A summer group show curated by Katharine Mulherin of Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects in Toronto, Canada. The artists participating in the exhibition, living and working in Canada, are Graham Gillmore, Eliza Griffiths, Jay Isaac, Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline, Brad Phillips, Jason and Carlos Sanchez, Seth Scriver, and Margaux Williamson.
ART VS. REAL LIFE: Canadian Stories brings together eight artists whose work I’ve been in love with for some time. Love at first site, in fact. So here, in this intimate setting, I cram in a dream show.
While all of the artists are presenting wall works, the pieces transcend their two-dimensionality. Though the work is drawn, painted or photographed, it stems from varied artistic disciplines such as set building, acting, writing, animation, comedy, and from real life itself. Tension, struggle, overwhelming feelings: things that are difficult to express, things that exist in the subconscious are depicted here in these works.
I believe that the artists in this exhibition are all creating narratives and locations for the viewer that are beyond the notion of “real”. In our daily lives we come across situations and events that are in some ways sublime, yet we can never really stand there and stare it in the face, hold it there, re-visit it, or enter it and be outside of it at the same time. Thank goodness for art.
Graham Gillmore’s use of text in his paintings and works on paper allude to certain ideas but never tell the whole story. Employing the power inherent in the written word, Gillmore’s work can have multiple meanings. They are, at once complicated and extremely simple. They make us laugh while burning us at the same time, confusing us with their beauty. They are only words, yet their pictorial aesthetic involves a physical nature to the writing, so we can read in circles rather than in a linear fashion.
Jay Isaac’s gouache pieces also use text, walking the line between good and bad taste. Isaac represents artistic ambivalence; we need to mess things up a bit to make them better. He wears his heart on his sleeve as he struggles with diverse notions of beauty, liking what he likes and then hating himself for liking it and paying homage to it through art. It could be said Isaac’s is honest to a fault.
Brad Phillips’ work often depicts the darker side of life…”bad people in bad situations” and the struggles he has with himself about his own character. His work delves into his private world, intimating to the viewer an immediacy that feels a bit uncomfortable. In this sense, Brad Phillips’ work subtly defies the politically correct.
Eliza Griffiths’ painting serves as our navigation through a psycho/socio-sexual landscape where sexy fabricated characters audition for the role of protagonist. Characters in her paintings are also in a private place, but they don’t mind if you watch, in fact they seem to enjoy it. So there you are checking the painting out, and there it is, engaging you in your gaze, staring right back at you. “You like me, don’t you?” it asks. “Yes”, you answer, a little ashamed and excited at the same time.
Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline’s paintings are an exotic mix of the grotesque and beautiful. Combining both abstract and figurative painting and creating both a potent image and a potent painting, Kaktins-Gorsline attempts to depict a feeling outside of the image. While transcending the language of painting and maybe even language itself, a gut wrenching, head rushing, `about to explode with emotion’ experience takes place within the viewer.
Seth Scriver enters his own subconscious when he makes his work, which is often derived from his family history and personal stories. Although chaotic, there is a clear entry point that allows the viewer to identify with Scriver and his characters, where his art helps us to view the playful and sometimes ironic side of life.
Jason and Carlos Sanchez aren’t afraid of the dark either. These young brothers are a photographic force to be reckoned with. Taking their cues from cinema, their narratives are engendered through months of set-building, and the employment of actors and lighting specialists from the film industry. Their photos have been described as “films with only one frame”. The Sanchez brothers explore the psychological states of children; perhaps asking us to remember all the confusion associated with youth. Their participation in this exhibition is in cooperation with Claire Oliver Gallery, NYC.
Margaux Williamson is also fan of confusion. Melancholic, poetic, compassionate… Williamson captures a truth in referencing Shakespeare and JT Leroy, La Pieta and parties in the woods (a kind of right of passage amongst Canadian kids). Margaux catches and manipulates moments in ways we wouldn’t think of, but are so happy that she did. She makes us realize the sweetness of an awkward gesture and the sheer enjoyment of just being, because we have a rich history to draw on, and we’re here now.
Yup, we’re here now. The Canadians. I hope you like the show. These artists are amongst our best.
Katharine Mulherin July 2006