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Turn of the Century Press Clippings

Toronto Star October 5 MM, EYE October 5 MM, Ottawa Xpress July 22, 1999, Ottawa Xpress May 18, 2000
October 5, 2000

A Vegas roll on orphan hubcaps

Reuel Dechene showing 12 illuminated discs at Swizzle Gallery

By John Terauds
Toronto Star What's On Editor

I called Ottawa artist Reuel Dechene during last Sunday's sunny afternoon to ask him about an upcoming Toronto exhibit.

I started by apologizing for keeping him indoors on such a beautiful fall afternoon.

``That's okay,'' he replied. ``I'm on a portable phone. I'm out back making noise with my grinder.''

He was working on his craft - he's part electrical magician, part entertainer, part artist. Actually, Dechene is a part-time artist at this point. A civil servant by day, he has an exhibit of wheel covers opening at College Street's Swizzle Gallery tomorrow.

Starting with orphaned hubcaps - ``there's a lot of construction around Ottawa, so it's not hard to find them at the side of the road'' - Dechene literally weaves magic with light and colour to create art.

Taking ``two to three weeks per piece,'' the 35-year-old Dechene sidles up to his drill press, punctures the metal, then adds ``140 to 200 lights per hubcap.''

The lights in question are multicoloured Christmas bulbs (the small 2 1/2 to 3 1/2-volt type). And he says he's fitted as many as 250 per disc.

The works are hooked up to a little control box which allows for eight to 16 variations of flashing and blinking. Dechene rigs everything in precise sequence to create specific lighting effects.

``I was inspired by the neon glitz of old Las Vegas,'' he says. ``The effect is like a midway carnival ride - a ferris wheel or a tilt-a-whirl.''

He has also set up the electrics so that each hubcap's light show is always in synch with music written in four-four time.

He describes the overall effect as ``crazy, whirling, kaleidoscopic.''

Dechene, who grew up in Montreal and the village of Arthur, Ontario, has a general arts B.A. from Concordia University. He had his artistic epiphany eight years ago, when he moved to Ottawa.

He also says his wife, artist Eliza Griffiths who currently has a show on in Toronto, ``has nurtured me quite a lot.''

Torontonians will be able to view Dechene's art over the next three weeks - 12 fully electrified hubcaps plugged in and hung on the gallery's walls behind blacked-out windows.

``The only visible light source will be 12 Sexy Wheels, throbbing to Dechene's selection of music, as viewers lean back in their space age bean bag chairs,'' the gallery says in a release.

The show, Sexy Wheel Cover Up, opens tomorrow at 8 p.m. at the Swizzle Gallery (1162 College), and runs to October 22. Info: 536-4669. The space is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. - or by appointment.

You can also see Dechene's art by visiting

Check it out

Light is a Highway

Carnal: low rider kitsch
Reuel Dechene

Until July 31,1999
Artguise, 590 Bank St.

by Molly Amoli K. Shinhat

red.JPG (22777 bytes)
Pink Passion Parisenne, 1999

Paring down one of the icons of our century, the car, Reuel Dechene transforms the humble hub cap into a brilliantly lit, mandala-like pulsating metallic ball. A low-tech product of this millennium.

"#2 Cyclonic Reducer." The Chevrolet Motor Division hub cap looks like it was made to be rigged this way. The diamond and triangular shaped wedges in its outer rim reflect the criss-cross bars wrapped around the centre. White Christmas lights form geometric shapes that look like arms. Around this centre, lights spiral around to the outer rim. The effect is entrancing.

Cyclone 2 is one of 14 hub caps rigged by Dechene in Carnal: low rider kitsch, currently pulsing away above the art supply displays at Artguise, the art store and gallery on Bank.

Choosing to ignore the standard male interior decorating accessories -- empty pizza boxes -- as a student, Dechene drew inspiration from Christmas lights. "When I was looking for a cheap way to decorate my apartment," he says, he thought to use cheap miniature lights from Jean Coutu. Later, he became interested in sequenced lights, making signs for cultural events in town.

"I do get a lot of taxis in my neighbourhood, living in Centretown," notes Dechene of looking for hub caps, "and they're all, like, 15-20 years old. I usually luck into them in springtime when highways and roads are in their worst shape." Once the cap is found, it can take Dechene anywhere from 20 to 60 hours to clean the cap and rig it with lights.

As well as the obvious -- Christmas -- the circular design conjures up images of Catherine wheel fireworks and Spirograph, a children's game. Using circular plastic templates, one template's teeth fitting into the other, complex symmetrical circular or oval designs can be easily produced.

