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Sue Carter Flinn
Halifax
January 19, 2010

I may be the last person in Halifax to take down their Christmas tree. Yes, it’s late to be dismantling my vintage Nativity scene, but I’ve been occupied, sneaking out to the galleries, taking in the first shows of the year. Looking good, 2010.



Aaron MacLean, Fruit Tree, 2009

First off, a promising start from two young painters. After Aaron MacLean’s father died, he left behind a large collection of photographs. The focus of his show, Nature of Descriptions at Eyelevel Gallery, is a large-scale painting that had its origins as one of his dad’s photos from the early 1990s. Taken in a junior high school classroom during a family-planning class, a large group of students flank either side of a baby-sitting in a tiny tub. The photo stands alone in a vitrine across from the painting it inspired.

This isn’t a sentimental work or a memorial. MacLean is more interested in image composition and ownership. His father isn’t around to ask why and how he shot this photo, but the artist can imagine the situation leading up this moment. He intentionally “pulled it into the present” by restaging the event in the same classroom. Various local cultural practitioners played the roles of students, mother and teacher, dressed in 1990s Value Village finds. MacLean captures the sweet awkwardness of junior high with all its gawky bodies and fidgety hands. While the faces are perfectly rendered - at first glance they appear collaged on - their bodies are a wash of chunkier shapes and bright colours. Laser-thin lines lead your eyes through the classroom to the mother, whose halo of black suggests a Madonna figure. But MacLean doesn’t want us to mistake this for the truth. This is a painting and, in some ways, a piece of theatre.

Accompanying the painting is a 8mm film, its green-hued, dreamy quality suits his reenactment of a young class learning how to bathe and diaper an infant. He also includes several smaller paintings: precious moments inspired by photographs taken from the day of the recreation.
The only flaw from this talented young NSCAD graduate is that here, he takes on too much. In the front window, an aquarium, glowing in primary colours, sits on a bed of real grass. MacLean’s idea of breaking down museum presentation and image theory does have connections to his painting work, but it’s not needed. The paintings speak for themselves.



Jennie Philpott, Kat Bjelland, 2009

Like MacLean, Jennie Philpott’s five by six foot Pop-style paintings in Modern Day F-Word at Anna Leonowens Gallery originated from photographs. But these portraits of influential female underground musicians - Kat Bjelland (Babes in Toyland), Cinder Block (Tilt), Danyell Deville (Pantychrist) and Angela Gossow (Arch Enemy) - sneer and growl right off the canvas. Philpott focuses on faces, mostly, their gazes erupting, searing through a candy-coated palette.

In this post-Sassy, “feminism is the f-word” generation (Philpott is only twenty-one), female musicians shouldn’t be a big deal, especially in counterculture scenes (like DIY punks) that preach equality. But there are still fewer women performing in the more aggressive genres. Go into any guitar shop and you’ll still find pink gear for girls. However, where celebrity-musician paintings from artists like Dawn Mellor ooze with toxicity, Philpott’s first show is a straight-up homage to her anti-establishment heroes.



Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Beats and Butterflies, 2006

Then it was off to the big guns. These next two shows may have their origins in other cities, but they have strong Halifax connections too. Jean-Pierre Gauthier, a Sobey Art Award darling, has his first solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia with Machines at Play, organized by Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal. Ten of his kinetic sculptures fill the lower gallery with spontaneous noise, dancing broom handles, and erratic drawings. It’s fun and whimsical and during family day at the AGNS the kids love them. Yet for some reason, Gauthier’s sculptures fill me with melancholy; there’s something so sad about his alien creatures and their random toots and scratches. In particular, The Janitor’s Room (which the artist donated to the gallery), the first work that really carries a narrative, is heartbreaking. A life-sized janitor’s closet is heady with the smell of soap bubbling over the industrial sink. A rusty sheen covers a locker, filled with rubber gloves and paper towels. This feels hopeless. Like Gauthier’s sensor-controlled piano where only certain keys work, there’s only so much control we have over the situation.



James Kirkpatrick, the talking that influences everything, 2008

Most of the artists in Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery’s Pulp Fiction, organized by Museum London and curated by Corinna Ghaznavi, are connected through the London, Ontario scene. But many of them also attended NSCAD, leaving their inky influence behind (both Marc Bell and Seth Scriver have contributed comics to alt-weekly The Coast, where I work). James Kirkpatrick had a show of his comic-inspired paintings at Studio 21 last year, where they were lacking the needed space. At SMU there are only a few paintings, accompanying a wonderfully bizarre shrine (or perhaps a homemade robot), made out of old wood furniture, lace and textiles, projecting a shadow body onto a toothy charcoal face painting on the wall.

As much as I liked this refreshingly youthful show (in particular, Jennie O'Keefe's dolls and the series of painted sports equipment by Jason McLean and Marc DeLong) and the individual artists’ work, it didn’t leave a lasting impression. Ultimately Pulp Fiction is a bit like flipping through a stack of old-school comic books. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a chilly Sunday afternoon in January.


Sue Carter Flinn is a Halifax-based writer, editor and artist. She is Arts Editor at The Coast, Halifax's alternative newspaper; editor of Visual Arts News, the only publication dedicated to visual arts in Atlantic Canada; and winner of a 2007 Atlantic Journalism Award for her profile of photographer George Steeves.


Eyelevel Gallery: http://www.eyelevelgallery.ca/
Aaron MacLean: Nature of Description continues until January 30.

Anna Leonowens Gallery: http://www.nscad.ns.ca/
See website for current exhibitions.

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia: http://www.artgalleryofnovascotia.ca/
Jean-Pierre Gauthier: Machines at Play continues until March 15.

Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery: http://www.smu.ca/
Pulp Fiction continues until February 21.

 

 

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