Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sean Montgomery, Crooked Head, Latitude 53, Jan. 9th - Feb. 14th, 2009 REVIEWED by Mandy Espezel

Currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at Concordia University, Sean Montgomery's Crooked Head is a representation of the work he is doing as a graduate student in Montreal.

The show consists of seven fairly large scale acrylic paintings on un-stretched canvas averaging 50" x 70". Ranging in subject matter from bandana's, bears, beards, flags, blankets, and trouser snakes, Montgomery uses bright and contrasting colours, creating an aggressive visual impact within the small space.

Image credit: Sean Montgomery "Gang Members" 2008

Interested in gender signification, he appropriates culturally masculine symbols, such as the bearded-man or flannel patterning, and reconstructs them contextually in order to question or alter their validity. The stylized slot mouths and obsessive wood grain patterning are definitely eye-pleasing, and create a strong relationship between all the work. But what really interests me about this show is the literal connections to objects that are created through the use of structural shape. The figure / ground relationship is stripped away, leaving only the figure as the subject. In this way, Montgomery's paintings become almost sculptural in their emphasis on material nature. Contrasting with this is the excessively flat paint handling Montgomery has developed. There is no "painters hand" at play here; no lush physicality to indulge in. By using the canvas in direct relation to the image or object being symbolized, we enter a kind of surreal understanding and dialogue of representation. Three works specifically engage in this way, "Bandana", "Bay Blanket", and "Jean Mathieu Montgomerie".

"Bandana" is the most obvious and powerful in terms of direct representation.
Basically a decorated red triangle, this painting hangs on the wall as an oversized detailed version of something completely based in reality. Recognizable as the cowboys bandana used to cover the face and protect one's identity, "Bandana" hangs in existence as a physical object, as a symbol, and as a non-functional image.

Much the same effect is created with "Bay Blanket", a painting that resembles, as its title suggests, the fundamentally Canadian and culturally epic Hudson's Bay blanket. Montgomery replicates the basics of the visually geometric symbol, a large white rectangle with four colourful horizontal stripes across one end. He complicates this with the use of subtly weaving lines that barely alter in tone, but are easily recognized as wood grain patterning. Again, the painting is an object and a symbolic representation, but the slight alteration suggests a kind of additional commentary of personal significance.

The last example, "Jean Mathieu Montgomerie" uses Quebec's provincial flag, a blue rectangle divided into four quadrants by a white cross, as the root of its formal structure and content. Replacing the fleur-de-lis are four delicately executed white line drawings of the bearded-man heads, slightly angled and open mouthed. Presumably representing a Francophone-version of Montgomery's own identity, this painting is the most self referential in the show, and also the most complex in terms of the relationship between symbolism and physical reality. It is also one of the strongest pieces, in my opinion, because it so clearly embraces and epitomizes the necessity, absurdity, and the power of image and identity making.

M. E. Edmonton

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