Wilf Perreault: In the Alley is a stunning coffee table book. The book design itself is enough to tempt anyone into picking it up and buying it. A sizable book at 12” by 10”, it certainly does justice to Perreault’s beautiful and large-scale images, although it’s difficult to top seeing them in person. What the book offers is an engaging and insightful background on Perreault’s life, art, and the many ways he has touched others.
In the Alley begins with an introduction by Timothy Long, the head curator at the MacKenzie Art Gallery. He gives a brief overview of Perreault’s childhood on a farm near the French-speaking villages of Henribourg and Albertville. The book, it should be noted, is appropriately presented in both French and English. Long moves from Perreault’s childhood to his time at the University of Saskatchewan and then as a teacher, all the while tracking Perreault’s growth as an artist and the connections he makes within the community. The most fascinating parts of Long’s introduction are the back stories he includes for some of Perreault’s paintings. These back stories perfectly capture the individuality and surprises that Perreault includes in all of his paintings.
In the Alley is filled with literary responses to Perreault’s work; the book includes both poetry and prose by several Saskatchewan authors, including the current Poet Laureate, Judith Krause, and two former Poet Laureates. There are poems from Byrna Barclay, Katherine Lawrence, Connie Gault, Gerald Hill, Tracy Hamon, and dee Hobsbawn-Smith. Ken Mitchell recounts the entertaining story of Reggie the Grasshopper (a metal sculpture created by Perreault) and his many moves in Regina. T.F. Rigelhof recalls his time with Perreault when they were teenagers. These are artists in conversation with one another, speaking across their back alleys.
The book ends with Don Kerr’s recollections of his recent visits with Wilf Perreault at his shows and in his studio. Perreault’s work ethic is incredible; Kerr notes that “he doesn’t let up” and accomplishes an astonishing amount of work in the lead up to his show at the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Perreault is truly an inspiration to artists everywhere. He says, “(t)here is a light inside the work…I think the light is actually life. Somehow my job is to take that painting and make it live and breathe and exist beyond the photograph or beyond me.” I believe he has succeeded.
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