Thames Gallery fulfilling its mandate

This self-portrait of local artist Leonard Jubenville has raised the ire of some in the local arts community. We added the smiley face to censor his private parts, which are on display in the painting. It is part of a juried exhibit on now through January 10 at the Thames Art Gallery.
This self-portrait of local artist Leonard Jubenville has raised the ire of some in the local arts community. We added the smiley face to censor his private parts, which are on display in the painting. It is part of a juried exhibit on now through January 10 at the Thames Art Gallery. (Contributed image)

Chatham-Kent’s general manager of community development has dismissed concerns by a local artist regarding management of the Thames Art Gallery and whether the images it portrays are appropriate.

Bob Crawford said he was forwarded a letter sent to council members by Penelope Duschene concerning the gallery’s juried exhibition, on display now through Jan. 10.

Of particular concern to Duschene is one of 21 works of art in the show, a nude self-portrait by local artist Leonard Jubenville.

After visiting the show, she wrote, “As an artist and a taxpayer I am extremely disappointed in the general management of our local gallery.”

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She went on to note that “specific pieces: in my opinion they are very concerning, extremely marginal, negatively shocking, (and) pornographic.”

Crawford said he visited the gallery, spends time watching people view the exhibition and noted the comments section in the guest book.

“There is no controversy here,” he said. “There is nothing to apologize for and there is no community hue and cry or outrage. The painting is in an alcove, there is a note making people aware there is nudity in the show and I don’t see any issue.”

Crawford said during the course of viewing dozens of exhibitions at the gallery he has seen images that he considered “not my cup of tea” but noted that is part of the gallery’s purpose.

“Not every piece of art exists to make everyone happy,” he said. “By its’ nature, art is meant to evoke emotion. That includes sadness, fear or whatever the viewer sees.”

Duschene said she believes both the Thames Art Gallery and ARTspace, the municipality’s other supported gallery, don’t provide enough exposure for, or cultivation of, local artists.

She said there were some 200 pieces submitted for the juried show and only 16 artists’ work was selected, most from outside the area. She said she didn’t submit any art for the juried show so has no personal axe to grind.

“A local artist should be encouraged and supported in his or her own publicly funded art gallery. Local artists should be encouraged and highlighted. Art is the heart of civilization and should be the heart of a community, celebrating their local gifts,” she wrote.

Councillor Michael Bondy said he forwarded the letter to Bob Crawford. “I want to know if our gallery is in line with our mandate,” he said.

For gallery curator Carl Lavoy, the answer is an emphatic yes.

“I’m proud of what we do, I’m proud of the two staff members and I disagree that we don’t foster the local art community,” he said.

Lavoy said the gallery hosts’ juried exhibits every two years, alternating them with Eye for Art that features only local artists.

“The juried exhibitions attracted 200 entries from across Ontario and are judged by a member of the arts community not from the area,” he said. “We have no control over who the juror chooses. The fact that we have three local artists says a lot about the quality of our local arts community.”

He said the Jubenville painting depicts a man contemplating his mortality, remembering the things that have been important in his life and the realization (through his nudity) that all he will be taking with him as he leaves is what he came into this life with.

He said the Thames Art Gallery mandate is to provide exhibitions featuring regional, national and international art.

The role of ARTspace is to showcase local and emerging artists and provide them with an opportunity to make sales and progress with the art.

“We have 44 members of ARTspace who are permitted to exhibit but even if you aren’t a member you can have access to our window front or you can have a member nominate you for a show.”

He said he’d like to have more members, however, it wouldn’t be fair since space at the King Street location is limited and not all artists would have an opportunity to display their work.

Lavoy said when ARTspace opened, eight years ago, he and his staff accepted and welcomed the extra work of helping the volunteer board that oversees the site.

“We have tremendous volunteers but it does take a lot of work from staff,” he said.

Lavoy said the Thames Art Gallery has seven or eight exhibitions a year from sculpture to painting and often plans them three years in advance.

