1 of 4
"Pale Pink Discs"
David Cantine, "Pale Pink Discs," 1978, acrylic on hardboard.
2 of 4
"Gray Green Theme"
David Cantine, "Gray Green Theme," acrylic on hardboard, no date.
3 of 4
David Cantine, "Still-Life O," acrylic on plexiglass, 2004.
4 of 4
"Still-Life O," "Red-Purple Still-Life," and "Still-Life in Gray."
David Cantine, "Still-Life O," acrylic on plexiglass, 2004; "Red-Purple Still-Life," acrylic on plexiglass, 2002; "Still-Life in Gray," acrylic on plexiglass, 2002.
DAVID CANTINE, Unflat
Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton
April 14 – June 10, 2007
By Gilbert A. Bouchard
The Art Gallery of Alberta has chosen to launch their brand-new Kitchen Gallery space with a deconstructive show of David Cantine’s postmodern still-lifes. Called Unflat — a retrospective celebration of work from a 30-year career — is a great companion to the Flat show down the hall. Both exhibitions are celebrations of the city’s historic abstract painting tradition.
Looking back only makes sense given that the AGA is in its new Enterprise Square (the old Bay Building) digs because its historic Churchill Square home (i.e., the gallery building that abstract expressionism built) is being given a big postmodern renovation. Booking the Cantine show to inaugurate the new Kitchen Gallery space — the gallery’s ‘experimental’ exhibition room — is also appropriate given his aggressive revolutionary agenda as a painter.
Cantine has spent the better part of the past 30 years painting the same image in the same way — four solid coloured circles and two solid colour ‘shadow’ areas arrayed in two horizontal rows with the top set of circles slightly smaller than the bottom pair sitting on a contrasting solid colour background on the lower half of the picture plane. It’s a paradigm-busting project to reform the way we perceive colour in the world of painting.
According to Cantine, colour gets the short-shrift in the painter’s world — occupying only 10 per cent of the real estate while drawing, line and texture make up the other 90 per cent — as well as being deployed descriptively rather than structurally (colour in most paintings is there to fill in the shapes defined by lines or to animate an interplay of brushstroke and pigment texture on the canvas).
This hyper-experimental painter eliminates everything else in his paintings so the viewer has no choice but to deal with the role of colour in painterly image construction. Not only does he paint the one subject matter in a static mid-sized format, displayed in the same glossy, heavily lacquered white frame, Cantine borrows from the sign-painter’s lexicon and paints his unique takes on proportional geometric patterns on the backs of thin plexiglass sheets to eliminate any hint of texture and brushstroke.
The idea is to have a postmodern discourse with a clashing, asymmetrical and dynamic world by creating a powerful and consistent artistic universe that is painfully static and symmetrical.
While it’s a given that the natural world is rife with overlapping forms (which in turn are a powerful artistic tool when copied) his contrasting colour-shapes perfectly abut each other but never drift into overlap. The natural world’s cacophony of colour is translated into regular blocks in careful spatial relationship to each other.
As high-concept and well-conceived as this hybrid process is, Cantine is dedicated to deep experiment, going so far as to spend hundreds of hours juxtaposing thousands of coloured test circles to arrive at his finished combinations (so time consuming is the process that the painter produces only one piece a week).
To best underline this experimental process and the vast differences in effect you get with different colour combinations, the AGA has decided to radically display 60 of Cantine’s images (unframed and sitting flush on the traditionally painted white walls) on one of the new gallery’s towering walls in a mock-Victorian array of grid-patterned painting that illustrates through its excess.
Cantine has snuck in a couple of “failed” works (one where the usual proportion is off, another boasts an unaesthetic colour choice) to underline how delicate and finely conceived his project actually is.