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Toronto
Terence Dick
Patrick Mahon at Katzman Contemporary
December 10, 2015

My mother was a gardener and my father was a sailor. The relevance of this didn’t occur to me until about twenty minutes into my visit to Katzman Contemporary to see Patrick Mahon's exhibition Nonsuch Garden. She liked to keep her feet on the earth while he liked to ride the waves. Their differences seemed irreconcilable and their pastimes rarely overlapped, but on reflection – and with the aid of Mahon’s spliced together collages of greenery and rigging – they had more in common than I ever realized.



Patrick Mahon, Nonsuch Garden Wall Panel (Diagram), 2015, digital image collage on wood panel

Their respective working surfaces might differ, but gardeners and sailors are both engaged in the task of bending the free-for-all of nature to their will. The degree to which this will is imposed can differ depending on sensibility or temperament; it can be a collaboration or a wrestling match, and it never ends in triumph – the mortal must inevitably stand down. However, in those moments of engagement, the gardener measures the seasons, orders the arrangements, and trims what exceeds the design. The sailor calculates the direction of wind and current, predicts the weather patterns, and charts his routes. Both either find or apply an order to their world and the best of them – the artists among them, not the tyrants – forgo domination for a touch of freedom.



Patrick Mahon, Nonsuch Garden Sail/Botanical #1 (Cornflower), 2015, digital print and stenciled resin paint on plexiglass

Mahon doesn’t so much capture this (because that would be oppressive) as open a window onto it. His photo-collages on wood panels foreground the medium, enlarging images until they break down into pixels. Then he cuts out each individual pixel to mix shrubbery into sails like a botanist breeding a new plant or a sailor splicing rope. A pair of prints on glass are portholes that layer 19th Century vessels over invasive plants to highlight the colonial narrative that is already embedded in the language of both garden and sea, and an inescapable part of their history. There is a lot of the past here, not just my personal past but our collective, global past. What might look abstract and aesthetic is in fact historical and any sailor, gardener, or artist worth their salt will be well aware of their heritage. Without it, you can’t predict the future.

The centre of the exhibition is a collage exploded into three dimensions and created in collaboration with an artist named Dickson Bou. Slats are woven into rough panels and suspended by ropes and clamps to a support beam that stands in for a mast. Here the artists leave earth and water to evoke wind and air. They achieve a precarious balance working with the tensile quality of their materials to create something temporary, fragile, unnatural, and moving. That’s what I see here and I expect it’s what my folks thought as they enjoyed their respective dominions.


Katzman Contemporary: http://www.katzmancontemporary.com/
Patrick Mahon: Nonsuch Garden continues until December 19.


Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

 

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