Thursday, November 26, 2009

Prairie Artsters: Mitch Mitchell's The Longing Focal, FAB Gallery, till December 5, 2009

As the final exhibition after two-and-a-half years of self-described pure bliss and raging crisis enduring 16 – 18 hour work days, Mitch Mitchell's The Longing Focal rests somewhere between the vertigo and the sublime for both the artist and the viewer.

Building from this past January's installation, Tar Plane Wayfarer, inside the empty storefront of the former Red Strap Market, Mitchell continues finding inspiration from his time in northern Alberta, sneaking onto a tar sands site and finding himself in an environment that has no equal scope, scale or context. Interested in how viewers can incorporate their body into a space, Mitchell is not your typical printmaker. Moving from 2D towards the 3D, from the flat to the kinetic, the Illinois native identifies more as a print artist, pointing to the low brow Chicago scene of intermedia works as points of inspiration.

As the viewer walks through FAB gallery, Mitchell consciously places black and white lithography prints first, feeling they are the expected, traditional works one expects in a printmaking show. Digitally manipulated to accentuate nondescript architectural shapes and shadows, the works subtly shift into photopolymer gravure prints, which is a non-toxic version of the highly technical photogravure process. Inventing the non-toxic water-based process to reach this point, Mitchell also built, dismantled and rebuilt each model until the structures could no longer be held together.

Trial and error experimentation have been integral to Mitchell's MFA process, and his praxis. "I came here to do something I've never done before," he says days before the opening of his show and defense. "I was always an analogue person, so starting with Photoshop, I was like a kid drawing with a crayon for the first time, and stumbling through it, I came up with this work."

In the lower part of the gallery, Mitchell shows a selection from his print suite, an unbound book without any words. With 17 pages in total, Mitchell wanted to tell a linear story with various visual entry points, an abstract story that disorientates the narrative composition from beginning to end, but with no clear conclusion. The desired illusion of disorientation did not translate into the linearity of a book structure, but the concept of creating multiple portals into the same experience carries through into the remainder of the show.

The strongest works in the exhibition are the large works printed directly onto gator board. Created from the mundane objects found inside the print studio, from tools used in the print process, print type, mylar, even the printing bed, the porous raised textures of winter-influenced landscapes took one year to fully realize.

"I didn't use a single scraper in this body of work—I threw it out," Mitchell shares, referring to the gritty, visually haptic quality of the works. As a result, there is an unusual contrast between the harsh and soft, which incidentally translates to the rolling landscapes from his midwest roots, an abstracted landscape speckled with abrupt structures.

From his wide-open homeland to the unfamiliar obstructions found in the tar sands, Mitchell focuses on the idea of discovery of landscape in his last piece, which is part-sculptural, part-kinetic installation. Factoring in notions of security and curiosity, Mitchell invites the viewer to crouch and peer through peepholes to view into the internal cosmos of an alien environment. From the second floor of the gallery, viewers can experience the light breathing of the topography, a light layer of sawdust that heaves and shifts, as if sighing. Playing with perspective from the external to the internal, from surface to the core, Mitchell is inquiring further into imagery that cannot just be viewed, but must be lived and breathed.

All image credits: Mitch Mitchell 2009

*First published in Vue Weekly

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Printed Matters, Art Gallery of Alberta, November 14 - 28, 2009

With three youth curators along with three mentors, Printed Matters: Creating and Curating Queer is the final exhibition featuring new print-based work created by Edmonton-based queer youths. In its third consecutive year and always in conjunction with Exposure Festival, the queer youth curatorial project remains an important part of the festival, according to Ted Kerr, Producer of Exposure, "Because youth should have a voice within the festival. Along with creating partnerships with institutions like the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA), SNAP and The Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (ISMSS), the action to foster art and culture is part of animating our rights."

With two printmaking workshops directed towards queer youth, both facilitated by Anthea Black, who was the artist in residence during Camp Fyrfly, an Edmonton-based queer youth camp unique in Western Canada, the decision to focus on print-based work was a combination of serendipitous decisions.

"The work speaks to a more DIY activist aesthetic," Black points out, who is also the Exhibitions Manager for the AGA and one of the project's mentors, along with Kerr and Scott Mair from ISMSS. "They're about getting ideas out there quickly, disseminating ideas through print, which has a long history in queer art history including Daryl Vocat and General Idea as precedent setting examples in Canada."

With the curators ranging from age 17 to 24, and without ever having met each other before this project, Juniper Quin, Stephen Shaw and Jolanda Thomas managed to put together two exhibitions for Printed Matters, one at the AGA and one for SNAP.

