress. Treat a coat-sleeve, a woman’s gown, con amore, ennoble it by art, and it will be a pleasing object in the sight of those whose praise is worth having.

Joseph Boehm was hired by Thomas Coke to create a memorial to his wife Juliana. The sarcophagus was completed the year of her death, in 1870. Boehm himself become a member of the peerage, when he received the title 1st Baronet Boehm at Wetherby Gardens in Kensington. He  was unable enjoy the title for long, though, as he died in 1890. It was a student, Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, who found him dead in his studio. He was succeeded by his wife, Frances Louisa Boehm née Boteler, and children.

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