Six Degrees of Separation
While a mere six longitudinal degrees separate Toronto from Vancouver, the distance between the art worlds of Eastern and Western Canada is vast. Bringing ten Canadian artists to Claire Oliver Gallery, guest curator Noah Becker seeks not only to bridge the gap between these two important Canadian art scenes but also to awaken the sometimes nearsighted New York audience to the abundance of artistic talent from our northern neighbor.
A melting pot of international cross-cultural pollination, New York City makes the perfect venue for the increasingly international focus of these emerging Canadian artists. Without a sufficient tradition to emulate, Attila Richard Lukacs, Angela Grossmann, and Graham Gillmore have laid their own foundation in Vancouver that supports and inspires a new generation of talent. Lukacs is known for his expressive paintings of raw, edgy male figures which blur the line between homo-eroticism and aggressive physical competition; he has always chosen subjects that allow him to critique from the outside. Just as Bacon painted the male body at that point where it exploded into schizophrenia, so too Lukacs paints the male body in all its hysteria. Grossman makes complex collages, combining her own painting and drawing with layers of obsessively collected old photographs. The resulting works are intense psychological portraits, slightly jarring and disturbing in their ability to leave the viewer with the feeling he has violated some trust with his gaze. Gillmore transcribes excerpts from musical lyrics, literature, tabloids, or aphorisms into whimsical speech bubbles, graphically housing individual letters like children’s blocks as they fracture the language and offer witty social commentary emancipated from its original context.
In Vancouver newcomers Frank Torng and Ben van Netten, we see the continuation of careful process and intricate technique. Exploring themes of sexuality, vanity, and performance, Torng’s photographs create documentary-style portraits of drag queens and go-go boys. However, the comfortable informality and fondness with which he treats his subjects gives us a glimpse into the ritual and culture behind the scenes of gay nightlife. Van Netten uses a wet on wet technique to create his seamless oil paintings. Focusing on the in-between moment when the mind and eyes shift from one object to the next, the artist’s photorealistic landscapes are reminiscent of the view one has from a car window – there is not really enough time to take in the details. By pausing on an image that isn’t easily identifiable, he unlocks our subconscious thought and skillfully captures moments that typically go unnoticed. Trevor Guthrie similarly toys with the viewer’s perception of reality. The artist creates large format charcoal drawings that play with perspective, leaving the viewer slightly off balance. His subtle historical references are often only discernable through his titles, giving these technically impressive works even further depth and meaning.
Toronto brings us Catherine Heard, James Nye, and Alex McLeod. Heard’s series of sculpture entitled “errata”, meaning literally “record of error”, challenge our preconceived ideas of beauty and the human condition. Asking the viewer - what is normal – the artist plays with society’s ideas and ideals of the human form. The artist’s work is grim and gothic yet quirky and ironic; she shows us characters from a forbidden fairytale that summon our own fears and fancies. Nye’s studio practice concerns the study of the principles of light and how they give shape to the objects the artist creates. The results are a three dimensional reflection-like juxtaposition of graffiti and the architecture where it was found. As if we ourselves are passing the structures portrayed in a graffiti sprayed train car, Nye allows us to examine each layer individually yet forces us to create their inevitable synthesis. McLeod constructs intricate, surreal worlds in candy-colored palettes with space age forms and childlike imagery. Using CGI and computer software typically reserved for filmmaking, he carefully lights and digitally manipulates the scenes to amplify their believability. The resulting landscapes, which exist only in the artist's mind before their computer creation, are hyper-realistic, infinitely detailed, and compulsive in a way that could only exist in the digital, artificial realm.
The curator’s own obsessive, imagined worlds pose questions for the viewer about power and socio-political structures. Becker creates metaphoric landscapes in multi-level, invented realms depicting dreamlike, folkloric narratives. His work, along with that of the artists he brings to New York, pushes the boundaries of technique and handwork. The high level of craft and content evident in each artists’ studio practice makes the selected works interesting, significant and, furthermore, right at home at Claire Oliver Gallery.