During the summer of 2009 I lived alone for three months on the isolated Grey Islands off the north coast of Newfoundland. There I lived amongst the remains of an abandoned community, Grey Islands Harbour, a once bustling place now empty because of the 1960s government policy of resettlement. Few remnants of the human population remain - a cemetery, a handful of ruined houses, pottery shards on the beach, and very little else. But it would be inaccurate to say the island is uninhabited: shortly after the people left in 1961 a herd of caribou was transplanted there. For more than half a century they have successfully persisted where humans could no longer - they have inherited the island in an ecological, physical and spiritual sense. The caribou leave their own record on the land - they carve trails through the brush with their footsteps and shed their antlers every fall. It is through these artefacts - antlers, shards, architecture, gravestones - that I draw a connection between past and present, human and animal, presence and absence.
Michael Flaherty was born in St. John's, Newfoundland, and subsequently spent much of his childhood getting lost in the woods. He has turned this urge to explore into a career as an artist. He has crossed North America by bicycle, lived alone for three months on a deserted island, and resided in six of Canada's ten provinces. Flaherty earned a BFA at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University and an MFA at University of Regina before going on to teach at both those institutions as well as Memorial University of Newfoundland. He has received numerous grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council and the Saskatchewan Arts Board. Michael was a semi-finalist for the 2011 Sobey Award and won the Large Year Award from Visual Artists Newfoundland and Labrador in 2013. Michael is a committed volunteer and community activist with a long time involvement in artist-run-centres such as A1C Gallery and Eastern Edge, as well as advocacy groups like the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. Flaherty is currently Lecturer of 3D and Ceramics at the University of Regina.
I have always been impressed by the high level of Michael Flaherty's commitment to his studio practice in ceramics. Although cognizant of ceramic's rich history, he has never worshipped at the altar of the past. His work has spanned everything from the potter's wheel to performance art, with each aspect becoming part of an inquiry that is sensitive, intelligent and relevant to ceramic art today.
Gloria Hickey, nominator
Curator and writer on Crafts, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
PHOTOS: Frances Juriansz