Thomas, the oldest member of the curatorial team, shares "The biggest thing for me is being involved in the queer community. How things like this impact the community." As someone who came out in her early twenties, she continues, "I never had access to this when I was a youth, and it would have changed my life. I didn't come out until I was 21. I feel in some ways I missed this boat. I was having the same thoughts they were having, but this is coming from people much younger—it definitely resonates with me."

With the youngest curatorial member, Shaw, still in high school, his curatorial statement offers further insight into the spectrum of what it means to be a queer youth. "We encourage the openness of the art, no matter how inappropriate it may be deemed. The way we self-identify as queer, and how this is part of our identity, helps us to lead our community into the future."

The third member, Quin, an undergraduate student at the University of Alberta, says "It's been really eye opening to work with Stephen, who's in a Catholic highschool. I realize there are a lot more queer youth in the school system that are being underrepresented, if they are represented at all. By working on this project, I realized how important and necessary it is, especially with the advent of Bill 44."

*First published in Vue Weekly

Shane Golby Signs of Desire, Latitude 53, November 6 - 28, 2009*

In a series of repeated images of self and others in suggestive poses collaged and layered over each other on street signs and other materials, Shane Golby's Signs of Desires takes on the the literal and metaphorical notion of signs.

One of the most surprising figures to repeat itself throughout the exhibition is a rainbow-haired Treasure Troll, which besides from being nude, stands apart from the rest of the bare asses and muscular builds.

Explaining the repetition of the troll, Golby remembers that as a young boy in south Edmonton, he was very likely the only boy who collected troll dolls. Coupled with a religious upbringing that left very little room for Golby to explore his sexuality, who at one point was going to be a Lutheran Pastor, Golby looks back today reflecting, "I was tired of feeling guilty."

Then, about ten years ago, along with partner Chris Carson as they hit up garage sales as the two prepared to move in together, Golby found an entire box of Treasure Trolls being sold off by a young man. Associating the collection of troll dolls as something a young gay male would do, Golby recalls it was a sad encounter, with the boy having a black eye and another male figure lurking silently in the background. Golby and Carson bought the entire collection, one of which was the rainbow hair troll used in the exhibition, prominently appearing throughout the exhibition along with homoerotic text and images.

Currently the Manager/Curator of Traveling Exhibitions Program at the AGA, Golby spent three years in the University of Alberta's printmaking program, something that continues to influence his art practice.

"We only see the surface of people, but underneath there are many layers, secrets we may never know," says Golby. "With the repetition of images, I can change the context of the image using the same image, exposing that layering,"

Judging from the layering on display in Latitude 53's ProjEx room, Signs of Desire is more indicative of Golby's self-narrative of coming to terms with his sexuality. With words for and even a piece by his partner featured prominently in the exhibition, the show is largely engaging with Golby as he stakes a claim for his own desire.

Besides a few digitally manipulated pieces of erotica in public spaces, the majority of the exhibition is a blend of gel-transferred text and image, which highlights Golby's passion for writing. Explaining the impetus for the seven chapters on display, much of which is an autobiographical erotica, Golby says, "I only owned three porno mags and I thought, 'Well this is getting boring,' so I just started writing my own gay stories."

With edits in tact on a very first draft, the story is divided into two sections, the first half dealing with the guilt and pain of his earlier years and and the second half on the upward swing of growing stronger individually.

Reproducing his autobiography on two enlarged triangles, the first half facing down and the second half facing up, Golby concludes, "This is about marking my territory and putting my sexuality out there."

Image credit: Shane Gobly, 2009

*First published in Vue Weekly

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Keith Murray, And The People Bowed and Prayed, Latitude 53, November 6 - 28, 2009*

Beginning with a close-up of bright neon lips, mouthing out Dolly Parton's classic love croon, "I Will Always Love You," the shot pulls out in a slow single zoom to reveal a glowing apparition of someone both mystical and camp: someone both man and woman serenading you with the ultimate love song.

Blending the reverent with the irreverent, the divine with the mundane and the pop with the poignant, Keith Murray lives and breathes a life inspired by an immensely deep and diverse mix of influences.

Image credit: Keith Murray, Still from "The Dolly Shoot" 2008

From the pop cultural to the religious deities found within the exhibition to simply carrying on conversation, Murray pulls from a wealth of resources on any number of issues jumping from the Bible to Star Wars. Speaking in particular to "The Dolly Shoot," Murray explains during a break during his installation, "I always thought that divine persons would be transgendered, and then I found out in The Book of Revelations 1:13, John had a vision of Christ with breasts. The King James version changed things, but I thought, 'Huh, of course, Christ would have breasts.'"

Although the breasts are drawn on in the video, Murray had a double mastectomy at the age of 14 when he began to develop breasts during puberty. As something he had blocked out of his mind for 11 years, Murray now openly shares that he's began recollecting the experience in the last two years.

