Wednesday, December 8, 2010

(Sir)rogates, Julian Forrest, Harcourt House, until Dec 18, 2010*

Image credit: Julian Forest, 2010
As a thematic painter who holds a deep fascination for the masculine in all its anxiety and glory, Julian Forrest's latest series, (Sir)rogates, deviates from his past works by beginning to displace the masculine into the realm of Other.

Through both critical theory and normalized social understanding, the Other is almost always atypical to the dominant male, literally being the other in relation to the heteronormative white (and often dead) male figure over the course of Western history. So as a painter fascinated by the male species as a culturally produced figure, Forrest has begun to study and tell the story of the male figure through one of allegory.

Citing the narrative strategies of novelist Yann Martel, Forrest also works best when he is seemingly saying one thing while a whole other world is at play beneath the surface.

In the large black-and-white illustrative portrait of the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz standing back to back with a King Kong-esque gorilla, Forrest presents his viewers with an deceivingly lighthearted play of notions of bravery and brute strength. The classic choice of black-and-white also evokes a timelessness in the tension between the two portraits, both of whom are surrogates of unwitting heroes in popular culture. The Lion, who only wanted courage, is shown here looking shyly over his shoulder at the resilient ape, playing on our memories of the character. Delving deeper, the Lion is unmistakably a man dressed up as a lion who, cradling his own tail in his hands, is unsure of himself in relation to the beast and to himself as beast.

While descriptively the works bounce from portraits to landscapes to studies, they cohere visually through Forrest's lush palette of soft pastels and loose strokes, returning to earlier works where drawing and painting melded into one. What's most interesting is the blankness of the background for almost all of the portraits, all except for "Emerald City" where the subjects are women. The blankness here could be interpreted as a form of isolation or alienation to a tangible surrounding, as many of the figures from The Dukes of Hazard to cowboys and boxers are relics that have seemingly lost their place in the modern reality.

Also playing with art history with one direct reference to Jeff Wall, and naming another work after a new Arcade Fire song that evokes the imagery that Forrest is constantly after ("I was lost standing in the wilderness downtown"), the show as a whole is both nostalgic and critical of the modern and urbanized male.

In the Front Room, Ian Forbes' Foldy Books of Death are just that: foldy books spanning 24 pages of copper-etched illustrations, depicting a world of randomness. From an ongoing play on cold dripping toast to creatures from land and sea, the world unfolded by Forbes is one of referential imagination, fitting right along the spectrum of graphic novels, and one whose presence in the gallery may have been opened by last year's artist-in-residence Spyder Yardley-Jones's graphic takeover of the main space.

*First published in Vue Weekly 

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