Cartographies (2007)

*The following curatorial statement accompanies the upcoming (July) exhibition "Cartographies" at Elissa Cristal Gallery in Vancouver. It presents the work of Melanie Authier, Martin Golland, John Kissick, Monica Tap and (of course) myself.

Billboards. Televisions. Magazines. Internet. Kleenex
boxes. Movie screens. Airport lobbies. Subway
tunnels. Jpg's. Graphiti. Screen savers. Utube.
Portablev DVD/LCD. High Definition. Traveling through
the atmosphere in waves. The speed of light. Breathing
in images like air, we process and exhale.

This exhibition presents the work of five contemporary
painters who map the domain of contemporary visual
culture: plotting its course and charting it
movements. These works give substance to the
ephemerality of the image. They are cartographies of
the visual landscape.

Sliver (2005)

* The following curatorial statement accompanied the exhibition "Sliver" at Elissa Cristall Gallery in 2005. It presented the work of Anda Kubis, Alistair Magee, Suzanne Nacha and (of course) myself.

“At times I felt its wooden life invade me, till I myself became a piece of old wood.”
Samuel Beckett, from The End

As children, “getting a sliver” is a frequent occurrence of mild, yet immediate trauma. A mothers hand is required to sooth us. We hold her close as she digs out the small splinter of wood that has penetrated our fleshy exterior. As we grow older, we develop a threshold, a tolerance, natural resistances to life’s bumps and bruises. As adults, a sliver can go unnoticed for days, a soft irritation of which we are scarcely aware, a small sore, a subtle discomfort that is buried somewhere beneath our skin.

American painter Phillip Guston once said that the act of painting is like having “both of your hands stuck in a mattress”. For Guston, painting was a struggle for resolution, a subtle discomfort. He would build up a surface and scrape it down, obsessively working and reworking. He would work all through the night, trying to get the bottom to work with the top and the left to work with the right and the red to work with the black. Guston knew that if he dug deep enough, eventually the splinter would come out.

The artists involved in this exhibition were invited to participate principally because I love their work, but there is also a shared sense of subtlety, an understated and reductivist approach to both formal and conceptual concerns. There is something of substance buried beneath these lush exteriors, something that gets under the skin, a resonance and a weight that is spoken in whispers. These are quiet paintings that through disparate and even opposing ends manage to find some sort of space from which to function, a space from which to breathe.

Achilles Heel (2005)

*The following blurb accompanied the exhibition "Achilles Heel" at Joan Ferneyhough Gallery in 2005.

“The historical reference to reductivist paradigms here is only a legitimizing façade, concealing what is, in effect, a secret caricature – an image of low intent masquerading in heroic garb.”
Mike Kelley from Foul Perfection: Thoughts on Caricature

In perhaps one of the most celebrated instances of athletic failure, Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner let a routine ground ball go through his legs to lose the 1986 World Series. Buckner was an All-Star first baseman known for his defensive prowess. Given the same opportunity another 999 times, he would make it every time. But on that particular day in October 1986, with millions of New Englander’s prepared to celebrate their first Championship in nearly seven decades, Bill Buckner screwed up. His one time in a thousand, the defining moment of his career (and probably of his life) and he dropped the ball. His name alone has become synonymous with failure. There is a poetry to that sort of grand scale screw up, the great hero who fails to bring us to redemption.

Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary defines a “hero as: a) a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability, b) an illustrious warrior, c) a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities, d) one that shows great courage.” The more recent and politically correct, if decisively less elaborate, Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines a “hero as: a person who is admired for their courage or outstanding achievements.” In both definitions, the word hero is strongly tied to a sense of moral character. A hero is always the “good guy” who saves us, against all odds and at all costs, from some form of “evil”. Whether it’s Superman saving the world from Lex Luther or Albert Einstein saving the world from its own ignorance, our hero’s must survive great obstacles to achieve great results.

The idea of heroism is an important one to the history of Western painting. The heroic themes of Neo-Classical painting, the heroic landscape of 18th Century Romanticism, the heroism of the everyday person in 19th Century French Realism, the heroic scale of History painting and on a personal level the paintings assembled in this exhibition, consumed as they are with paintings history, represent a form of hero worship.

In Twentieth Century Modernist movements such as Abstract Expressionism and Post-Painterly Abstraction, the idea of heroism becomes even more prominent. Modern artists saw themselves in heroic proportions, defenders of the avant-garde, great explorers of new realms and possibilities. Abstract painters fought stoically through social alienation and financial destitution in an epic quest for purity, transcendence, spiritual enlightenment and the abstract sublime. As a means of historically legitimizing their various practices, their work took on the heroic scale of European History Painting. In place of History paintings literal depiction of human figures engaged in heroic acts they placed the “heroic gesture”. David’s stoic revolutionaries were replaced by Pollock’s chaotic drips and Gericault’s beleaguered castaways replaced by Newman’s emphatic “Zips”. It is this sort of “abstract heroism” that my work draws upon. But somehow, like the work that it evokes, it seems to fall short. The heroic scale of High Modernism is made small and human and modest. Their heroic gestures are appropriated, manipulated and removed from their original context and significance. The romanticism and expressiveness of their grand intentions becomes flattened out, caricatured and made hollow.

As symbols, Modernist paintings epitomize an important era in Western History, signifying an era of unprecedented growth and ingenuity and “progress”; a time that promised to bring us all to salvation with a better life through plastics. But now, like most other products of Modernist Industrialism, the promises of Modern Art now seem empty and naïve. Like the story of Achilles and his infamous heel, the invulnerable hero with a tragic flaw or like Bill Buckner at the 1986 World Series, perhaps we too have dropped the ball.

Extraterrestrial (2003)

*The following blurb accompanied the exhibition "Extraterrestrial" at Red Head Gallery in 2003.

"Friends of space, how are you all? Have you eaten yet? Come visit us if you have time,"
-Translation of greeting from phonograph record onboard NASA voyageur deep space probe.

FACT: Alien Abductions Incorporated is a research facility, resort and day spa located on the fourth floor of a New York City office tower. Their primary service is to implant memories of alien abductions into their clientele. AAI offers weekend retreats as well as individual implant sessions. Through a careful interviewing process, AAI is able to customize their customer’s abduction experience. Back yard crop circles and fetishist inter-species breeding are described as “add-on features”.

HEARSAY: The word extraterrestrial means “originating, existing, or occurring outside the earth and its atmosphere.” As the title for this show, it is meant to function in the realm of metaphor referring to both the practice of abstract painting and the current status of the painted object in contemporary society. The scientific study of extraterrestrial life is called xenobiology.

FACT: I first saw Star Wars at a drive-in movie theater. I remember quite vividly the giant tub of popcorn we shared in the back seat. This is perhaps my earliest childhood memory.

HEARSAY: I first started painting abstractly about three years ago. I couldn’t get past the idea that if I wanted to tell people “ real things” I should just tell them. Something more direct than painting. Most things are more direct than painting. I decided I wasn’t really interested in telling people much of anything. I wanted to make paintings.

FACT: In June l947, a pilot named Kenneth Arnold declared that he had seen mysterious disk-shaped objects in the sky while flying near Mount Rainier in Washington State. Newspapers picked up his story; reporters began writing of "flying saucers" that might have come from outer space. Other people soon told of similar sightings. The U.S. Air Force responded by setting up an office to collect such reports, launching an effort that came to be called Project Blue Book, which ran until 1969. Project Blue Book, operating out of an office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, had as its purpose to learn whether these UFOs might be a threat to national security.

HEARSAY: Somehow I’ve drifted into this terrain: large fields of lushness, wide-open blue and the suggestion of infinite space.

FACT: In 1996 structures resembling bacteria were discovered in a meteorite formed of rock ejected from Mars; however, this evidence is vigorously disputed.

HEARSAY: I first started sewing my canvas in 2000 out of concern with the structure of painting. The sewn forms also represent a visibly evident break with Modernist ideas of “purity”. Within the context of this body of work, the sewn forms make my surfaces a little bit more… uncanny.
FACT: Human-made electromagnetic radiation is detectable within an eighty light-year radius of Earth, and is constantly spreading. SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, takes the data gathered by the world's largest radiotelescopes and analyses it for artificial patterns using supercomputers and one of the largest distributed home computing projects in the world - seti@home.

