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"It must be warm"
Dougal Graham, "It must be warm," oil on canvas, 60" X 80".
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Dougal Graham, "the watershed," watercolour and pen and ink on rag paper, 30" X 22".
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"It must be warm"
Dougal Graham, "It must be warm," oil on canvas, 60" X 80".
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"Dear the RCMP"
Dougal Graham, "Dear the RCMP," watercolour and pen and ink on rag paper, 30" X 22".
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"Mother Sleeping #5"
Lisa Wood, "Mother Sleeping #5," 2006, oil on canvas, 14" X 18".
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Lisa Wood, "Mother’s Bed," 2007, oil on canvas, 30" X 40".
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"Lisa Sleeping #3"
Lisa Wood, "Lisa Sleeping #3," 2006, oil on canvas, 14" X 18".
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"Masters of Sea and Sky"
Chris Flodberg, "Masters of Sea and Sky," 2008, oil on canvas, 4' X 4'.
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Chris Flodberg, "Giant Squid," 2007, oil on canvas, 72" X 72".
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Chris Flodberg, "Bathtub," 2008, oil on canvas, 36" X 38".
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Chris Flodberg, Lisa Wood and Dougal Graham are looking at classic subjects with a fresh eye.
By Kay Burns, Amy Karlinsky and Ann Rosenberg
For the past three years, Chris Flodberg has been juxtaposing still life and landscape to comment on the coexistence of guilt and pleasure, excess and ruin, in an oddly appealing way. Flodberg approaches his work from a strong interest in the history of painting — he sees himself as a traditionalist in a lot of ways.
Without question, there is a strong connection to Northern European painting of the 16th and 17thcenturies in Flodberg’s work, in particular the symbolic still life techniques of vanitas and memento mori. There is a seductive quality to Flodberg’s paint surface — the lush quality of the paint itself, the brushstrokes, the expressive gesture to the paint handling. “I love beautiful paintings,” he says. “I want to make my own versions of historical.”
And yet, the content of these beautiful objects is in stark contrast to notions of beauty, which belies an underlying stench. Tables are laden with extravagant cakes, lobster, meat, fish, and other food items that seem far more repulsive than enticing. Sushi and dead fish cohabitate on a table surface, somewhere else a pig’s head, along with assorted fruit and sickly sweet desserts, all served on fine china, crystal, and table linens. These things scream of decadence and excess, while the lavish tables themselves inhabit landscapes of ruined buildings and dismal industrial residue. Occasionally, grossly humorous additions emerge such as a giant squid or flying fish — essentially nature run amok.
This body of work has been successful for him, leading to sales and exhibitions. Paradoxically, the works are a commodity for the very people the paintings’ content seeks to confront. Flodberg says that the Banquet Serieshas become “large, beautiful, old-looking paintings for rich people. The work has done well commercially, not the reason why I make it but a happy side effect. I find it tremendously ironic and humorous, that the paintings themselves represent elitism and consumption on the highest level — these beautifully framed big paintings go into big homes, and I think it’s so funny that the content is packaged in this way and is then being consumed. The ultimate destination for the work is the consumption processes that it critiques, disguised as a desirable object. In some ways, I’m surprised that they’ve sold because it really does criticize a lifestyle.”
Flodberg says that the Banquet Series is finished now. He included a triptych from the series in the 2007 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art, at Edmonton’s Art Gallery of Alberta and the Walter Phillips Gallery in Banff.Recollections of a Trip to Paris is a work that he thinks of as the final statement for this series. In fact, he asserts that the work “says everything that all of the other paintings say, but in the most eloquent way, and then that’s the end.”
While Recollections of a Trip to Paris was the final statement in the Banquet Series, he considers a recent painting of a slaughtered tiger, Matter Laid to Rest, as a transitional piece enabling him to exit the body of work. He’s also made a physical change, moving away from Calgary to live in Ottawa.Matter Laid to Rest cries out for what he calls the “romantic” in art. “It’s a generational portrait of a mentor instructing a child to put down this clichéed symbol of romanticism. The physical world they live in is falling apart and dying, but it also symbolizes the destruction of our ideals — the death of beauty, romanticism, higher ideals.” The painting is not a new direction, but a terminating declaration. It is a personal work, but it’s also sociological and political.
