Ryan McCourt: Portrait Helmets

NOV 20, 2009 – DEC 20, 2009

Starting November 20, 2009, Common Sense present’s Ryan McCourt’s Portrait Helmets, an exhibition of eleven recent brass sculptures by the award winning Edmonton artist.

Taking the form of ornate metal headwear, McCourt’s Portrait Helmets draw their inspiration from a variety of mythical, cultural, archetypal, and personal sources. While these sculptures make clear reference to the high-art forms of aristocratic armour from antiquity, the materials and methods of the sculptures’ construction are paradoxically modern and ‘low-brow'” cheap, decorative domestic brass elements and other metallic trinkets from thrift stores and flea markets are improvisationally assembled by McCourt using humble plumbing solder.

In the Renaissance, royal helms were far more than merely protective equipment for the battlefield. Most often worn at court ceremonies, and in parades, pageants, and jousting tournaments, they proclaimed the wearer’s strength and power. Elaborately decorated with imagery from history, mythology, or the bible, they symbolically presented emperors and kings as the new Caesar, the equal of Hercules, or the annointed defender of the faith. Etched or engraved images of saints, or the virgin and child, asserted that rulers enjoyed divine protection. Much more costly than portraits by the leading painters of the day, such pieces of royal armour were dazzling works of wearable sculpture that affirmed their owner’s right to rule. In myth, magical powers of strength, invulnerability, and even invisibility were often inherent to the helmet itself, and were imparted to any wearer. Related to the traditional function of the mask, by donning these helms, one transforms their current identity to take on a new alter-ego. As most of McCourt’s helmets are actually wearable, visitors to the show will have the opportunity to take on a new, imaginative identity, be it African Queen, assassin, or another.

This is the first time most of these sculptures have been publicly exhibited, save one: The Helmet of Laocoon, featured in the 2009 Wearable Art Awards in Port Moody, BC, won first prize in their international Headdress competition.

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