Friday, 10 November 2017

Quinten Maki and Denise Smith at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

With the task to fill Gallery One of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Quinten Maki produced a stunning show called Kohesion. Filled with bold expressionistic works, both intense yet playful, Maki used various mediums, often paper on canvas in order to mimic the worn and weathered age of dilapidated walls, abandoned construction sites and sheets of metal (as if dragged from a site and hung on a gallery wall) and the colourful treading of the wheels of Caterpillar vehicles.
     The occasional drip or splatter is reminiscent of Jackson Pollack and other expressionist artists of the 1950s and 60s, yet with the combination of stencil, paper, some figurative drawings, various gels and paint mediums, the works are updated and more dynamic. 
   The constructivist elements are contradicted by a sense of hope, a celebration of returning beauty amongst the decay where glazing gives the stencil and painted layers an extra depth and the gloss varnish coats the reflective and iridescent paint splatters to make sections shine and allow for the impression that sections of the painting are tissue paper thin and could be blown away at any moment by a gust of wind. This creates an unusually delicate and temporal feel. So while the works are simultaneously mimicking the heavy weight of sheets of steel or aluminum they also mimic the beauty and translucence of butterfly wings. This is most obvious in the work “Tango with White.” This combination is a very difficult effect to pull off. 
     It’s companion piece on the opposite wall seems to be dominated by electrical tape and has a heavier feel. Similar experiments or playing with mediums are made in works where the additions of charcoal drawings of humans are glued to a variety of pieces. Although these aren’t the most dynamic works in the show they have their own humanist weight and offer the viewer another avenue to ponder.

     The world of ceramic cartoon delight in Denise Smith’s works in her show, On The Trail, have just enough hint of the austere and arcane nature of the world to save the art from being legitimate ceramic kitsch, the kind where a porcelain dolphin leaps from the waves, the thing your grandmother might have collected. That isn’t to say the show wouldn’t be fun or worthwhile for adults without a good social statement, but the artist is using a theme to create something deeper and a little disturbing, yet not intrusive enough to alter our impulse to want her little worlds to be wonderful play parks in their own right. The incredible amount of time, skill, talent and patience found in this show are phenomenal and Smith's dedication to the underlying effort to educate her audience about our complicated relationship with nature is commendable. The show's message is better understood this way than presented in an essay or a hundred other ways by artists who could take the same subject and make their work shocking, overly abstruse or coldly analytical and dull. Smith has made this show one worth returning to and talking about because it inhabits a number or worlds, both contemporary and popular, a perfect blend. 
     On the popular art side, this show is a kind of advanced story book for children where some of the arcane reality of nature is exposed, and some of the fakery involved in maintaining a peaceful stereotype of nature is typically hidden in our manicured parks. Our national parks might be free of the indigenous people who once populated the land and the parks may hide the circle of life where death results from animals feeding upon one another, but Denise’s little windows with her hints into reality will only add to your enjoyment. Whether her intended message is truly inculcated in the works is debatable, but there is no reason to 
     Children will love and appreciate her honesty while adults will read the statement and agree that what is made safe for us, sanitized, is something to worry about. There is, after all, a great loss in not truly understanding nature and appreciating its beauty and potential danger merely as it exists for and with its own right to exist as such. Nature is nothing to be afraid of if you learn from it.  Both shows are at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery until November 19.

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