Embracing “the wall”

Like it or not gallery walls are part of the art

Consider for a moment “the wall.” As part of our art-viewing experience walls are everywhere directing us into and through spaces creating those spaces by limiting and eliminating our awareness of everything else . Whether a wall is behind a painting structurally necessary and anonymous or an integral part of a piece walls like it or not are constantly incorporated into art.

Walls are also part of an often invisible curatorial process gently guiding sightlines influencing how a crowd moves and sometime changing how individuals physically perceive a space.

A short wall entices us to look over it; a tall wall forces us to look at it and a painting directly on a wall seduces us to ignore the frame and allow the work to take over the room and become an all-encompassing experience. For the latter style of work a further dissection occurs: walls can be surfaces hard imposing and physically present or they can have infinite depth or become a “void.”

In a seven-part retrospective of Iran do Espirito Santo’s Wall Drawings at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery walls are utilized both as tall imposing surfaces entirely covered in precise geometric shapes and invisible infinities of space stretching behind the drawings into the never-ending distance of the white cube.

Hailing from Brazil Santo is widely celebrated for his large-scale direct-on-wall explorations of surface and depth. Previously his wall drawings have appeared in museums and galleries around the world — from Venice to New York to Istanbul to Winnipeg. Now Calgary boasts a small retrospective of the artist’s work — a cross-section of his conceptual practice.

The types of drawings created by Santo are not mobile — they cannot merely be crated and shipped from one gallery to another. In order to create Wall Drawings Santo and eight assistants spent an entire month inside the Illingworth Kerr Gallery painstakingly taping painting and scraping walls to recreate various processes and subjects Santo has explored since 1990.

While the show is a retrospective there is nothing in the space that is not original and existing in its newest form. Wall Drawings is a direct response to the architecture of the gallery itself.

Visually the first room of the gallery (an incredibly large space) is entirely covered by a piece entitled En Passant directly translated as “in passing.” The piece is essentially a series of vertical stripes depicting a gradual gradation from white to black and back to white again in 53 shades. Accomplished by carefully taping and painting over the course of a month the piece’s simplicity and attention to detail is its strength. In passing through the space the viewer is surrounded by the painting stretching from the floor up to the ceiling.

According to the artist the piece “deals with the representation of light itself — but black and white which is not natural it is artificial reality but imposed on certain real spaces.” In creating this artificial reality Santo allows himself and his assistants very little space for human error — the precision of the piece alone is impressive.

After passing through En Passant the viewer is greeted by six other pieces ranging in content from a floor-to-ceiling grayscale painting of a brick wall to a hand-scratched wood grain and finally to a large drawing of a chain link fence. Immediately accessible to any viewer this chain link fence creates an almost perfect 3D optical illusion and the wall behind the piece completely disappears.

“I’m interested in this kind of void in art spaces” says Santo indicating the white walls of most galleries are a blank slate. Throughout Santo’s retrospective the walls of the gallery appear to fluctuate radically in depth. Conceptually simple Wall Drawings has the unique advantageof illustrating this depth incredibly well. Quality is key.