Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reverse engineering

Robert Taite dismantles conventional painting, putting the pieces back together in unexpected new ways

  • Print

Temporary Arrangements, Robert Taite's current exhibition at Negative Space, might seem unusual for a painting show. Instead of being the finished product, paintings and their constituent parts (various configurations of canvas, paint, and wooden frames) are just the raw material.

Stockpiled canvases--squares, rectangles, and more eccentric polygons, some awash with solid colour, others left unpainted--lean against the walls with calculated haphazardness. Large paintings are inset with smaller ones, and others pierce and puncture one another, projecting out in three dimensions. Elsewhere, Taite tacks up un-stretched canvas, applies paint directly to the wall, or leaves the stretcher frames uncovered.

Thumbing his nose at convention with evident pleasure, Taite exhibits the ephemera of making and exhibiting paintings--the blocks used to keep them off the floor before they're hung, sawhorses, paint-encrusted stir sticks, etc.--alongside the paintings themselves. Some "paintings" are actually sections of faux-granite countertop, and one stretched canvas cheekily serves as a pedestal for a heap of paint-spattered cardboard boxes (and a few stray packing peanuts). The most seemingly "straightforward" paintings, featuring gestural swipes of colour and "Rorschach-test" motifs, are actually seen in reverse: Taite applies paint to the sheets of clear plastic and stretches them face-down, flipping our perspective and negating the "surface quality" so critical to abstract painting.

Taite's approach to the medium might be freewheeling and irreverent, but it's not exactly unprecedented. The earliest paintings, made tens of thousands of years ago, served as decorations, devotional images, or charms to secure successful hunting and enjoyable afterlives. As technologies of representation like perspective and shading emerged, paintings took on the added role of recording significant events and people, eventually becoming status objects appreciated for their own beauty and their makers' skill. When photography took up the task of documentation, painters began using their medium to communicate individual experiences of the world, establishing a lineage of formal experimentation spanning from Impressionist landscapes to "pure" abstraction. By the 1960s, artists had excavated paintings to the foundations: canvas, supports, and pigment. They were no longer "windows" onto distant scenes or even "optical experiences" of form and colour; they were things with history and physical presence that people had to contend with in real time and space.

With no technique untested and nothing left to reduce, it was open season. Painting was suddenly "material" like any other--anything you cared to make of it. In this light, Temporary Arrangements doesn't seem so unusual after all. The monochromes and shaped canvases strongly evoke Minimalism and related approaches, but the exhibition touches on almost every facet of painting's history: it flirts easily with abstraction, expressiveness, representation, and decoration, hinting vaguely at that other earliest painterly preoccupation, magic.

Admittedly, Taite only has so many formal "tricks," but he deploys them with a kind of rhythm that keeps you engaged and interested. The work relies on a certain amount of cleverness, but it's matched with generosity. There are plenty of artistic in-jokes if you like that sort of thing, but Taite's playfulness is infectious even if you don't. Temporary Arrangements is a smart exhibition with a complicated backstory (take it or leave it; it's your call), but it's also fun to be around.

Not bad-looking, either.

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based emerging artist, writer, and educator from Tampa, Fla.

Robert Taite: Temporary Arrangements

Negative Space

253 Princess St.

November 30-December 7, 2012

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2012 C19

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Selinger addresses stadium lawsuit

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local/Standup- BABY BISON. Fort Whyte Centre's newest mother gently nudges her 50 pound, female bull calf awake. Calf born yesterday. 25 now in herd. Four more calfs are expected over the next four weeks. It is the bison's second calf. June 7, 2002.
  • A Canada Goose cools off in a water pond Monday afternoon at Brookside Cemetary- See Bryksa’s Goose a day Challenge– Day 27-June 25, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

About Steven Leyden Cochrane

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer, and educator from Tampa, Fla.


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google