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Wells artist Bill Horne shares 25 years of activist art

Horne will offer slide presentation April 26 at the Quesnel Public Library
Bill Horne’s “No Reply” wall features silkscreen on plexiglass with reclaimed fir, linen, truck mirror, metal and Gobo silhouette projection, with the letterhead of former Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, the Hon. Bernard Valcourt, who did not reply to a letter about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Works such as this one will be part of a slide presentation of 25 years of activist art by Horne, presented April 26 at the Quesnel Public Library. Artwork by Bill Horne

Art and politics have been linked for many years for Wells artist Bill Horne.

Horne will share how they have connected for him when he gives a slide presentation of 25 years of activist art Thursday, April 26 from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Quesnel Public Library.

Horne’s “Behind the Lines” series, shown at Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George in 2016, consists of letters from politicians screen printed as curtains or boxes, which hide or reveal images and objects related to the topic at hand.

“They deal with residential schools, NAFTA, food irradiation and many other issues, often in a humorous way,” according to a press release.

Horne has been writing – and receiving – letters to political and other influential figures since he was about 15 years old and wrote a letter to Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau to express concern about pollution in the St. Lawrence River.

With “Behind the Lines,” Horne chose screen printing as a medium because there are so many possibilities.

“It’s a very flexible medium that allows me to print on just about any surface,” he says.

“Whether it’s an X-ray, denim or moose hide, I’m using the same techniques to print on these things.”

Horne has printed letters on a wide variety of surfaces for “Behind the Lines,” including tin foil, a toilet seat, denim and flannel. He says sausage causing was the most challenging surface on which to print.

Horne used a sheet of sausage casing to print a letter regarding the SS St. Louis. The St. Louis departed Hamburg, Germany, on May 13, 1939, carrying 937 refugees, nearly all of whom were Jewish. The luxury liner was bound for Cuba, but only 28 of its passengers were allowed to disembark there. Neither the U.S. nor Canada granted refuge to the ship’s passengers, and the ship, now carrying 907 passengers, had to return to Europe, docking in Antwerp, Belgium on June 17, 1939. Passengers dispersed to Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and 254 of those passengers died during World War II, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.

“It’s quite creepy because it’s very translucent and kind of skin-like,” says Horne.

“It’s also completely non-Kosher, so it’s very anti-semitic.”

Horne says the letter printed on sausage casing is very fragile, which is why they didn’t include it in the exhibition, and tin foil is difficult to print on because it tears easily. Denim is tricky as well because it isn’t smooth, he says.

With these letters, the surface upon which Horne prints helps tell a story or evoke an idea or feeling.

“That’s a big part of the whole approach of the exhibition,” he explains.

“What I’ve enjoyed about that is it makes it more literal. Even elementary school students get the joke. A lot of young people like the toilet piece; they get the joke right away. It’s another way to tell the story without adding more words. There are already too many words.”

Horne’s first exhibition of silk-screen prints depicted imagery of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, where he taught paper-making in 1985-86. He also designed many T-shirts, posters, memes and other materials for various campaigns over the years.

Horne is a past president of Canadian Artists’ Representation/le front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC) B.C. and of Island Mountain Arts. He lives in Wells with his partner, Claire Kujundzic, where they have operated Amazing Space Studio and Gallery since 1996.

Horne, who was born in Vancouver, studied painting and drawing at the Banff Centre and film animation at UBC. He has taught silk-screen printing at the Vancouver Native Education Centre, Kakali Handmade Papers and Island Mountain Arts, and also taught paper-making at the National Art School in Managua, Nicaragua. For several years, he wrote a twice-monthly column about art and politics for the Quesnel Cariboo Observer. From 2003 until 2005, he worked at the Naramata Centre as Director of the Summer Program.

Horne spent a couple of years co-ordinating Amnesty International letter-writing campaigns in the 1980s.

“It taught me a lot of lessons about the power of an individual’s letter,” he says.

“I’m definitely not a cynical person.”

During his presentation on April 26, Horne will show images from the “Behind the Lines” exhibition but also a lot of pieces that could not be included in the exhibition due to space restrictions, as well as other pieces that are related.

The Quesnel Public Library is located at 101-410 Kinchant Street. “Behind the Lines” catalogues will be available for purchase. This presentation is made possible thanks to the Friends of the Library.

For more information about Horne, visit