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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Different Strokes

Bart Gazzola
Published Thursday January 22, 05:33 pm
Two artists prove that art can always evolve

Runs to Feb. 5
Art Placement

There’s an idea that “Art Historians” (note the use of capital letters, which my editor generously allowed in this instance even though he hates them) are more inflexible, exhibiting a rigidity and resistance to change, than some art critics. Fair enough — but only because I’d say that critics are more immediate than historians, as we’re not forced to encapsulate the entire practice of any artist for a 100-level class of 200 students into an easily digestible nugget. (Take the work of Philip Guston, which shows how radical change is not only possible, but exciting, moving from colour field abstraction to almost cartoonish satire.)

So what does that have to do with the winter exhibition at Art Placement, featuring a number of artists represented by the commercial gallery? Well, it definitely applies to two of those artists, who in many ways sit at opposite ends of the spectrum of Saskatoon’s visual arts community: Ellen Moffat and Jonathan Forrest.

Moffat is best known for her audio / installation works, whether pickupputdown at Paved or the interactive projections from Nuit Blanche. Her work often has a theoretical component that can sometimes override aesthetics. Several years ago, the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery showed some “wave” works by Moffat — physical depictions of the audio art she had in the gallery concurrently.

The works currently at Art Placement continue that, but are effective while “silent”: she I her or she her are scratchy and rough, with transparency breaking up the white, “dead” negative space. One could almost see these as detritus of some of her audio works, like tangible evidence of her immersive aural environments.

Two of Forrest’s paintings here — “Lime Drop” and “Hunch” — were in a previous show at Art Placement, along with several larger works of the same “family.” These are a strong change from his previous works, and in that show of abstract painters (with Christie and Perehudoff) he was easily the best. His colours in “Lime Drop” are luscious, almost decadent in their purity with a quality reminiscent of candy. It’s aesthetically seductive, almost carnal: I want to lick it, and I’m seduced by these Jolly Rancher-style colours.

The powerful colour of “Lime Drop” is almost painful in its brilliance: conversely, there’s a subtlety of gradation in “Hunch” and a melding of pigment on a stark black background that perfectly pushes forward raised “forms” of paint.

There’s a restraint (the pure, flat white background of “Lime Drop”), then an excess (the thick acrylic forms that spill over the edges of the canvas) that elevate each other, and also the ongoing debate regarding abstraction. The fragments of hue and tone in “All Elbows and Knees” imply a violence, a torn fragment of intense colour on an appropriately banal pink ground.

My opening point about fluidity and change in terms of how we view art can be seen in these two artists’ works. I’d not seen anything from Forrest previously that particularly impressed me, but now his older paintings seem to be stages towards this enthralling exploration of what painting might be. Meanwhile, Moffat’s often ephemeral pieces seem to have spawned these odd little mementos (like “Tracing Voice – Inner Voice”) that offer a different place to stand when in her aural installations and environments.

This exhibition — like all shows at AP now — runs for twice the time it once would have, until early February, and it’s always a good thing to be able to spend more time with works that break expectations.

Go and see this.

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