HEARSAY: The alchemy of my work: big cans of enamels, small tubes of Windsor Newtons, mix, layer, add linseed, turpentine, lighter fluid? Shiny. Clumpy. Smooth.

FACT: It is common knowledge that Orson Wells October 30, 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds caused mass hysteria. The October 31, 1938 New York Times front page article reports that in a single block in Newark, New Jersey “more than twenty families rushed out of their houses with wet handkerchiefs over their faces for what they believed was to be a gas raid.” Some people were even seen moving their furniture.

HEARSAY: There is meaning and truth in all of these clichés. Painting is a conversation and a dialogue. It is it’s own language. The criticality of my work comes from its ability to speak to and disrupt these histories. It is about the alchemy of its material, the questioning of its structure and the rigor of its daily practice. Painting will always be about the journey rather than the destination. Phillip Guston once said that the best definition of painting he ever heard came from Eves Kline: “Painting is like having both of you hands stuck in a mattress” It is a pleasant discomfort, a struggle for resolution. When you finally manage to free your hands, you put them right back in.

FACT: Some historians describe Thomas More’s “Utopia” (1516) or Sir Francis Bacon’s “New Atlantis” (1628) as the first works of Science Fiction. Jules Verne's "voyages extrodinaires" began in 1851 with “A Drama in the Air” and went on to include “A Journey to the Center of the Earth” (1864). These books were wildly popular and set about a large wave of copycat works. Jules Verne is generally regarded as “the father of Science Fiction”.

HEARSAY: The works in this show aspire to be lyrical. Most of their titles are excerpts from various texts. Fiction. Poems. Pop songs. Words that sound good together. Words that provide some sort of reference point and manage to capture some sort of essence. Some sort of meaning? The paintings in this show are inspired by Science Fiction and they are about escape.

FACT: In 2001 Barry Williams started a website to promote what he feels is the truth. His site provides information about abduction for the general public. It is, however, principally meant as a support network for other abductees. He wants to provide comfort for his fellow victims. The header for his website broadcasts this message. It states quite clearly in large, black, Times New Roman font:

You are not alone.

Out of this airless sky (2003)

*The following blurb accompanied the exhibition 'Out of thie airless sky' at White Water Gallery in 2003.

“The ba-sic theory, is, that when given an unstruc-tured stimulus, some shape-less blob of experience, the sub-ject, will seek to impose, struc-ture on it. How, he goes a-bout struc-tur-ing this blob, will reflect his needs, his hopes-will provide, us with clues, to his dreams, fan-tasies, the deepest re-gions of his mind.”

-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

An eerie green light cuts through misty skies to reveal the strange and the unusual, the unknown and the unknowable. Organic forms submerging into the murky depths of an alien unconscious. Like some kind of sentient-being with an acute understanding of intergalactic space-travel and slick design principles. This, of course, is all fine and good and strange and weird. But most of these works do that. These paintings are meant to reference the aesthetic of science fiction in a personal amalgamation of crop circles and War of the Worlds. Stanley Kubric and NASA. Heaven’s Gate and Ed Wood. I’m fascinated by this culture, this cult of the conspiracy. I’m fascinated by this need for mythology. This need we have to know and this need we have to project. Conspiracy theories. Science fiction. Tabloid truths. The Pyramids being somehow implausibly linked to Area 51 and the assassination of JFK.

These works are informed by this weirdness but they are also about something else. They are about trying to defy some kind of expectation. About occupying some place between painting and sculpture. About blurring a traditional either/or and being in themselves unknown and unknowable. Defying a certain desire to identify and classify, to group, sort and make sense of. These are alien artifacts. They are entirely “unpure” (anti-pure?). They appropriate and disrupt disciplines and histories. Unknown figures locked in unknowable grounds. These works are about a sense of physicality. These are paintings that you bump in to while trying to watch the video.

