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Sweet, satisfying and surreal

Winnipeg artist's brilliant exhibition a delightfully peculiar treasure trove

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/9/2015 (644 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Past Conduits, Dany Reede's show at Graffiti Gallery, is just the sweetest thing. It's sad, sometimes, but not self-serious. It's lovely, and it's likable in a way that makes me wonder why I keep going back to shows that aren't.

It's also the Winnipeg artist's first gallery exhibition on this scale, filling Graffiti's cavernous, industrial space on Higgins with drawings, paintings, collages, prints and mixed media sculptures, all set against vibrant murals that wrap around staircases and spread across the floors. There is more work -- in terms of both effort and object count -- and more care put into this show than just about any in recent memory. It's really nice to see.

Local artist Dany Reede's playful, colourful work is rooted in comic illustration and street art.

Local artist Dany Reede's playful, colourful work is rooted in comic illustration and street art.

Rooted in comic illustration and street art, Reede's oblique, open-ended narrative scenes and creepy-cute portraits explore feelings of anxiety and depression, but they do so playfully, even generously.

Disarticulated figures and hapless-looking cartoon monsters (all stand-in self portraits) tumble and sleepwalk through empty space and unsettled, stylized landscapes. A series of four large canvases -- a highlight among many -- Magic Land Portage channels Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights in scope and weirdness: you don't know what's going on, but you still kind of want to go there. Balloon-like cartoon heads teeter over chasms in the ground. Penguin-like bird-blobs bob midair and pastel suns and moons bounce like gumballs on the horizon. Featureless, sheep-ish shoot lasers from their faces. (I'd feel anxious, too.)

It's easy to get swept up Reede's distinctive style, but it's also rewarding to try and trace his influences, among them other Winnipeg artists and past collaborators. His doofy surrealism and clear affection for Winnipeg's dollar-store brand of self-mythology both recall the Royal Art Lodge in its '90s heyday. Careful gradients and rainbow strata bring to mind Simon Hughes' razor-precise auroras and ice floes, and there are bits and pieces here and there of Takashi Iwasaki's retro-futuristic noodling. Still, the synthesis is seamless and entirely Reede's own.

With his pop-art/punk sensibilities, Reede stakes out a place at the margins of "fine art" (or possibly in a garage somewhere in its suburbs). His work shows up in 'zines and comics, on pin-back buttons and tattooed on forearms, circulating online and safety-pinned to backpacks. It's at home in those places as it in the gallery, if not more so.

That said, Conduits exploits the gallery's immersive potential with dazzling results.

For all its visual impact, the show's lasting appeal owes just as much to its generosity. There's generosity in the sheer abundance and variety of work and in the care with which it's made, and that generosity has a life beyond Reede's own art.

Graffiti Gallery's primary mission is youth outreach, and Reede has partnered with them on multiple occasions to teach and facilitate workshops at locations around Point Douglas, downtown and the North End. (Another project, a mural made through a mentorship with youth artists, will be unveiled at West Broadway's Hunter & Gunn barber shop Friday as part of Culture Days, which runs Sept. 25-27.)

Upstairs, a corner of the gallery has been transformed into a 'zine library featuring drawings and wall paintings by Graffiti's "Studio Kids," many of them trying their own hands at Reede's signature style. You could lapse into a coma from sweetness.


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

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