"In Buddhism, you can envision one's self as an enlightened being," says Murray, who actively engages in various religions. "I see this figure [in "The Dolly Shoot"] as the fully realized vision, the end goal, of who I am—if nothing had changed."

Blending his background in digital media (ACAD) with his training in make up and special effects, Murray had painted his entire body blue from head to toe, resembling more a Blue Krishna than a pop country superstar, but this confluence of imagery is what has made Murray such an interesting, if not, surprising artist. Highlighting his third eye and heart chakras, Murray genuinely approaches the idea of performing a love song to him/herself and to the viewer without falling to camp or elitism.

The Calgary-based artist began his PhD this fall at the Institute of Advance Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. Funded through a full scholarship, Murray also splits his time in Las Vegas, where he married himself last summer, curating and organizing exhibitions and screenings at the Erotic Heritage Museum.

Having always been interested in finding the divine in the mundane, and recognizing that those who do recognize the divine in the everyday are often the ones who go the extra mile to tell their story, Murray ultimately feels the performance is a love song to his ego.

"It's about yearning to grow beyond yourself and willing to let go," he says. "We're all totally and completely loved, and this figure has come back to remind you of this truth."

*First published in Vue Weekly

Prairie Artsters: Studio Visit with Clay Ellis

Tucked away within one of Edmonton’s many nondescript industrial zones, the studio of sculptor and painter Clay Ellis sits lined with new work for his upcoming solo exhibition, Related Articles, at the Peter Robertson Gallery. While the exterior surroundings are punctuated with greys and browns, inside the simple concrete building a host of multi-refractions and reflections of mirror polish stainless steel gleam and glow amongst large elongated canvases of sharply contrasting textures, techniques, tones and shapes.

The small polychromatic sculptures using stainless steel and polyurethane are a play on colour. Reflecting colour back onto the contours of the steel rather than directly applying colour onto the materiality of sculpture, these new works deceptively play at the viewer’s spatial depth and the sculpture’s own capacities to create light and shadow down to the meticulous patches of 1500 grit stenciled scuff marks that hover on certain pieces.

Ellis’ penchant for putting one thing against each other, pulling information and making it all work together, down to the diverse selection of music in the studio, is a trait that carries over to his two-dimensional work as well.

At first glance, bright strips of yellow appear collaged over digitally printed designs of convex and concave shadows, but moving his entire body closer to the painting, Ellis makes it clear that everything on his canvas has not been digitally altered, but is in fact a product of painting.
Citing 15th century Dutch painter Roger Van der Weyden’s “Descent from the Cross” as the most captivating painting in the world for him, Ellis deeply respects the history of his craft, but advances his medium through evolving and employing a variety of techniques that break ground on new territory in terms of aesthetics and disciplines.

As one of the province’s more prominent and established artists with permanent works of art showing from Churchill Square to the Shaw Conference Centre, the 54-year-old Medicine Hat native has been one of the most innovative sculptors of his generation. His trademark bulbous paintings may have modestly began in 1996 during a collaboration with Kenneth Nolan, but the easy going demeanor of Ellis can also in jest contrast some of those offset shapes to that of a prolapsed colon.

Consistently dismantling how one can approach sculpture, painting and in the last few years film and video, Ellis most recently had a solo exhibition, Eight Miles of Barbed Wire at APT Gallery in London that was curated by Karen Wilkin. Originally the inaugural commissioned exhibition for Medicine Hat’s Esplanade Gallery, Eight Miles of Barbed Wire is a literal reference to the distance between the first telephone in Southern Alberta that belonged to Ellis’ grandfather and its distance to the station.

Growing up on a ranch where electricity was considered a luxury item save for the occasional treat of a small generator and the family screening of the now-cult classic The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, the allusion of distance also refers to the growing gap in communication as generations and technology evolve. Especially in reference to his own heritage in the region that began with a Scottish Gentlemen farmer all the way down to the present, there is no denying the sheer presence of eight miles of wire gathered before you create an altogether estranged experience in an age of instant and wireless telecommunication.

Also featuring video projections of layered imagery both archival and shot from the existing family ranch, Ellis nods back to his sense of place and culture. Speaking directly about the necessity to dismantle our culture and to attach it to his everyday, he shares, “I realized the scale of everything is only based on what you know. Everything becomes a product of this area whether it fits into a particular narrative or not. It’s storytelling from one generation to the next.”

While he maintains a modest living as a full-time artist, a career he began at the age of 22 some 32 years ago, Ellis does give himself the necessary luxury of spending parts of the year in London and Madrid and traveling abroad for exhibitions and inspiration. Working as an artist that may not necessarily have an extensive commercial or critical audience on the home front, Ellis appears perfectly content to have an active studio in the middle of nowhere.

All images courtesy of Clay Ellis, Copyright 2009.

*First published in Vue Weekly