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Collin Zipp, "Poppy Flowers," 2014, oil on canvas, 26” x 21”.
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"View of the Lake from the Northwest"
Collin Zipp, "View of the Lake from the Northwest," 2014, mixed media, 24” x 35”.
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"Recent Acquisitions" installation view
Collin Zipp, "Recent Acquisitions," 2014, installation view at Trianon Gallery.
Collin Zipp, A View of the Lake from the Northwest, March 28 to May 8, Parlour, Winnipeg, and Recent Acquisitions, April 12 to May 31, Trianon Gallery, Lethbridge
By J.J. Kegan McFadden
I’m trying to decide if Collin Zipp is a conman, a forger, both, or neither. He’s convinced me he is an artist, at least he’s convinced me to join him on a weeklong sojourn across the Prairies from Winnipeg to Lethbridge, where he’ll open an exhibition of his newest work, aptly titled Recent Acquisitions.
Before we leave, we stop for coffee at Parlour, a Winnipeg hotspot for caffeine enthusiasts and the Exchange District creative class. The coffee shop displays a single work by one artist at a time. Zipp has the slot at the moment, but things appear awry. His work for Parlour, A View of the Lake from the Northwest, is a found painting, presumably of an idyllic landscape, however the canvas has been cut out, leaving an empty stretcher as a signpost for what might be, a stand-in for all expectations. With Zipp’s gesture of excising the canvas, the hanging wire attached to the back of the frame doubles as point of support (keeping the object in place) and the point of interest (a create-your-own-landscape). Its line becomes a slight drawing of a mountain range, the nail acting as a rising silver moon against the clean white of the shop’s wall. Or maybe this unbroken line is a road, suggesting our journey ahead. Zipp is skilled at thwarting expectations. Ideas of authorship and authenticity tend to be his main ammunition. We order Parlour’s signature Gibraltar, a beautiful concoction of espresso and steamed milk, as I consider what I can’t see, what is missing, and the rest of it, and then hit the highway. Just before Brandon, we jump out roadside to empty our bladders. Steam rises from the frozen farmland, hay bales off in the distance, and already I am confused as the haze of the late-morning sun blurs my sight and I can’t tell our shadows apart. Which is which, and whom have I agreed to follow; who is taking notes on whom? If the metaphor holds weight, have I become critic-as-co-conspirator?
This trip becomes a series of double takes and second guesses. What is happening out here? I’ve followed an artist, or charlatan, across the Prairies for an exhibition of what he claims is his work, but what I later find out were made in China by artists-for-hire to resemble a stolen work by Vincent van Gogh. The 19th century still life, “Poppy Flowers” a.k.a. “Vase with Flowers” a.k.a. “Vase with Viscaria”, is a study in muddy browns, yellows, reds and greens against a dark background. The image, in typical van Gogh opaque oils, has been reproduced at the artist’s request by Chinese artists/labourers. There are 11 paintings on display in Lethbridge, one for each of the cultural workers arrested in 2010 on suspicion of orchestrating a theft of “Poppy Flowers” from a Cairo museum. The painting has yet to be recovered, but the suspects were eventually released due to lack of evidence and, now, here I am piecing together my own clues for this report.
Zipp, a graduate of the University of Lethbridge, where he honed his particular aesthetic of trickery, has returned to the scene of the crime. When we arrive in Lethbridge, we head downtown to the corner of 1st Avenue and 5th Street South. Originally a Hudson’s Bay store, this property was purchased by John Savill in the late ’80s and converted to offices for his firm, Savill Group Architecture. He also dedicated a generous portion of the second floor to a gallery. From 1931 to 1961, the building doubled as the Trianon Ballroom. In honour of this history, and perhaps in a mimetic gesture, Savill has called this space Trianon Gallery. The century-old building shows its many permutations in various ways, including silhouettes in the shapes of stars on its rough, speckled ceiling. Zipp installed 10 of his paintings in a single line along one long wall, and left the last on a smaller wall facing the others, next to a didactic explaining the sorted history of the original – that it had gone missing more than once, its authenticity in question ever since, its whereabouts still unknown. Zipp often mines art historical references to create his work, so it’s fitting that Recent Acquisitions is shown in this space within a space, this history-laden milieu.
The night of the opening, Zipp and his friends step outside for a cigarette and are asked by the local park denizens to bum a smoke, their hands full of dimes that they call “ten centses” – another slippage of language, of doubling, of misrecognition. On the way back to Winnipeg, after a few days of taking in the sites of Lethbridge and the artist’s old haunts, we stop at the Tunnels of Moose Jaw and the notorious Chinese laundry that was famously used during prohibition by Al Capone and other bootleggers. Worse for wear, we briefly visit the attraction. Seeing double, one of us bends over to clear his head, tears his leather jacket and wonders if it’s a doppelganger of an earlier rip that had been sewn up, or a new fissure in its history.
It is important to consider Zipp’s work at Parlour in concert with what he presented at Trianon Gallery. Though they are not overtly related, the two pieces play off one another in terms of audience perception, the act of the artist as interpreter of historic material (both elusory and evidentiary), and the question of the artist’s hand. Zipp has coaxed me, yet again, into considering issues of authenticity and experiential histories, and to reflect on how conversations concerning contemporary art fit into larger issues of what is taking place (or going missing) around us.