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Q&A: artist Cliff Eyland on his 5,000 paintings project at Halifax Central Library


(photo: courtesy Halifax Central Library)

When the Halifax Central Library opens its doors on Dec. 13, library-goers will have lots to see, including two walls filled with thousands of tiny paintings by Winnipeg-based artist Cliff Eyland. The paintings, 5,000 in total, are the size of 3″ x 5″ file cards, Eyland’s trademark format, and reminiscent of the once-abundant library-card catalogues of the pre-digital era.

Eyland, an associate professor of painting at the University of Manitoba School of Art, has a long history of artwork in and about libraries.

Q&Q asked Eyland about this latest project and his relationship to libraries.

What was the motivation for the 5,000 painting project? I was visiting my mother in Halifax and my friend Alex Livingston told me that the public art competition for the new Halifax library had reopened and that the deadline for submissions was a few days away. I picked a number out of my head – 5,000 paintings – and put that in my application. It could have been 4,000 or some other number. As it happened, the space allocated could not fit all 5,000 works so we also installed paintings on the fifth floor.

(image: courtesy Cliff Eyland)

(image: courtesy Cliff Eyland)

What are some of the themes addressed in the works? The paintings stand alone and they are perceived by people as individual paintings.

I have made foggy, wet landscape paintings that conform to my memories of staying inside during rainy days and reading; I’ve made abstract paintings that look like bookshelves; I’ve made “smartphone paintings” based on an image of my iPhone with various images on the “screen;” I’ve made paintings based on a job I had when I was a kid cataloguing the collection of the Federation of Nova Scotian Heritage. (Although I have catalogued books, I have to make it clear that I have never been a professional librarian and have no training in it.)