I’m using a lot of enamels these days. I like how they both accentuate and hide brushwork. How they reference the brush without revealing it’s secrets. I like how they glop and slop. I like how they bury the thread of the fabric and everything is absorbed into a weird, lugubrious surface. I love their plasticity. I like the irony of personally mixing commercially manufactured colours and then applying Windsor Newtons straight out of the tube. I love this weird spectrum. Ocean Horizon, Crayon Green, Italian Leather, Lover’s Kiss. Something you’ve seen before but can’t quite place. Some strange anti-pigment existing in your home. Your office. Your car. These are the colours of our everyday. They are something inside. Something internal. They are buried deep.

Mostly these works are about painting. They’re about pushing and pulling and backwards and forwards. They are about how there needs to be pink here and I don’t know if it’s finished yet. They are about the idea being a place for departure and not a blue print. They’re about Phillip Guston and Donald Judd. They’re about having both of your hands stuck in a mattress and about being interesting. These are love letters for dead heroes. They are about a sense of nostalgia for Modernism, about a loss of and a need for idealism.

And so finally,
after all of this,
when the alien space pod landed,
it was, of course, too late.
The aliens had seen the messages. The broadcasts.
They had witnessed, over time, these messages becoming more frantic and more desperate.
Cries for help broadcast in high fidelity throughout the cosmos.

And so the aliens had sent their space pod.
They sent it with high hopes. Their intergalactic care package.
All of the great truths were to be revealed.
Why the crop circles were made. Why all of those cows were abducted and mutilated. How Oprah was really just another false prophet. The significance of the Pyramids and Stonehenge. How the caramel got inside the candy bar and why JFK simply had to go. But most importantly, their pod provided the comfort of knowing YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

But even still,
despite their loftiness of ambitions and their highest of hopes,
the pod landed
with little fanfare or recognition.

hero biscuits (2002)

*The following blurb accompanied the exhibition 'hero biscuits' at 1080 Bus Gallery in 2002.

This show is titled after a common expression from my grade school days. Whenever you did something you were proud of some sour-graped kid would say: “Do you want a hero biscuit or something?” It must have been a line in some movie I didn’t see. I never understood what it meant. I still don’t. But I understood the implication. These works are about that, the things that you don’t understand fully but get the overall feeling of.

These paintings are pretty. They’ll look good in your loft. But beneath these lush Easter-egg-coloured exteriors lurks something creepy. Something that crawls into you. Something you can’t put your finger on. Something just beyond your reach. Like the feeling that there are dark and mysterious forces in the world. Government and corporate corruption. Conspiracy theories and alien invasions. Microwaved food can’t be a good thing. Neither can Kentucky Fried Chicken. These things you hear. These things you know.

Most of these works reference the body. Organic forms in cosmic conflict staging microscopic dioramas. Those things that crawl around on your eyelashes. The dust mites in your bed. The pneumonia in your lungs and the hidden cancers in your balls. Cellular mitosis and the Milky Way.

And still there’s something else. Some kind of happy day that’s all smiles and dogs catching frisbees in a field (and maybe you’re just imagining things.)

A lot of these works reference symbols and language. Like graffiti that you can’t read. Illegible but it penetrates you. Like a sign written in a language you don’t understand. You don’t even understand the alphabet. How a symbol relates to a sound and a concept. You don’t understand it, what’s written, what’s drawn. But you know it means something. Maybe it’s something profound. Or maybe it says: Walnut Cakes.

My nephew tries so hard to draw things that look like something and I try so hard to draw things that don’t look like anything and they end up looking remarkably similar.

All these works are about painting. About the pushing and the pulling and the backwards and the forwards of it. It’s about going to all the trouble to create a complex system of rules and boundaries and then breaking them because it looks better this way. These works are about how there needs to be pink here and I don’t know if it’s finished yet. They’re about the idea being a place for departure and not a blue print. They’re about occupying three-dimensional space because painting is not 2D. They’re about being interesting. So much contemporary abstraction is about finding a technique or a process that is technically astute and then milking it. Painting is just more complex than that.My work is as much about Donald Judd as it is about Robert Motherwell.

In the end this is just another show of paintings by just another artist. The last thing the world needs is another painting. The second last thing the world needs is another artist. And so these paintings are hero biscuits.