As well, he said the goal is to educate through art classes and lectures with local residents and students, of which more than 3,000 take part in gallery functions each year.




  1. Art is subjective – what one person likes, another may dislike, and vice versa. Juried shows (like the one at the Gallery now) are extremely subjective – one person's take on the art submitted. I am a culture vulture myself and especially enjoy the juried shows, because they're always different. I rarely "like" every single artwork, but that's not the point. If you took 10 people to view this show they'd likely all pick 10 different favourite artworks, and 10 different least favourite. What is even better is constructive and interesting discussion about art – what you like, what you don't, and why. Thankfully we live in a country where we're free to share and discuss our opinions – although it's certainly more productive and usually gets a better response when you do so in a respectful way. I'm not sure, based on the quotes included from the letter writer above, that's happening here. As they say: you catch more flies with honey! 🙂

  2. I have known and appreciated Mr. Jubenville's superb art and his personal artistic thematic evolution for over 40 years. Leonard never 'sensationalises'. His work is always thoughtful and done to the highest technical standards. The Chatham area should count itself extremely fortunate to have such a talent and citizen in their midst.

  3. Frankly, I thought Leonard's piece was one of the best in the show. And, as Ms Duchene says herself, "A local artist should be encouraged and supported in his or her own publicly funded art gallery. Local artists should be encouraged and highlighted." Leonard is a local artist.

  4. I too applaud the Muncipality of Chatham Kent and Carl Lavoy for standing for artistic freedom. The smiley face on Mr Jubenville's portrait in this article is totally unneceassy. In fact, it's luid, juvenile and disrepectful. If this paper was so concern for the delicate minds of Chatham Kent you should have cropped the picture. Placing that smiley face mocks him. Shame on you.

    • Eileen: there was no intent to mock the artist, but rather it was our goal to use a lighthearted way to hide the elements of the painting that might offend some of our readers. It beats using a black circle with “censored” on it, in our minds. And to crop would have not done the painting justice. Readers would have not seen him resting on his haunches, which is obviously something the artist felt strongly in including.

  5. It shocks me that this Penelope person claims herself to be an artist and makes a comment like that…not even sure how to respond to that. Leonard Jubenville is an exceptional artist and his work spurs thought-provoking and meaningful discussion and debate – one of the subjective ways we define good art. I am en-route home from Quito where I spent a day at the house of Guayasamín – hours of debate and discussion over some risque and controversial paintings…kudos to the Chatham Art Gallery for being just as awesome.

  6. I AM a local artist and I HAVE been supported in my own publicly funded art gallery. I've had two exhibitions, and have been a part of over 20 (Community Arts Initiatives and Juried Shows) at the Thames Art Gallery. I have had two exhibitions at ARTspace, and am currently working on a third which will be up in February 2016. With a recommendation from the Thames Art Gallery, I have received Exhibition Assistance Grants from the Ontario Arts Council. In 2014, drawing on what I learned from ARTspace and TAG, I felt confident enough to apply for the international exhibition ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was accepted. As an artist, you have to get involved in your art community and put yourself out there. Learn. Network. Take classes. Grow as an artist. And if you want art to thrive in your community so that it can support you, be a part of the solution. I find that the more I put into the art community in C-K, the more I get out of it.

  7. Leonard Jubenville's painting is thought provoking and beautifully done. It is, in fact, artistic. The human form when portrayed in this manner is neither "pornographic" or reason for the concern expressed by Ms. Duchesne. I am a local Artist represented by ARTspace. I have also submitted work to local juried exhibitions, getting accepted and winning awards. Occasionally, I teach workshops at TAG, ARTspace and one of the local high schools. It's because of the encouragement of my fellow Artists and Curators, that I have been able to broaden the scope and reach of what I love to do. My solo exhibition sold 10 of the 14 pieces on display! The Art and Community events are open to everyone, are fun to participate in and well attended! Frankly, there really doesn't seem to be anything that would substantiate the complainant's remarks


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