Brendan Schick, "Hermit II," 2016
Brendan Schick, "Hermit II," 2016, oil on canvas, 32" x 20 "
Many arresting qualities enrich emerging Saskatchewan-based artist Brendan Schick’s recent oil paintings, not least a facility with depicting the rich highlights and shadows of crumpled and draped fabric. But what is most fascinating are the odd juxtapositions in his work – spongy masses, almost like cumulus clouds, that peek from blue hoodies, or the tumorous accretions floating over twisted purple sheets in his Dysmorphia series.
Brendan Schick, "Dysmorphia III," 2016
Brendan Schick, "Dysmorphia III," 2016, oil on canvas, 32" x 20"
The hoodies in Schick’s Hermit paintings set up particularly interesting dichotomies. As the title suggests, the hoodie, like the monk’s cloak, is garb that can veil and shelter one’s interior life, or even position one apart from the everyday world. Yet the pasty agglomerations spilling out of Schick’s hoodies are shockingly revelatory, suggesting some strange sense of self at sharp odds with the mass-produced garment, yet also not. For hoodies, as common as they are, have also come to signify an apparently menacing aura of otherness, particularly when worn by brown male bodies, as made devastatingly apparent in recent violence south of the border.
Brendan Schick, "Hermit I," 2016
Brendan Schick, "Hermit I," 2016, oil on canvas, 32" x 20"
The mystery of the strange blobs is elucidated in a fine essay by Margaret Bessai that points to a rare neurological disorder known as Alice-in-Wonderland Syndrome, which affects perceptions of time and body position. Identified in 1955 by British psychiatrist John Todd, it is linked to the brain’s parietal lobe and can manifest in terrifying hallucinations. In its grip, one can feel either oddly tiny or inexplicably titanic. Schick experienced such distortions as a child and though, mercifully, they have ceased, his memories of feeling helpless and out of control, have not.
As children, it’s difficult to understand that how we experience the world is not universal, and also how much the thoughts and perceptions of others might differ from our own. We come to terms with this developmental task to varying degrees as we grow older and form a nascent sense of self. Dysmorphia – literally an abnormality in the shape or size of part of the body – also can be understood as a larger metaphor for the variability of human populations. With growing openness to diversity – of all sorts – and greater awareness about how many have spent their lives struggling with the idiosyncrasies of self in relation to societal demands for conformity, Schick’s self-revelatory work is a timely reminder of art’s usefulness in understanding both self and others.