A Bunch of Radishes
May 25 - July 14, 2012
Republic Gallery, Vancouver
By Rachel Rosenfield Lafo
In vibrantly coloured biomorphic paintings at the Republic Gallery, Ryan Peter reconsiders the legacy of Modernism. He seems particularly drawn to Surrealism for its evocation of the fantastic, rejection of the rational and celebration of chance and accident. Surrealism is experiencing a resurgence in contemporary art practices, as witnessed by last year’s Unreal exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, which included work by contemporary artists.
Recalling the floating forms and saturated background colours in the paintings of Spanish Surrealist Joan Miró, Peter’s mutant, phantasmagoric forms hover between representation and abstraction. Always centred within the picture plane, they establish a classic figure-ground relationship. His quirky shapes are both comical and unnerving as they dance, prance and dissolve into the nebulous space around them. For instance, the cartoon-like figure in Untitled (Blue Tooth) sports a giant tooth-shaped head that tapers directly to a truncated leg ending in a foot with a few squiggly toes. A second leg-like form is attached on the right, propping the figure upright. The electric blue colour and swirling moiré pattern of the background combine with the jaunty stance of the figure to inject the painting with a pulsating sense of movement. Not all of Peter’s shapes are specifically figurative. In Untitled (Grid), the bulbous organic forms that hang in the centre of the painting could be read as body parts or even a bunch of vegetables, perhaps the radishes of the exhibition’s title.
Although the gallery’s statement about Peter’s work talks about his “investigation of the division between painting and digital photography,” the works read primarily as paintings, their photographic origins obscured in a layered process of creation. Peter actually combines several techniques and media. Small Surrealist-inspired drawings are scanned and enlarged on the computer, printed out digitally and then transferred to acrylic sheets or plastic paper using a process called decalcomania. He then spray paints and hand paints images on top of the underlying pattern. His knowledge of the properties of digital imaging and experiments into the chemical reactions of synthetic materials enable him to create a range of surface textures.
There is a long tradition in art history of artists using unconventional materials in their work, from Cubist collages composed of bits of newspapers, fabric and string to contemporary paintings by Anselm Kiefer and Chris Ofili that integrate lead, ash and dried plants (Kiefer) and elephant dung (Ofili) for both visual and symbolic purposes. Testing how everyday materials interact with more traditional painting and printing media, Peter has experimented with substances such as Pepto-Bismol, spray deodorant, laundry detergent and beer. Although only one painting in this exhibition included Pepto-Bismol, his research has enabled dynamic and intriguing surfaces. Particularly evident in the brilliant orange painting, Untitled (Grid), are cracked sections that resemble dry skin or parched earth. These areas contrast with places where pigment bleeds and pools, blends with the printed checkerboard grid, and dissolves at the edges.
Peter has said he finds it difficult to work in colour (his last show at the gallery was a series of monochromes), but we hope he continues because his intense colours are startling and seductive. They give each painting an individual tone and mood that enhances their hallucinatory effect.