Chris Flodberg, "Shaded Pond," 2016
Chris Flodberg, "Shaded Pond," 2016, oil on canvas, 5’ x 7’
An artist with a self-confessed “antique hand” who paints landscapes that seem a throwback to Romanticism is bound to raise eyebrows in a digital age ruled by irony, post-modern genre-bending and anything-goes mash-ups. But Calgarian Chris Flodberg isn’t embarrassed or apologetic, citing his interest in the intense ways humans respond psychologically to nature and arguing for the continued relevance of archetypal depictions.
Flodberg avoids stereotypes of the picturesque, like waterfalls or stunning mountains at sunset, but looks instead for something more real, perhaps a little scruffier, when he tramps around searching for a scene to paint. “It’s a place that suggests you could be vulnerable to it,” he says. “It feels a little bit damaged and destroyed, and maybe a little bit spooky and weird, but it’s beautiful at the same time. That dichotomy is a facet of Romantic landscape painting – it’s beautiful or sublime, but it’s also threatening as well. It’s a landscape that’s in flux.”
His latest pieces include Shaded Pond and Small Pond, Prairie Forest, which depict waterholes littered with deadwood, the sort of damage caused by cattle. Both are painted at a human scale of five by seven feet so viewers feel they could almost step into them.
Chris Flodberg, "Shaded Pond, Prairie Forest" 2016
Chris Flodberg, "Shaded Pond, Prairie Forest" 2016, oil on canvas, 5' x 7'
Despite his interest in historical painting, Flodberg, who earned a Master’s degree at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, is also of his time. His output over the last two decades is marked by radical shifts in themes and subjects. He has painted elaborate banquets as a commentary on consumption and waste, as well as vintage warships and guard dogs.
In this sense, his work does mash up – though the juxtapositions are across time and series of paintings, rather than within a single image. His varied practice is the focus of a new hardcover book, Chris Flodberg: Paintings, released by Douglas & McIntyre in July. He says it gives visual form to his interest in how paintings communicate with each other.
A case in point: along with the landscapes he’s showing at Masters Gallery, Flodberg also offers a selection of images from Automythology, which riffs on how digital versions of the self are invented in social media.
Chris Flodberg, "Automythology" (selection of 9/100), 2015-2016
Chris Flodberg, "Automythology" (selection of 9/100), 2015-2016, mixed media, 15" x 10.5" each
For this project, Flodberg painted a portrait of himself each day, amassing 100 small images, each stylistically distinct from the others, as an exercise to broaden his creative range. They’re displayed in a grid as one work.
“It’s one person presenting himself artistically, stylistically, conceptually, in all these different ways,” says Flodberg. “And the whole thing is groping at some sense of identity. But in the end, it lacks a centre. It lacks truth. Each one is a portal. It’s a representation of me. But it can’t define me.”