Wednesday, August 8, 2018

An Assembly of Shapes, Oakville Galleries Mounts a Major Canadian Painting Survey

Brenda Draney
Waiting Room, 2018
oil on canvas

Patrick Cruz
Landscape Painting version 8, 2013-2018
acrylic on canvas

An Assembly of Shapes
Oakville Galleries: Gairloch Gardens and Centennial Square
June 24 - September  1, 2018

Over the past year, Oakville Galleries has been carving out a maverick space in Canada's public gallery system for painting. Appropriately then is their holding a survey of the state of contemporary Canadian painting represented by a diverse group of nineteen artists, most but not all emergent. Abstraction while holding solid ground despite its fallback elsewhere is eclipsed by an emphasis on the current (not quite yet tiresome) revival of figurative painting.

If a trend coheres Assembly's panoramic sweep of this country's painting, it is that the lesser known regional artists trump the more established ones. Consider from the triumphant former group, the three contributions of Brenda Draney, an Edmonton artist of Cree heritage from Sawbridge First Nation. My favourite is the taut, sparse Waiting Room, 2018, a painting of an elderly woman seated amidst the antiseptic gloom of a hospital or similar care facility. While the woman is reaching out with her hands, her knees are up to her chest as if to protect herself at the same time. This small gesture aptly captures the combination of fear and neediness seen so often in hospitalized seniors.

The foil to this painting's observant humanism is the constructed aura of digital distancing by Sascha Braunig, a painter ten years out of Yale MFA who has exhibited at the New Museum, Cleveland MOCA, and White Cube. Her paintings such as the included Imago, 2018, comprise figures painted from sculptural models, wrought to near abstraction with Photoshop/Instagram distortion filter overtones. There's a bit of Jack Goldstein and John Currin in their maintenance of a jaded veneer of contemporary technology overshadowing the layers of art history that paint signifies. In many ways, like Goldstein and Currin, Braunig is playing 20th century fin de siècle, the last sputter of aesthetics and their attendant history left with nowhere to go, a game strangely displaced when the world now so obviously is marching ahead, unfortunately illiberally, into a discomforting new era. 

The requisite selfie room - painted and collaged by Patrick Cruz, an artist dividing his time between Toronto and Quezon City, Philippines - offers some surprisingly adroit paint handling that is much more than a backdrop to vanity. His infectious mark-making energy, celebratory colours, and Alice Through the Looking Glass whimsy (I do see a striped creature resembling a caterpillar albeit minus the hookah) make this an installation inviting viewers to ponder the details. Predictably but inaccurately, the didactics describe it as "immersive" when really one's focus is more on the fragments than the whole that swallows. And these fragments show a kind of rough-around-the-edges promise that shares Draney's directness. I hope to hear more of both these artists, not from Berlin, LA, or New York but from the margins of the global art world.

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