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Jerry Pethick

By Robert Amos July 28, 2003

} Jerry Pethick 'Pethick denies the traditional western propositions of Truth and History. For Jerry Pethick there can be no last word, no full picture. For Pethick history is perception.' Annette Hurtig Jerry Pethick died at 6 pm on July 5, 2003 at his home on Hornby Island from brain tumors which proved intractable and incurable. He was attended by his devoted wife Margaret, who provided all possible comfort to Jerry and his friends during Jerry's last days. Jerry Pethick at home on Hornby Island, 2001. photo: Sarah Amos Jerry Pethick was born in London, Ontario in 1935. His artistic education took place in London, England at the Chelsea College of Art and the Royal College of Art. In 1967 he saw his first hologram and went on to pioneer the field of holography in San Francisco 1970. In 1975 Jerry, Margaret and their son Yana moved to Hornby Island. To visit Pethick and sit at the picnic table under the apple tree was unforgettable, like sharing home-brew and speculative philosophy with Confucius and Socrates. His art has been the subject of serious investigation by all the major galleries in this country and many abroad. Jamie Reid (in an excellent article available on-line at has said 'The loss of Jerry Pethick is an irreperable one to the British Columbia artistic community... Although he was a great artist, there was nothing of the great man about him except for his total dedication to his work and the absolute energy and confidence with which he pursued his artistic aims.' As I understand it, Jerry's essential message was that the world is not divided into I and thou, but is, in fact, a unity. He showed us that our usual perception of space, which constructs a distance between us all, is an illusion. He demonstrated this by creatively reinventing this space as his material for sculpture. Not clay or bronze or even glass and silicone, but space. a 'bias array, part of a sculpture by Jerry Pethick, incorporating a 'fly's eye' lens system Our mind-set is woefully limited. 'We learn to make choices between; we don¹t perceive among,' Pethick told Scott Watson. 'Instead of the real we deal with models of the real.... language itself has come to rest on a bipolar metaphor so that it is almost impossible to locate my concern in language.' Jerry got past making scupture from painted plaster at the Chelsea School of Art and moved to plastic which has colour within it, not on it. Then, in 1967 Pethick was shown the first holograms by their inventor, Dennis Gabor. 'Maybe you've made sculpture obsolete!', Pethick told Gabor. 'I hope so,' the inventor replied. Still Life and Interior for Madeleine Knoblock, 1982-83, 96 x 76 x 25 cm Pethick pursued holography in America where, at that a time, it was in the hands of the military. He devised and patented fundamental methods of simple sand-table technology, effectively giving holography to the artists. He was a founder the San Francisco School of Holography in 1971. Eventually, Pethick saw no point in working in darkened rooms. With the family's move to Hornby Island in 1975 he emerged into the daylight. Jerry¹s material now consisted of what he could find at the Co-op Store or the recycling depot. From odd bits he cobbled together silent projectors of luminous metaphor. Aluminium, glass, silicone, enamel, mirror - all silica - made a perfect foil to show the dazzling optical tapestries blazing forth from the Spectrafoil diffraction grating (a reflective material used for fishing lures). Here is richness of colour such as Tom Thomson and Cornelius Kreighoff never dreamed of. Pethick's enigmatic and playful sculptures function as a counterpoint, tangible indicators of another, virtual space which Pethick opened to us. sculpture mask by Jerry Pethick 'There is no verbal description and no photographic representation that can provide even the smallest sense of the marvellous and delightful effect of so much of Jerry Pethick's extremely varied body of work.' Jamie Reid In 1909, Gabriel Lippmann proposed a model of sight, the multiple-lens array of a fly's eye. An array of lenses could provide information which the brain would process in way entirely different from the camera (one eye) or our normal binocular (two eye) vision. As the viewer changed position before the field of dozens - even hundreds- of lenses, 'reality' changed too. It was only a theory. But with a profound understanding and irrepressible playfulness, Pethick built the necessary 'bias arrays'. Many slightly-varied photos of a scene are positioned on a wall, with a fresnel lens mounted in front of each. A virtual space appears, and we recognize it as a world of our dreaming. We move around, and the image responds and moves with us. The old certainties of objective scientific observation are shown to be longer be relevant. As our brains process this data, we learn to inhabit a new spatial awareness. A new model of the universe takes place within our senses, and it is a revelation. For this, and much more, Jerry Pethick will be remembered. 'Pethick is an important artist because this is what great artists have always done: subtly question our beliefs, raise hopes about greater possibilities, and carry this challenge through the crafting of an object which offers us a new vision of the world.' Matthew Kangas, Seattle, 1991 There will be a memorial for Jerry at the Joe King Ball Park on Hornby Island on the afternoon of Sunday July 20th. Further references: ___________________________________________ Copyright © 2003 Robert Amos Robert Amos is an artist and art writer who lives in Victoria, B. C.. He can be contacted by e-mail and you can view his paintings at