Body in Crisis

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Feather Head
Hammer Head
series, print series, anthropomorphic work, anthropomorphism, fetish, wood and cloth, fabric, identity, individual identity, patterns, stereotypes of people, stereotypes, metaphor, defining groups of people, naming groups of people, naming or stereotyping

The works Hammer Head and Feather Head form part of a  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  of prints McVeigh made in 1982. These works are anthropomorphic, which means that they depict non-human things as having human shapes. They are also fetishistic, which means that they invest meaning and power in objects that weren't there in the beginning.

McVeigh's figures have wooden skeletons and cloth skins. The patterns of fabric might remind us of people we have seen, or rather of stereotypes that are familiar to us. We can think of them as representing stereotypes because they have no individual identities that we can determine; they are without faces, fingerprints, or language, and so they begin to stand in for groups, or for what we imagine represents a particular group.

McVeigh's use of  stereotypePreconceived and clichéd notions (biases or cognitive structures) that help individuals process information through associations between reality and the "pictures in your head." Stereotyping people often takes place in the social categories of race, national or ethnic groups, gender, class, generation or age group, profession, interest (geeks, nerds, jocks, skateboarders, chess-players), etc. Although stereotypes have often fed into xenophobic behaviours, stereotypes are not always negative. Because people are the products of their genes and their environment, they can form sweeping opinions about whole groups of people from the ways that people around them feel about and treat various people. The primary source for such notions is (or used to be) one's parents. The media — television, internet, etc. — have an increasingly powerful influence on the formation of stereotypes. (  is not a way of encouraging these stereotypes, but is instead a way of undermining them and making them seem silly. His titles imply that the stereotypes are insulting not only because of what they mean but also because they suggest that these humanoid figures are to be defined only by their physical characteristics; one is a hammer head, while the other is a feather head. If we see this as a metaphor, then perhaps we can realize just what it might be that McVeigh is trying to say about how we view and name other people or groups of people.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • What stereotypes in particular do you think McVeigh is trying to undermine in Hammer Head and Feather Head? What is it about these images that makes you think that you are correct? Are you also required to "buy into" the stereotypes McVeigh is criticizing by seeing them in the work? Why or why not?

  • Why might McVeigh have chosen wood and cloth, instead of other materials, to construct his figures?

  • Have you ever felt defined by a physical ability or limitation? In what way did that help or hinder you? Can things that may seem beneficial actually end up causing us to be thought of only in specific ways?
Studio Activity
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Create a portrait

  • Choose a person of whom you would like to make a portrait.
  • Use a pencil and scratch paper to brainstorm a list of everyday objects that indicate something about your subject.
  • Draw these objects.  They could be the same shapes as a head, eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth, ears, hair and facial hair, or they could be combined with other shapes to make these parts of the portrait.
  • Cut these shapes out of coloured paper, and arrange them on another sheet of paper, as the background, to complete your portrait.

Self-portrait opposites

Make a pair of self-portraits.

  • One of these self-portraits should define you by depicting who you are and what you do, while the other should define you by depicting the opposite of who you are and what you do.
  • Think about how you would determine your opposite. If you are a happy person, is the opposite of that state sadness, anger, having no feelings at all, or is some other emotion the opposite?
  • Remember that these portraits will suggest not only who you think you are, but also will imply what you might otherwise be.

Author unknown.  Don McVeigh Watercolours.  Exhibition catalogue. Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge, Alberta, undated.

Burke, Lora. ‘Don McVeigh exhibition at Kesik.’ Regina Leader Post, undated.

Burke, Lora. ‘Visitors to gallery can watch artist produce works for one-man show.’ Regina Leader Post, November 30, 1979.

Fudge, Paul. ‘Don McVeigh’s paintings chase winter blues away.’ Regina Leader Post, December 4, 1981.

Hryniuk, Margaret. ‘Watercolorist McVeigh probes for levels of understanding.’ Regina Leader Post, October 13, 1983.


Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning