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Wiebe’s week

A wigged, white-masked figure with rubber tits plays Monopoly against an enormous pink bunny rabbit. Drunk art fans stagger by, fascinated, on their way to the extensive Hamachi sushi bar. Under the scattered cocktail tables are piles and piles of stuffed animals. A pig in a suit strolls past. The partygoers are dwarfed by the enormity of the gutted concrete space they are in. On one of the two stages, under lights that flick bright colours, is Pastoralia. The band is joined by local art star Graeme Patterson on keys. He looks relaxed and happy. There are paint rainbows pouring from his blacked-out eyes and his dad dances in the front row, beaming. Two hours ago, Patterson lost the $50,000 Sobey prize to David Altmejd.

Pastoralia’s front man Mitchell Wiebe designed the surreal after party, and on stage he improvises in a low, Ian Curtis voice about how he thought the light show was going to be different, before breaking into dark dance tunes from the band’s repertoire.

Wiebe is a self-described ancient baby. Just over 40, he has the face, art sensibility and curious joy of a child. Wiebe has long been a staple of Halifax art legitimacy. If you’re Gallery Page and Strange, you might use Mitchell’s playfully original paintings to offset the safe, well-selling artists you represent. Or, if you’re throwing a $50 a ticket after-party for the some of the most important players in Canadian art and you don’t want to look like a bunch of suites, you do what Kelly McGuire did: ask Mitchell Wiebe to help.

When asked why McGuire chose him to design the party, “You know, I’m curious,” Wiebe says. “I’ve been trying to find that out.”

The synesthetic artist’s painting style is loose and open. His large, well-lit oil paintings are the only adornment on the industrial-looking walls of the Roy Building, where the Sobey party is held. Unlikely, swirling figures slip in and across flowing, implacable landscapes. It’s a look Mitchell has been riffing on for years. His body of work is massive and always slightly changing. His style is so strong that 10-year-old paintings blend easily with recent work.

Pastoralia, too, has the loose and easy feeling of Wiebe’s past musical projects Deluxe and Delangroes and Soaking Up Jagged. The band, which features Ray Fenwick and Rebecca Young, has “a collaborative fashion sense.” They typically style themselves to “match the atmosphere.” Tonight’s gushing eye rainbows were Fenwick’s concept.

“Ray had the idea of the colour pouring out of ourselves,” says Wiebe. “It made sense so we went with it.”

Many people contributed their interpretations of Wiebe’s style to the design of the after party. The piles of stuffed animals, donated by Value Village, were the idea of event organizers. The vaguely scary/vaguely sexy animal hybrids were the anonymous work of comedy troupe Picnicface.

“Kelly (Mcguire) from the art gallery wrote us an email asking if we wanted to roller skate around the party,” says Picnicfacer Mark Little. “Bill (Wood) responded, saying we could do that or do some weird performance art stuff, and she went for that. The latter.”

Wood typically leads the charge on “weird, non-sketch things,” along with fellow Picnicfacer and Gazette contributor Cheryl Hann.

“Bill came to my studio,” says Wiebe. “We talked about stuff they could do relating to my paintings.”

From there, Wood grabbed treasures from Picnicface’s tickle trunk and Boutlier’s costume shop in Dartmouth to create real-life versions of surreal characters in Wiebe’s paintings. The troupe became bears, lions in latex, scary wigged men in huge rubber breasts.

“It felt pretty wonderful,” says Little. “It’s very freeing – dancing as an anonymous pig in formal wear.”

All of this Wiebian wonder and insanity happened on Thursday. Then, two days later at Nocturne, Pastoralia played at the AGNS in the very same, white with fake windows tent that David Altmejd had won the Sobey’s honour.

Graeme Patterson and Robbie Shedden wrestled in the costumes from Grudge Match, Patterson’s piece in the Sobey exhibition. The costumes themselves are works of art that texturally transform the wearer into one of Graeme’s puppets.

“We were trying to work with what Graeme was doing,” says Wiebe of Pastoralia’s outfits. “We had tights on underneath shorts.”

Nocturne was a huge success. The Khyber reported that 5,250 people came through their doors. At midnight, after six hours of awesome, excessive art, the truly nocturnal were just waking up. A massive dance party gathered at the Good Food Emporium and then drifted to the place the Sobey after party was based on.

Wiebe’s studio, above Propeller Brewery, is like a condensed version of his work at the Roy Building. Hundreds of paintings cover the walls and lay in stacks. Turquoises, oranges and dream-animals overwhelm the senses. Artists and art lovers party until they run out of things to say about all they’ve seen and can only sway wastedly.

“Last year we did that,” says Wiebe of the afterparty.

He hangs out in the back, blacklit room. His outfit pops out in a sea of partygoers wearing mostly dark colours.

“It just seems important if Nocturne is going late night, you have to do it.”

The author is friends with Mitchell Wiebe, Picnicface and most of the Halifax arts scene. Not Ian Curtis, though.

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