The Avoidance of the Real
March 5 – 28, 2015, Gallery Jones
The effort to create something that appears realistic starts with the inherent knowledge that the end product is not the same as the initial inspiration. There is a suspension of disbelief required to engage in both the making and consumption of art, be it films or poems, fiction or paintings. It is in this suspended space – the gap between the art object and what it correlates to in the world – that the artists in this exhibition create.
Many declarative statements were made at the dawn of photography about the inevitable obsolescence of painting. In terms of our current relationship with the digital age this seems quaint – painting is very much alive and photography in the context of contemporary art is straying farther and farther from the real in terms of truth telling. Some of the most noted and admired contemporary photo-based artists deal largely in fictive story telling. Erin O’Keefe, a photographic artist and architect from New York City, actively uses the camera as “an agent of uncertainty” to yield an aesthetic object that is formally closer to modernist painting, has an image containing elements of technical photography (e.g. printed Photoshop gradients) and a subject that was created the way a sculpture would be, with your hands. The plywood boards, physical photos and painted surfaces that make up the images of O’Keefe’s Flatness series, are all in the service of ambiguity, not to confound, but redefine.
Redefining the purpose of a medium, or at least extending the definition and capacities, was part of the motivation behind Ehryn Torrell’s creation of the Self-Similar series, from which three paintings are included in this exhibition. The concept of self-similarity is mathematical at its heart and has been applied to fields as far ranging as computer system designs, architecture, physics and philosophy. As the name suggests, the idea refers to an object that has some part of itself that is similar to the whole. Examples in nature would be a snowflake, a fern, a cauliflower. Torrell uses this notion to translate her experience traveling in urban China and other Western cities to a personal narrative about upheaval and renewal.
Witnessing examples of human industriousness naturally lent itself to photographic representation, and Torrell relied heavily on photos she had taken when she returned to Canada and her studio and approached the blank canvas. The conscious decision to paint representations of the photographic documents she had collected is where the divergence from “truth-telling” takes place. In the circuitous route between the art object and its real-life corollary, Torrell placed herself and her subjective unpacking of the experiences. Like O’Keefe’s willful blurring of the photographic medium’s characteristics, Torrell embraces the shift from documentation to inventiveness and in the process navigates away from the real and literal in the hopes of communicating something more universal.
Perhaps the most concise examples of departing from “the real” are the paintings of Jeff Depner, from the Reconfigured Grid Paintings series. Formally, Depner is dismantling predictable geometric forms in his paintings and re-constructing them in a language whose syntax is colour and composition. The goal is for a more immediate (and therefore less mediated), visceral reaction to the paintings.
The work of Andrea Pinheiro included in this exhibition (courtesy of Republic Gallery) makes the most out of the potential of photographic technology to represent. In not allowing it to do so, through the use of pinhole imagery and obfuscation of those technically rudimentary images with bold brush strokes of paint, Pinheiro is celebrating the distance we are traveling from what would be considered representative. In 2011, the Presentation House Gallery (North Vancouver) mounted an exhibition of Damian Moppett and Andrea Pinheiro’s work, specifically images from the “Chamber” series, aptly titled “Not Photographs”. By delving into the history of collage and photography, Pinheiro is providing an antidote to the ubiquity of mundane images amassed by the look-at-me generation. She is using imperfect representations of the real to slice through the inundation of information.
The dissolution of what a photograph (or a painting, or a sculpture) needs to be is present in O’Keefe’s work. Torrell navigates a border between representation and interpretation, at times facing one way, at times the other. Depner subjects a clearly defined logical structure to the influence of a more organic, almost Taoist rationale and Pinheiro provides only artifacts of information in her images, which are not photographs. The work in this exhibition is lively and vibrant and each artist provides a developed voice and vision, the shared characteristic of which is a willful, at times playful, and always meaningful avoidance of what can empirically be called “the real”.
Erin O’Keefe is a visual artist and architect based in New York City and New Brunswick, Canada. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornell University and a Master of Architecture from Columbia University. She has exhibited extensively across North America and Europe and her work hangs in the public collections of the Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco) and the New York Institute of Technology.
Ehryn Torrell is a London-based Canadian artist who explores the creation and communication of meaning. Based on the understanding that our lived landscape and culture impacts us all, however unconsciously, she works in a range of mediums to explore the gap between a thing and its articulation. In painting, she explores this using overtly visual terms; she builds canvases through collage and architectural structures to examine the complexity of our increasingly urbanised world. When working in other mediums, she deploys conceptual strategies to place emphasis on an object. Still working with complexity and layering, her recent work attempts to formulate a highly personal expression of loss using quiet, less visual means.
Torrell has exhibited throughout Canada and internationally since 2001. In 2013, she had solo exhibitions at Cape Breton University Art Gallery (Nova Scotia, Canada) and the Grimsby Public Art Gallery (Ontario, Canada), performed for Nocturne Halifax, and had work included in the Painting Project, a survey of contemporary Canadian painting curated by Julie Bélisle and Louise Déry at Galerie de L’UQAM in Montréal, Canada. Torrell has received numerous awards for her work, including grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, The Ontario Arts Council, the Patrick Hamilton Studio Award and the prestigious Joseph Plaskett Foundation Award for painting. She has participated in a number of residencies including Fiskars AIR (Finland), Florence Trust (UK), LKV (Norway), and The Banff Centre (Canada). The artist’s first monograph was published in Canada in 2014.
Jeff Depner graduated from Capilano University in 1998 and has exhibited widely since. He has shown with Nancy Margolis Gallery in New York City; Aureus Contemporary in Basel, Switzerland; Gallery Schmidt Maczollek in Cologne, Germany; The Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Indiana; among others.
Andrea Pinheiro is an artist and curator working in photography, print, mixed media, paint, video and installation. She has exhibited across Canada and internationally. Recent exhibitions include Its All Gone Pear Shaped at Open Studio in Toronto, Bomb Book at Presentation House Gallery, and the Canadian Digital Print exhibition at the Novosibirsk Graphic Art Triennial, (Russia) and Not Photographs, a two-person exhibition with Damien Moppett at Satellite Gallery in Vancouver. She has completed a residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts and a curatorial residency at the Helen Pitt Gallery in Vancouver. She completed a Diploma of Studio Art at White Mountain Academy of the Arts in Elliot Lake, and a Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Alberta. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Algoma University and is also the director of 180 Projects, an experimental exhibition space. Pinheiro currently lives and works in Sault Sainte Marie, Canada. Pinheiro is represented by Republic Gallery in Vancouver.
Ehyrn Torrell’s “Self-Similar” series of large-scale paintings, which traveled to Cape Breton University Art Gallery and the MacDonald Stewart Art Centre, is reviewed here in its incarnation at St. Mary’s University Art Gallery.
image: “Afternoon, Old Town”, acrylic on canvas, 68″ x 58″.