In India, I remember a Hindu bus driver who had literally created a shrine on the inside of his bus. Along with plastic figurines of his chosen God set up in a miniature matching mandir or temple and 2-D, brilliantly coloured reproductions, he had strung tinsel, bright metallic wire, and Christmas lights all around the front of the bus. I journeyed in a mobile house of God.

Like mandalas, a religious art form constructed of circles layered within each other, the hub caps are mesmerizing. The archetypal quality of the circular form, as old as life itself, combined with the symbolic weight of the car, the over-the-top kitsch and the flashing sequenced lights -- looking at one of them, I had a hard time pulling my gaze away. To top it all, the caps are interactive. Each is equipped with a switch that allows the viewer to change the sequencing of the lights.

I can see this as many people's answer to getting another Christmas tree. Or, equally, as an ingenious alternative to the dance club crystal ball. Can you imagine a car rigged up with these caps? They would turn even a Lada into a chariot of light.

Check it out

Cultivating the imagination by Alia Kellock Heward
The Garden Construct The Ottawa Art Gallery annual silent auction Thursday, May 18, 2000
Arts Court, 2 Daly Ave. 6 p.m., $40

The seeds of imagination have taken root at the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG). Thirty six local artists, both relatively new and more established, have been invited to explore the conceptual notion of the "garden" for the OAG's annual silent auction, entitled The Garden Construct. The artists have approached The Garden Construct in a number of different ways -- from gardening as a practice, to the aesthetics of the garden, be it wild or domestic, secret or public, picturesque or formal, says Nancy Burgoyne, a member of the event's organizing committee. Works fall under every type of medium from painting and drawing to sculptural objects and photographs. "Le jardin des rèves" by Carmen Ruschiensky is a garden of a different sort, explains Burgoyne. The work is made of shredded Lotto 6/49 and Nevada tickets intertwined to resemble a crazy Snakes and Ladders game. "It's a wonderful piece, because it's very playful and joyful and it too is about a kind of a garden," she enthuses. Geoffrey Wannacott's collage entitled "Party's Over... in the Garden of Eden" depicting a nude constructed from various flesh-tone and solid coloured pieces cut out from women's magazines, is yet another take on the idea of a garden, says Burgoyne. Jennifer Dixon's "Bowood," a photo etching/watercolour of a cupola on the grounds of a stately manor home, is more representational of a traditional "physical" garden. Dixon is well known for her photographs of interesting, rare gardens around the world, especially in the UK and Italy. Along a more whimsical vein, Reuel Dechene's "Carnation" flashes pink light in varying patterns. "Talk about your inorganic gardening," Burgoyne laughs.

Tim desClouds and Ron Noganosh offer puckish takes on garden tools. DesClouds added wings to a spade and topped it off with a shelf on which sits a music box cum old fashioned toaster. The box is furnished with images of cows, whose butts twirl around when buttons are pressed. Noganosh's shovel emblazoned with a bright sunflower is entitled "Gogh Grow." But visual art is not the only delight on the menu for the evening -- "culinary art" and sips from Pelee Island Wineries and Hart Breweries will be on tap. Sheila Whyte, of Thyme and Again Catering, has assembled a delicious array of comestibles from the likes of Café Paradiso, Hopewell Kitchen, Juniper and the Women's Culinary Network, to name a few. Some temptations include organic greens wrapped in smoked salmon with a mango-basil vinaigrette from Thyme and Again, herbed goats' cheese balls on crispy artichokes from the National Arts Centre and asparagus and Parmesan shards with black olive cream cheese in a wonton cup. For those with a sweet tooth, Epicuria gets a head start on summer with lemon petit fours. The $40 price tag entitles attendees to munch and tipple to their heart's content and there are several horticultural prizes to be won. Last year's event, Paraphernalia raised more than $13,000, and Burgoyne hopes this year's proceeds will at least match or exceed that number. And, even better, a portion of the funds raised goes to the artist themselves. Bids will be set in increments of $25, and bidders can immediately mark their offers on the sheets provided. There's no worry about missing any of the party action, assures Burgoyne, party-goers will be given a five-minute warning before bid closures. The celebrity hosts for the evening will be Dave Stephens and Ed Lawrence of CBC Radio One's Ontario Today, and many of the artists will mingle with guests. The OAG auction is fast becoming a prominent event in people's spring calendars, Burgoyne remarks. Everyone, including gallery members, artists, the visual arts community and the collecting public, looks forward to it. "It is really developing a reputation as the spring visual art event," she asserts.

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