Monday, March 23, 2009

Sprawl, Justin Wayne Shaw, The Hydeaway, Feb 15- April 1, 2009 REVIEWED by Pam Baergen

The Hydeaway is a modest, independently run art gallery and performance venue located in downtown Edmonton. It offers a unique fusion of visual art and live music to an all-ages audience. It also truly lives up to its name.

After circling the same high rises and parkades more times than I would like to publicly admit, I finally noticed that the Jekyll and Hyde Restaurant and Pub had a small sign posted in its window with the name of the venue on it. Little did I know, my stint of downtown confusion--albeit short--would turn out to be a good introduction to the exhibition I was traveling to see.

Image credit: "Sprawl 5" Justin Shaw, 2009.

The exhibition, Sprawl, is a series of 6 pen and ink cityscapes by Edmonton artist and musician Justin Wayne Shaw curated by Institute Parachute. Shaw created this series after spending the past year exploring major urban centres such as Miami, New York, Montreal, and Toronto. Despite the pub atmosphere of the venue, Shaw's works are not typical “restaurant art” cityscapes featuring famous buildings that are kitschy and uninspiring. Instead, they effectively extend to viewers the experience Shaw had traveling through major cities, offering a sense of disorientation and spatial awe felt when exploring a large urban centre for the first time.

This sense is achieved in a variety of ways throughout the series. The buildings that are only outlined are important to each drawing's aesthetic as well as conceptual success. The blank space offers the eye a place to rest while also adding to the first-time, big-city experience: the traveler is surrounded by unrecognizable buildings that eclipse one another as well as important information like street signs or landmarks.

All of the drawings successfully distort perspective and scale and consequently the viewer's perception of space, but I find “Sprawl 5” and “Super Sprawl” achieve a sense of disorientation and awe most effectively. Both images feature no visible sky or ground, only a dense arrangement of buildings. A few of the buildings resemble real-life structures the artist would have seen such as the CN Tower, but they are not the focus of the work. Instead, they appear randomly in a dense sea of generic buildings and buildings that are merely an outline.

While these two images contain many similarities, each piece evoked a strong sense of disorientation for me that stemmed from different factors. In “Sprawl 5” it was the play between the perspective of buildings that evoked this sense. The buildings in both images are depicted from above as if the viewer is on an airplane that is about to land, except for a few buildings at the top of “Sprawl 5” which were of particular significance. These buildings are seen from below which created tension as it pushed my eye back into the buildings seen from above, causing a greater sense of disorientation for me than the first four drawings did.

“Super Sprawl” achieves a similar result of disorientation through its large size, format, and location. "Super Sprawl" measures 42x145 inches, making it more standard landscape format as opposed to the first five works that are twelve times smaller and achieve more height than width. This gave the image a much greater presence, affecting my peripheral vision and drawing me into the scene where I am confronted with buildings that don't make sense spatially. The drawing is situated across from a wall of windows that look out onto several Edmonton high-rises which added another dimension to the work, deepening my experience of awe and disorientation. “Super-Sprawl” also occupies its own wall, which meant I didn't have to lean over occupied booths to experience the full impact of the work as I had to for the others.

Shaw's cityscapes, most notably “Sprawl 5” and “Super Sprawl,” excited me because through them I was able to explore what the artist explored during the past year in a way that focused on emotional experience as opposed to just noting famous attractions. As spring arrives and you begin to feel the urge to travel, consider making your first trip an adventure through Shaw's cityscapes at The Hydeaway--only make sure you know where the venue is before you leave the house.

-P.B. Edmonton

No comments: