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Yuka Yamaguchi, "Rendezvous," 2008, coloured pencil on paper, 1990, 22" X 30".
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Stacia Verigin, "Entireland (detail)," 2003 - present, sawdust and glue. Image courtesy of the artist.
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"Ten thousandths over(detail)"
Clint Neufeld, "Ten thousandths over(detail)," 2008, ceramic and glaze.
FLATLANDERS: Saskatchewan Emerging Artists
The Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon
Sept 19, 2008 to Jan 4, 2009
By Patricia Robertson
The geography of the Big Empty, as the Great Plains are often called, is both a muse and a counterpoint for Saskatchewan’s emerging artists. This diverse group show, curated by Dan Ring and Jen Budney, is hard to pin down. From abstract acrylics to ceramic engines, the media and subject matter embraced by this large group of emerging artists is no longer confined by the traditional parameters of landscape painting or folk art.
Like any group show, it’s a grab bag. As assembled, the works don’t have an overarching theme, so the layout of the show does have a fragmented feel. But this survey show of Saskatchewan’s up-and-comers has three star standouts who have successfully embraced modernism, whimsy and nostalgia within their diverse works.
First among them is University of Saskatchewan painting graduate Kiyoko Kato. Her lyrical acrylic on board canvas pieces are abstract yet poetic. There’s an elegant precision in the works that belies Kato’s interest in mathematics and computer science. Yet that precision has an emotional kick to it through her judicious use of vivid and emotive colour.
In farmland (2007), colourful and playful forms appear to hover and float on different layers on the surface. Kato maintained a ceramics practice before returning to painting, and the lacquer-like surface reflects her interest in refined Japanese pottery. Kato’s sophisticated paint handling sets her apart from her other Flatlander peers.
Spin (2007) is an enigmatic sea of turquoise and purple set on a grid highlighted with navy and yellow. The piece has a truly modern feel, as the abstract lines and shapes engage the viewer and please the senses.
Transmission love (2006) looks like a feminine circuit board with its soft pink palette and silver lines and blobs of circuitry. The lozenge shapes and delicate colours reminded me of American painter Lee Krasner’s feminine abstracts, as interpreted through a Google-era lens.
The show veers from the enigmatic to the comic with the addition of the amusing works of Yuka Yamaguchi. “Art is like being a farmer,” she says in her artist’s statement. “I’m farming my brain and my heart to grow something. After that, it’s up to other people to cook it in different recipes and digest it for themselves.” Yamaguchi’s brain is one whimsical playhouse, and she shares more in common with painter Salvador Dali than a local grain grower.
Yamaguchi works in coloured pencil on paper, and her subjects are both playful and surreal. i’ve got a splitting headache (2008) features an axe embedded in the subject’s head and i can see better(2008) has the eyes removed with sharp tools. it’s harvest time (2008) depicts a tree embedded in a head with organs hanging on the branches — Frida Kahlo meets comic redneck Red Green.
There’s no disputing that Yamaguchi, who also operates the popular website plastiquemonkey.com, has an original and wacky view of the world. Her impish portraits are far-removed from the art world seriousness often associated with the abstract expressionism of the Regina Five.
Another talented artist, Clint Neufeld, was also busy turning traditional subject matter on its head while embracing the prairie love of machinery. The former firefighter and infantryman lives and works in Saskatoon. In this show, his nostalgic blue and white porcelain motor Ten Thousandths Over (2008) is playfully served up on a teacart. Like the domestic art created by 1970s feminists, Neufeld artfully mines the world of mechanics for inspiration: “Guys gathering round to tinker on a car or truck engines together — it may be a dying art,” he says.