Though he’s ready to move on, Flodberg says there is a “temptation to parody myself” because the work has been so successful. He wants to return to some of the quieter, more introspective techniques he explored prior to the Banquet Series, a series whose works were “grand fabrications, tremendously artificial things pieced together.” Flodberg is seeking simplicity, and a return to the mundane and everyday. “A lot of my concerns right now are about painting,” he says. “I’m thinking less about subject matter and more about painting. I want to play with flatter paint applications, more about light and colour, returning to more autobiographical zen-like images of very simple things — my apartment, my cat. The current body of work is somehow dissatisfyingly unreal, I’m craving to create the luminosity of the real.” — Kay Burns
In her well-lit studio in a Point Douglas warehouse in Winnipeg, Lisa Wood has arranged the ten works of her new video and painting project in two horizontal rows, one above the other. The top row comprises five paintings of her mother, asleep. The row underneath is a series of sleeping self-portraits. The physiognomy is similar but the blankets are different, and the shadowed faces change direction and shape — squished in one, obscured by bed sheets in another.
Two larger oils of empty beds complete the current project, with four of five rejected paintings on the floor. The physicality of sleep is still in evidence, but the green cast of the ten oil paintings, set against the black ground of the supporting wall, is eerie and surprising. The subtle beauty of hushed pinks and glowing shadows are teased out of a limited palette, but they come with an undertone of menace.
Portraiture has been a favoured approach in Wood’s figurative painting for the last few years, and she has distinguished herself as a painter of the body. She focused on the frontal view, and on the mother and daughter relationship, in Supernovas at The Winnipeg Art Gallery, curated by Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan in 2006. More recently, she has turned her attention to small studies of the head in states of lassitude and reverie in Absorbed at Gallery 803, curated by Colin Zipp. These small works were done in oil, a preferred medium, on Mylar in an attempt to capture her love of luminosity.
Wood is a graduate of the School of Art at the University of Manitoba. She spent a year in the Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art program with Calgary-based artist Aurora Landin. Since returning from Yale University, where she completed an MFA in painting, she has been showing her work locally and teaching part time at U of M while participating in group and solo shows. A new artist / new media grant from Winnipeg’s artist-run Video Pool allowed Wood to work with Dempsey to explore an interest in video.
As a figurative painter, Wood is invested in researching the long-standing relationship between painting and photography. Using the night vision setting on her camera, Wood shot eight hours of continuous video of her mother sleeping in her own bed. Then she set the video camera on herself. Night vision technology has been in use since the 1950s — the increased energy of electrons hitting a phosphor screen makes the phosphor glow. Green phosphor is used because the human eye can differentiate many shades of green, allowing for greater differentiation within the image. The technology and its images, associated with security surveillance and military operations, carry an undercurrent of violence and secrecy. Seeing in the dark, for Wood, was an exercise in stretching her limits and propelling her painting practice in new directions.
Wood wanted to explore the relationships between video, video stills and painting. “Video is about time and capturing the moving image,” she says. “Painting pauses the action and distills it.” The selection of material for the paintings was based on a self-imposed rule. She originally planned on making 32 paintings, 16 of each subject. Every half hour of each eight-hour video, she froze an image and produced a video still that became the basis for a painting. Ten paintings into the process, with some rejected along the way, Wood decided she didn’t have to be so formulaic. Her plan is to show the paintings with the eight-hour video projections.
The technical requirements for the sleeping series are like a master class in colour mixing. While night vision imagery is often broadcast on television in the context of war, for me the work is more reminiscent of ultrasound, and the warmth and emotion that usually accompanies in-utero imaging. Wood has tamed the aggressive edges of night vision’s results, and her skill with the paintbrush is much in evidence here.
Unlike many amateur photographers, photography serves Wood as source material, while painting continues to assert its emotional connection to her. InAbsorbed, Wood used digital technology to prepare compositions, freeing up her time and tightening up the edges and diagonals to pack in more tonal and dimensional shifts in shallower depths. Like any good rule breaker, Wood plays with scale and size. The night visions are 14" by 18", her favourite size. “It’s a presence small enough that it still has a preciousness to it,” she explains, but still leaves enough space to challenge her skills. With research that includes charcoal sketches of each sleeper’s empty bed, Wood has worked these up into two 30" by 40" canvases. They serve as pivot points, or chapter ends to the sleepers’ narrative.
