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This article was published 23/7/2015 (707 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In Adaptations & Afterthoughts, his wide-ranging, jam-packed exhibition at Flatlanders Studio, Kevin Friedrich plays a role that's part backyard tinkerer, part Dr. Frankenstein. Across dozens of accomplished, approachable paintings and sculptures (nearly all of them made in the past two years), the prolific West Ender shows a knack for taking things apart and reassembling them in unexpected ways.
The results are funny and grotesque, absurd and often oddly touching. They illustrate the pressures we all feel to adapt to a complex and ever-changing world.
Human, animal and mechanical chimeras populate the mad-scientist end of the spectrum. A naked man in one canvas plays the rear end of a backwards centaur, his face and torso crammed inside the front half of a taxidermy deer. Friedrich cobbles bobbleheads and action figures together out of busted toys, bric-a-brac and bones. He equips a carved wooden duck decoy with wheels and airplane wings (a useful "adaptation," certainly), while an armless mannequin hangs midair with porcelain thimble boots and a propeller for a head.
With the same mix-and-match approach, the paintings seamlessly incorporate references to pop culture and street art, expressionism and careful realism, all ornamented liberally with abstract flourishes. Fortunately, with his keen eye for colour and texture, Friedrich has the skill and sensitivity to keep the stylistic hodgepodge held together.
The paintings' surreal narratives can be goofy, with their recurring cast of children's toys and googly eyed ghosts, but others are more nuanced and darker around the edges. Some are ambiguous and contemplative: wasps construct a geometric patchwork that unfolds to reveal a fragment of prairie landscape; a Weimaraner's satiny, stoic head emerges from a stylized rain cloud. Other times the messages are pointed: Man's Man, our hapless deer/dude friend, is a comedic/pathetic send-up of stereotypical masculinity, while De-Vices (ghost) is layered allegory for how "communications" technologies drive us further apart.
Some of the strongest pieces highlight simple observations and emotions, however. Barking dogs and handguns ricochet off one another in a cluster of mostly smaller canvases, viscerally evoking the racket of an indoor shooting range (not to mention the murderous intensity that only a chihuahua could muster). In Free Will, a rocket-propelled dog makes a break for freedom, chain trailing powerlessly behind it. A rickety, un-piloted aircraft triumphantly takes flight in A Narrow Escape: only after a moment do we notice the extension cord that's come unplugged or the wing fabric that's beginning to smoulder.
Friedrich's eclecticism might seem like a liability, and it's true some of his detours are more productive than others, while some could be further explored. At the same time, the show's clutter has its own logic, and the strongest sense we get is of Friedrich's boundless creativity and unflagging work ethic. Visiting the exhibition is like poking through an overstuffed workshop, one crowded with thoughts, digressions and creations that, given time and attention, take on lives of their own.
Flatlanders Studio is a newer rental gallery located on the third floor of the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church building at Main Street and Sutherland Avenue. Adaptations & Afterthoughts runs until Aug. 29, but hours are limited to Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.