arnaud maggs the child, it turnsout, was inspired by a man who sold popcorn from the sidecar of a motorcycle. Now, as one of Canada's most celebrated senior artists, he finds inspiration in the flea markets and used-book stands that crowd the streets of Paris. A new documentary on the 76-year-old artist makes its North American television premiere tonight at 10 pm on TVO. Directed by Annette Mangaard, an artist in her own right, the film reveals Maggs's thoughts, processes and charm with a lively pace that feels like a brisk walk in the French countryside.
Pieces of super-8, 16mm and video interview footage are entwined to tell his story from early work as a graphic designer and fashion photographer through his move to the visual arts at an age when most of his generation were trying to protect their retirement nest eggs.
Put together over four years, in part while Maggs was preparing work for a 1999 retrospective at the Power Plant, Mangaard's film relentlessly explores the why behind the work. Maggs, using photography as his medium, started out documenting people by shooting them at various angles and displaying the resulting images in a grid pattern like the output of an overzealous photo booth.
Typically he shot people 48 times in two poses (front and profile), and his rigid and clinical approach reveals subtleties of appearance and personality. In installations like that at the Power Plant, some 8,000 unique photos line the walls. Step forward and you see the individual. Step back and we're all the same.
Maggs's later works focus on documenting his own collections of miscellany. Whether it's envelopes with thick black borders, invoices from a rich Parisian couple or the identification tags of child labourers, there is something very human about these items. Like our faces, our things are different or alike depending on our perspective.
More recently, however, the very youthful old artist has turned back to his past to tie up loose ends, as it were. He has reprinted many of the portraits he took but never exhibited, including a series of famed photographer André Kertesz. At the end of this month, Maggs's grid-like photo maquettes will paper the walls at Susan Hobbs's gallery in a show of both new work and unseen old work.
The Many Faces of Arnaud Maggs directed by Annette Mangaard, airing tonight (Thursday, January 16), 10 pm, and Sunday (January 19), 1:30 am, on TVO. Rating: NNNN
Arnaud Maggs at Susan Hobbs (137 Tecumseth), January 30 to March 15. 416-504-3699.