When I first met Matt Crookshank, he was in the first phase of survival for any young artist – that period after art school when one has to figure out how to pay the rent, feed oneself, and find the time to actually make something, all the while hustling to cover student debt repayments. This stage can last decades, but he clued in early on that he needed some more marketable skills and went back to school to learn animation. Since then he’s maintained a consistent painting practice while also managing to shift into the later phase of artistic survival – living like an adult, raising a family, maybe even owning a home while also managing to get into the studio on a regular basis to make work. All this might make him sound like a serious and together person (which he is), yet he miraculously stayed true to the unwound and overdriven spirit that has characterized his painting from the get go. Which is not to say that he hasn’t progressed, but he hasn’t – in the best possible way – grown up.
Matt Crookshank, The Fever-Fervour Resonance, 2016, oil and watercolour on canvas
His new set of paintings, currently on view at General Hardware, are, in fact, better behaved than some of the work he’s shown there in the past. Whereas his wall-hung objects used to be encrusted with layers of resins that gave the canvas a sculptural surface and a substantial volume, this current batch of abstractions tend to stay flat. They still throw up incongruous combinations of painterly gestures, sometimes reminiscent of Jonathan Lasker’s mash-ups, other times overloaded like John Kissick’s maximalism. Crookshank’s lexicon this time around leans increasingly in the direction of digital sketchpad-type doodles, the kind you’d find on an app like Brushstrokes. He layers them and varies them, testing out the options to find the right balance of squiggles, zips, stripes, and drips before replicating them larger than life on sometimes huge surfaces. For an artist whose work always feels restless, this current batch of paintings seems like it’s still searching for something to land on. Or maybe I’m pining for the amped up onslaught of earlier eras.
Matt Crookshank/Awesome Cheesecake, The Sad Demise of Zellers, 2016, single channel musical video
General Hardware has a wonderful (though completely wheelchair inaccessible) basement vault carved out of their concrete floor where complementary exhibitions are often presented. Down here, Crookshank has included some perfunctory photos that act as reference materials, a couple unframed collages/assemblages that include the evocative resin that I so love, and a looping video that turns the world (in this case a foggy street at night) into a psychedelic dance of lights and colour set to a gentle guitar figure that carries one along through multiple viewings. It’s part of a musical side-project he calls Awesome Cheesecake, but it’s of a piece with the freewheeling play that has always – and hopefully will always – define this lifer’s ongoing creations.
General Hardware: http://generalhardware.ca/
Matt Crookshank: Violent Whimsy continues until October 8.
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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