Renegade outsiders living in beige houses’

Thick and Thin painting show breaks from convention

Painting enthusiasts were treated to a preview of some of the freshest talent in the genre two weeks ago at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery with the first showing of Thick and Thin (June 25 to 28). Montreal-based Wil Murray curates the collection of works on the basis that each of the eight artists featured has ties to Calgary. Murray explores how the city’s wealth and myriad of contradictions have influenced the artists. Thick and Thin blurs the boundaries between painting and sculpture often ignoring the notion of the flat canvas altogether.

Murray’s curatorial statement raises a broad range of interesting questions surrounding abundance and the alleged cultural void created in the wake of Calgary’s prosperity. However it is far too brief to delve much below the surface making the themes outlined sound unsupported and therefore disconnected from the actual works. Fortunately these issues are explored further on participating artist Kim Neudorf’s blog The Writing Shed (In the Woods) . Here Neudorf facilitates a virtual panel discussion between Murray and the other artists involved in the exhibition examining questions posed in the statement. This discussion of Calgary’s culture is quite positive and supposes that the idea of a cultural void existing in the city is fictionalized. Painting duo Dave and Jenn eloquently summarize: “Maybe it sounds more impressive to say ‘We live in a cultural void’ than it would be if we said ‘We come from a place with a medial amount of culture’ like we are separating ourselves from the herd as renegade outsiders living in beige houses.”

Contextualizing a group show is tricky. Even more so a group show with a curatorial element imposing an additional layer of meaning and expectations upon each individual’s work which I suspect is the reason behind the marked and unexplained esthetic duality of the show. Kim Neudorf’s Fele Series and Ryan Sluggett’s River Slab are large-scale canvases both accomplished and enthralling but their painterly style seems strangely at odds with the dominant sculptural theme of the other pieces. The rest of the works fuse painting and sculpture progressing to such a point where painting is referenced only conceptually. Exemplifying this is Kyle Beal’s A Well Crafted Throwaway Line constructed from canvas and fabric dye and resting in a jumbled pile on the gallery floor. Chris Millar’s concentrated narratives explode from his canvas in all directions into 3D vignettes that ignore the traditional painter’s edge of the canvas. His impossibly intricate and layered paintings depict a pop sensibility that combines the fantastic with real figures from Calgary’s community.

Breathing new life into the stodgy landscape tradition Dave and Jenn allow the whimsical narrative of Number 1 Won’t Work (If The Speed Dial Is Broken) to literally be carried off of the canvas into the viewer’s space with a row of miniature trees resting on the outside of the frame. Their double-sided resin and acrylic creation We Are Waiting to Leave goes a step further removing the painting from the wall and placing it inside of a glass case. While having this work displayed in this manner is a necessary function of being able to view both sides of the painting the case protecting it gives it a precious feel exploring the notion of painting as “object” as opposed to a picture. Miriam Bankey’s Extra Brilliant Aluminum oozes off of its backing shiny metallic folds at once industrial and heavy yet sensual. This triptych piece engages directly with the materials of painting pushing the paint to its physical limits. Even Patrick Lundeen’s psychedelic Wanna See My Bacon Torpedo? defies the confines of the rectangular canvas with its phallic installation and accompanying sound component.

It’s always nice to see a painting show that breaks with convention. However I can’t help but find a little disappointing that it feels like the strongest tie threading all of these artists together is that they all went to the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) at some point during the last decade. Despite these issues of cohesion the work in Thick and Thin is engrossing and is well worth a visit when the show reopens at the Glenbow Museum later this month on July 25. In the meantime check out the online discussion between the artists at http://writingshedcollected.blogspot.com/ .