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Robert Taite, "Untitled," 2012, latex paint on canvas and clear vinyl, wood, installation view.
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Robert Taite, "Untitled," 2012, mixed media, installation view.
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Robert Taite, "Untitled," 2012, latex paint on canvas and clear vinyl, wood, 100” x 100”.
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Robert Taite, "Untitled," 2012, latex paint on canvas, cardboard and clear vinyl, wood, installation view.
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Robert Taite, "Untitled," 2012, latex paint on canvas, 80” x 86”
ROBERT TAITE: Temporary Arrangements
Negative Space, Winnipeg, MB
Friday, Nov. 30 to Dec. 7, 2012
By Cliff Eyland
Re-configuring Abstraction, a show at the University of Manitoba by Derek Dunlop, Dil Hildebrand, Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline and Holger Kalberg, happened concurrently with this exhibition by the very young Robert Taite. Tellingly, I think, Taite was enthusiastic as well about the also-concurrent opening of an Ikea franchise in Winnipeg. Taite feels a convergence of Winnipeg abstraction – a zeitgeist – is afoot.
Negative Space is a collective of young artists that sponsors an unfunded gallery. They debate each other about every show they produce, so I can imagine the hair pulling that must have accompanied their decision to grant Taite an exhibition. His art is completely apolitical, and if you believe all art is political, as young collectives sometimes do, then art like Taite’s is usually assumed by default to be right wing. The collective must have thought the timing was politically perfect for this apolitical show, a decision I would not attempt to second guess, and they also must have assumed the association of abstraction with right-wing culture is an anachronism.
Do we indeed take an ethical holiday as we revel in work like Taite’s? If you are old enough to remember the terms of the fight that once had political engagement argue against pleasure in painting then, by all means, proceed with an ethical argument. In the mid-1970s, when formalist art was seen to be on the wane after years of supposed domination, it was easier to cast it negatively as mere boardroom decoration or investment property. Today, however, perhaps we can enjoy both Taite’s work and art that takes on the “one per cent.”
Taite puts colour on shaped surfaces and rectangular canvases with an eye to how they look and lock together, and then arranges these shapes and forms – elements of wood, canvas and paint – in formalist puzzles that give him, and us, pleasure.
He claims to have been influenced by German artists such as Blinky Palermo and Imi Knoebel, and does not mention local influences. He tells me that as a 2009 University of Manitoba graduate he had no knowledge of local abstract artists, for example the local “Greenberg” generation of Winnipeggers such as the late Bruce Head, Winston Leathers and Tony Tascona as well as the still-active Don Reichert and Frank Mikuska. This ignorance is dispiriting, but not unexpected: Young artists rarely know local art histories, and it is often only later in their careers, after reflection and research, that they recognize those influences. In any case, Taite’s claim to have had no formalist influences in art school can be believed and he has few peers who make what could be called formalist art.
Taite’s process is reminiscent of the modernist play of Bauhaus artists and other long-dead abstractionists. He makes clusters of abstract forms. A canvas may appear on a wall or a floor or spread across a few sticks of wood or inserted into another canvas. Paint is rarely used to make patterns but is usually applied in plain, solid sheets. Everything is improvised in configurations that can change for another installation, reminding one of the working methods of contemporary artists such as Jessica Stockholder.
His work follows minimalist rules about making viewers aware of their own presence in a space as they step around, over and through an installation, but he prefers to call himself a “reductionist-maximalist” (as oxymoronic a term as you are likely to hear this year). He also speaks of themes such as completion or non-completion, erasure or covering of mistakes, nostalgia for colour and form, and austerity versus rawness. He stares at some arrangement or piece until something or other naturally partners with it.
All this is driven by Taite’s need to find “new ways to look at the familiar,” a sentiment with which I am sympathetic. Look for Taite imitators in the near future.