Saturday, July 19, 2008

New Painting in Vancouver

For those interested, three of my recent paintings are being featured on the new website New Painting in Vancouver, at

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Review - Elizabeth McIntosh at Blanket Gallery

Elizabeth McIntosh
Untitled (multi-coloured vertical stripes), (2008)
Oil on canvas
75" x 90"

Most painting aficionados in Vancouver are likely already familiar with the colourful geometric abstractions of Elizabeth McIntosh. For her trademark triangles, namely reproductions of those found in her painting Untitled (Purple, Red, Blue) (2006), served as the advertising for the Vancouver Art Gallery’s successful PAINT exhibition, also of 2006. Those triangles lurked conspicuously on city buses, magazine advertisements and lampposts across the Lower Mainland, sprouting up here and there, almost as though frantically multiplying in a Pythagorean orgy. Often they appeared in transit while traveling on the sides of buses, spreading the new look of geometric abstraction. Thus, overnight Elizabeth McIntosh’s triangles became the welcomed poster children for what the Georgia Straight titled the “rebirth” (or perhaps more realistically, reiteration) of painting on the West Coast.

Fast-forward to the present and McIntosh is having her second solo exhibition in Vancouver, once again at the downtown eastside Blanket Gallery. At mid career she remains fully committed to the three-sided planer form: her trademark triangles appear in every painting, twisting, turning, often almost convulsing under their own illusionistic weight. And they are always present. It is arguably this sustained focus (not to be mistaken for stasis) on triangulation that makes McIntosh’s paintings so surprisingly surprising.

The wonder herein resides not in the singular forms, but rather in the intricate geodesic topographies that are the imaginative sums of such. For instance, in Untitled (multi-coloured vertical stripes) (2008), coloured triangles of different tonal values combine to form what the title didactically insinuates. The stripes twist and buckle, snaking vertically up the picture plane only to be disrupted by negative triangular spaces that reveal silver and grey under-painting. Likewise in Untitled (2008), triangles team up to create a bulky landscape that defies all real world design logic: they playfully coalesce into an amalgamation of illusionistic space, a massive magical mountain. While the foreground magic certainly takes the pictorial precedent, the compositional complexity of McIntosh’s paintings runs much deeper.

Lingering behind this mountain construct, beneath thin washes of diluted paint, is another picture altogether. Revealed only in part through select triangles, it is never clear what precisely constitutes this secondary (though clearly once primary) pictorial plane. As is the case in Untitled (Yellow) (2008), where one finds hints of an underlying geometric superstructure that mysteriously aligns itself with the dominating prismatic entity. Shrouded in washes of opaque yellow, the rectangular form seems carefully cast off into space, demoted to a secondary, diminutive role to that of the foreground prism. Through this employment of a picture-beneath-a-picture, McIntosh creates a successful push/pull effect. As such, the viewer is simultaneously drawn inwards towards the concealed image, while being pushed outwards by the dominating prismatic structure.

Measuring at 75 x 90”, three of McIntosh’s larger canvasses embrace the Western painting world’s (seemingly masculine) preoccupation with size. In fact they dominate Blanket’s rather humble, single room, enveloping the viewer in her inventive alternate world. Somehow McIntosh manages to do this, very deliberately one assumes, minus the macho-bravado typically associated with such bigger-is-better painting mentality. The playfulness of both the forms and palette somehow disarm the seriousness generally inherent with such grandiose scale. This is not your typical geometric abstraction; after all, her paintings are presumably meant to be ironic, for they contradict the very domain they inhabit.

To be certain, McIntosh’s paintings are easily categorized into the arena of Geometric Abstraction. Yet, they do not conform to the stereotypical aesthetic framework associated with the genre. These works oppose the typically hard-edged, perversely clean aesthetic preferred by other geometric painters, such as Bridget Riley or Peter Halley. In this resistance resides the curiosity that makes McIntosh’s paintings so inviting: their imperfections. To the untrained eye, these insistent imperfections evoke a feeling of I-Could-Have-Done-That-ness, but to announce such is to miss the point altogether. This amateur looking zeal is satirical, perhaps even humorous. Is McIntosh taking a gentle poke at the history of North American abstract painting? Perhaps.

Either way, like Mary Heilmann and Tomma Abts before her, McIntosh is a painter’s painter. Her triangles operate as a means to accessing the continuing discourse surrounding abstract painting. They are playful, they are inviting, and as such, they invigorate a genre of painting with an increasingly rich lineage on the West Coast. Her paintings are about nothing more or less than painting itself.