After photography’s invention in 1839, painters used the technology to assist in developing compositions, recording marvels of natural geography and characteristics of individual sitters. With photography’s easy ability to capture, document, and serve as an indexed trace of the world, painting set off on a course of modernist re-invention. Decades later, Wood is producing work animated by the new technology. A painter at heart, with forays into video, she is an unabashed fan of looking at painting locally and elsewhere. She took in the recent John Hartmann Cities exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and Eleanor Bond, Lucian Freud, and Jenny Saville are among her favourite painters. In the studio, her own work hovers, a spectacle of latent drama in repose. — Amy Karlinsky
Meeting Dougal Graham for the first time recently in Vancouver’s Third Avenue Gallery, I realized he was the painter that dealer Michael Bjornson had told me about several years ago, the painter whose work had taken off in the late 90s in an unusual way. Graham was one half of a collaborative painting venture he founded with artist Sawan Yawnghwe. The collaboration, which migrated from Vancouver to Toronto to Tuscany, ended amicably, but its influence can still be seen in Graham’s new solo work.
On large canvases bursting with teasing references, Graham’s paintings look like the work of a person with attention deficit disorder. More dense than the work he was doing with Yawnghwe, the paintings are familiar in the figures chosen, the non-stories they narrate, and the way the canvases are rendered. “The big distinction is that it was Sawan who painted the figures not me,” he says of the earlier work. “I’ve set a goal for myself now to paint the actors in the dramas I imagine. The co-production segment of my career ended amicably and with mutual agreement some months ago. As the saying goes, I’m moving on.”
Graham and Yawnghwe met in Capilano College’s Studio Art Program in the early 1990s, and then attended the Emily Carr College of Art at the same time, graduating in 1993 and 1994. After finishing art school, Yawnghwe moved to Montreal, but when he came back to Vancouver for a few months in 1997 he shared space with Graham and they began to do collaborative drawings and paintings for fun. The arrangement came to an end when Yawnghwe left for Tuscany to work with artist and entrepreneur Heinrich Nicolaus.
During the same period Graham met Fabrice Marcolini of Art Core gallery in Toronto. The association went so well that Graham invited Yawnghwe to join him in Toronto, producing eight or nine canvases in 1998 Marcolini became their principal dealer.
From there, both painters were invited to Tuscany by Heinrich Nicolaus to create an ambitious art-centred project called Dormicelab, which would ultimately produce its own post-industrial-age manifesto, have its own logo and create music and multi-media events. Graham describes the work they created in Italy. “Generally speaking, Sawan worked on the first layer, which often included paintings based on photographs I selected from fashion magazines and other sources. I supplied much of the in-fill background of interiors and art-references, then Heinrich worked on the top layer. Other touches were added by any or all until the piece was declared finished or ready to show.”
Forward to 2008, and Graham’s solo work is intentionally designed to appear impulsive in composition, and filled with visual and verbal fragments that touch on subjects from the weighty to the trivial. I enquired first about the meaning of the snake-like creatures that appeared to be important symbols in the piece. The title it must be warmreferred to instructions for pet snake enthusiasts, but it was also an allusion to the Earth’s climate change. According to the painter, the snake references also come from a fable that blames the woes of the universe on mythical Lizard Men.
The women that often occupy the foregrounds of Grahams paintings are taking part in imaginary scenarios. They look like familiar icons from the pages of North American entertainment or fashion magazines, but he’s actually taken their faces from European sources. For Graham, Russian models are best “because they have great cheekbones and nobody here knows (or cares) who they are.” In this scene, the babes from wherever loll about doing whatever. It’s up to us to full in the blanks, but the latent familiarity of their faces, bodies, and poses is always there.
Like Graham, I am also a pursuer of pop culture, and a TV bottom feeder who gets a bang out of the narcissism and shallowness of Top Modeland the ridiculousness of shows like Big Brother. Although a generation apart, we are plugged into the same information networks via internet and other media. I had no difficulty getting the serio-comic message of Graham’s art. It roughly translates as, we’re all going down together, so why not enjoy the small stuff that surrounds us.
In the 1999 catalogue for a Graham / Yawnghwe show, the artists summed up a few of their influences: “Our paintings come from the pages of magazines, advertising, television and film. This mode of expression is very familiar to us, we soak it in. Then something so familiar becomes new strange and beautiful.” — Ann Rosenberg