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Gil McElroy
John Climenhage at the Art Gallery of Peterborough
November 18, 2014

I’ve always like fringes. Edges. The penumbra of things. It’s where, in the natural world, life thrives, and, in the aesthetic world, all the really interesting stuff tends to happen. John Climenhage is similarly inclined. Or, at least, his nineteen paintings comprising Terre Sauvage: The Topology of Anamnesis which just opened at the Art Gallery of Peterborough seems to suggest this. Landscape work in a Canadian context inevitably brings the Group of Seven to the fore (which isn’t fair, but there you go). You can follow the lines between the G-7 canon and Climenhage’s paintings, but then you’d miss the bigger picture. For Climenhage engages representational perception in a very painterly way, but he also moves past it into another kind of seeing.

John Climenhage

Untitled (Terre Sauvage #1) shows what I mean. The representation of landscape is clearly front and aesthetically centre. We immediately recognize it as such; the ingredients are all there. But the mixture is a bit off from our expectation. It’s a landscape that’s gone rather awry. The world has begun to fold in upon itself, begun to curl round like a wave that’s cresting. This is a world undergoing profound perceptible change, a representation of a firmament that is, in fact, no such thing. Fixedness has been absented, and our notion of the representational has long been based on its presence, its discernible verity.

I’m not talking here about a slide into abstraction – though in a couple of paintings Climenhage teeters very close to that edge. No, we are decidedly within the realm of realism framing an aesthetic representation of the world – but it’s a world that’s perceptibly off-kilter, as if we were on another planet remarkably like our own and yet subject to slightly variant set of physics. Untitled (Terre Sauvage #1) speaks of a world shaped by another degree of gravitation, pulling it and its representation back into themselves.

John Climenhage

Float (Algonquin, Low Horizon) gives us a world more cognizably ours. Only just. It’s almost entirely comprised of sky, the world in this painting, barely bisected near the bottom of the work by the bilateral symmetry of an island reflecting in what we intellectually comprehend must be very still water but see as an extension of sky. Float is the entirely accurate titular designation for what we encounter: landscape adrift and unmoored in the vast presence of sky. A kind of island world, almost mythic in scope.

Okay, so maybe we aren’t back in our mundane world of clear-cut up and down, of representational distinctions we’ve learned and have come to believe are somehow innate. Perhaps our perception has been untethered, if only a little bit. And maybe, just maybe, we’ve been lured by the expectation of seeing an exhibition of painterly landscapes by John Climenhage, and instead given to see wonderful images of the world uncoupled from itself.

Art Gallery of Peterborough:
John Climenhage: Terre Sauvage: The Topology of Anamnesis continues until January 18.

Gil McElroy is a poet, artist, independent curator, and freelance art critic. He is the author of Gravity & Grace: Selected Writing on Contemporary Canadian Art, four books of poetry, and Cold Comfort: Growing Up Cold War. He is Akimblog's roving Ontario correspondent and can be followed @GilMcElroy on Twitter.



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