It is understandable then that a purveying of Blanket’s single room will reveal that the past two years have been witness to little thematic change on McIntosh’s behalf. As such, McIntosh aligns herself with other contemporary painters, such as Cecilia Edefalk and Germaine Koh, who also revisit their thematic territory regularly - so often so, in fact, that it becomes questionable whether or not they ever even left. It is increasingly evident that this is an undeniable strength, for the thematic arena of painting as a subject unto itself is, as McIntosh has once again rigorously proven, unmistakably vast.

Recent Work

Timber (2008)
Oil on Canvas
18" x 24"

For Geoffrey James (2008)
Oil on Canvas
48" x 60"

For the Queen and Yuxweluptin (2008)
Oil on Canvas
20" x 40"

Artist Statement - G.S.Lynch

The history of modernist painting has been a constant thematic cornerstone of my painting practice, serving as a content driven segue that facilitates ongoing explorations revolving around the artistic notions of reproduction, intervention and revision. Painted reproductions of canonical art historical imagery often act as entry points for subsequent painterly actions and revisions, which, in tandem with the original image, traverse the spaces between form and content, aesthetics and politics, discourse and critique. The favoring of paint over technology in such reproductive endeavors at once acts as a reaffirmation of the critical potential of painting as a medium, while reopening a dialogue concerning the role of contemporary painting in an increasingly digital world.

A primary role of my paintings is that of reflection; reflection on what has preceded in the art historical context and on my own process as a painter. The decision to mimetically paint source imagery allows for temporal distance to be created between the original and the reproduction; this paradoxical creation of time is a luxury that is generally negated with the speed of digital technology. The time required to reproduce images in paint allows me to become acquainted with the original material in an intimate manner unattainable through the use of technology. Vancouver artist Damian Moppett once noted in an artist talk that his predilection for hand rendered art objects stemmed from the fact that he felt a deeper understanding of his subject through the slowness of process; like Moppett, I feel that slowness has an innate ability to foster awareness and thus generate understanding. For this reason, regardless of the medium of the original source material, all of my current production is mediated through the use of oil paint, whether on paper, linen or canvas. The scale of the paintings is generally reflective of the size of the original image and thus varies from picture to picture. Likewise, the approach to paint application varies with each new painting and relates to the original source material; this faithfulness to the original is then conflated with a painterly revision, or betrayal.

These betrayals playfully assume forms that contradict the visual language and thematic content of the original; bright colourful rings of hard-edged paint float atop soft, chromatically muted landscapes. Garish pink monoliths of thick impasto paint hover in front of idyllic landscapes, thus breaking the illusion of perspective. Swaths of linear rainbows exaggerate existing pictorial planes while concurrently erasing the painted content beneath their trajectories. The favoring of bright, playful colours serves as a humorous way to disarm the thematic and technical seriousness of the modernist paintings I replicate. These interventions also draw attention to formal relationships between pictorial illusion and support surface, idealization and exaggeration, creation and destruction. Moreover, they set up a deliberate duality of pictorial elements, thus creating an internal conflict that the audience must negotiate upon viewing.

While my revised paintings of other paintings, photographs and drawings are presented to the audience as a means of re-contemplating or even re-contextualizing the original, the original should nonetheless not be taken as inspirational material, but rather simply as an integral and questionable piece of the overarching art historical puzzle. As Daniel Birnbaum wrote, “the origin is nothing without its repetitions.” This statement draws attention to an oddity of many pedagogical relationships: the successor (student) often inherits a knowledge base that enables subsequent critique of the predecessor (teacher). In this respect, it is important to recognize that my work is simultaneously indebted to the very thing that it validates and critiques through replication and revision: the modernist original.

The current challenge for artists is to not only offer an informed commentary of the world surrounding them, but to do this in an original manner. This is arguably becoming more difficult in a post modern milieu, however, it is not clear whether or not this preoccupation with originality is in fact requisite to important cultural production. The reflective quality of my work, which looks back at the history of painting, does not reiterate the currency of originality, but rather the value in revisiting the past as a means of coming to a greater understanding of the current context, the present.

Ignition & Repetition

Fake (2008)
Oil on Canvas
20" x 20"

Painting at the Edge of the World is simultaneously both a presumptuous and aptly suited title for a blog about my painting practice: presumptuous on account of the fact that it was also the name of a well received painting exhibition at the Walker Art Centre, aptly suited because that show, like a significant body of my own work, dealt in part with the notions of repetition and difference within a painterly discourse. Naturally such an obvious choice of famed-blog-moniker might resonate favorably in search engines - if these are the unlikely, though welcomed, circumstances through which you've navigated your way to this humble little blog, welcome.