David R. Harper
January 28, 2014
TERENCE DICKBEN REEVES AT JESSICA BRADLEY | PORCELAIN: BREAKING TRADITION AT DIVISION GALLERY
I am not a big fan of winter and the white-out conditions of this past weekend were bringing me down, so the promise of colour made by jpegs on the Jessica Bradley Gallery website had me hopping into the Subaru and heading north west. All I was in search of was some ocular pleasure so a straight-up painting on canvas exhibition suited me fine. Given the character of the associated artists in Bradley's stable, I was also expecting some sort of conceptual kick in addition to the traditional aesthetics; I didn't find it in the end, but there was still plenty to engage my eye.
Vancouver painter Ben Reeves' new work is mining similar territory as fellow Canadians Mara Korkola and Monica Tap in that they are all depicting the nation's natural landscape (predominantly trees) in a neuvo-impressionistic manner that emphasizes light and abstraction in the noise of leaves and branches. Reeves' particular take on this technique is to play with the illusion of depth by combining light washes with thick and gooey built-up details that are often created with pigment squeezed directly from the tube. He achieves a balance between these extremes while also incorporating a surprising range of colour in spring-summer scenes of urban parks that had me forgetting the bitter monochrome outside. Each canvas aspires to the desired effect of drawing the viewer into the dialectic space of painting versus picture. I found myself hocketing from one to the other: first seeing the park bench, the path, the playground, and then retracting my gaze to the gunk pushed around the surface before slipping back into the image, then again returning to consider how it was that a jumble of colourful shapes could cohere into a recognizable – though largely empty - scene. While that's all fun and games, it was only one work, the relatively subdued Nocturne (not surprisingly depicting a time of softer light) that resolved my wrestling match with the picture plane and sustained my gaze.
Since I was in the neighbourhood, I next made my way to Division Gallery to see a new exhibition they are hosting alongside their ongoing Nicholas Baier show. Put together by Art Mûr in Montreal,Porcelain: Breaking Tradition is a collection of contemporary Canadian artists that should cause any forward-thinking curator to slap their forehead and exclaim, "Why didn't I think of that?" It's a remarkably compact show that could have gone bigger (Shary Boyle, anyone?) but as it is has everything from photography and video to sound art and kinetic works in addition to the obvious inclusion of sculptures.Pierre Durette's chaotic bundles of mutant figurines are among the purists who stick simply to porcelain, but the crazy array of source imagery makes them far from your standard shepherdess in a dress knick-knack. Amongst old guards like Stephen Schofield and Colleen Wolstenholme are a bunch of newer names like Nicholas Galanin, Clint Neufeld, Brendan Tang, and David R. Harperwho are increasingly defining the current generation of artists accomplishing things worth paying attention to. This exhibition provides a handy opportunity to catch up with them.
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.