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This article was published 24/9/2014 (1062 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Painting might not be dead, but it can seem a bit exhausted. There are only so many ways to put pigment on a surface, and most have been thoroughly explored. Painters hoping to push boundaries have to work that much harder, looking beyond the medium's traditional forms and frameworks or else picking them apart, reconstituting the pieces to create something new. Three exhibitions by nationally recognized Winnipeg painters (including two nominees for this year's $25,000 RBC Painting Competition) showcase a full range of innovative strategies.
In fruit on black, the first solo exhibition in Actual Gallery's main space, Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline's fruit-script canvases jump their bounds, dense patterns metastasizing into a sprawling, mixed-media floor installation and wallpaper-like murals. In the paintings, energetic brushwork peeks through stenciled veils recalling text, construction fencing or one of Robert Motherwell's Elegies seen through an insect's compound eye. Creeping across the walls, the pattern threatens to swallow the paintings whole.
Unremitting, it reasserts itself in drunk-walker-whatever, an improvised arrangement of stenciled floor tiles. Positioned using a random number generator (a process echoing scientific models of cell division), Kaktins-Gorsline props the stacked tiles up with various objects (a six-pack of beer, a laptop battery, lemons, cigarettes) and photos of deformed fruit (allegedly the result of post-Fukushima contamination, actually part of an online hoax). Compounding matters, a QR code directs viewers to a drawing, installed in Actual's off-limits basement, of the last known carrier pigeon, while the show card features a photo of African-American cancer sufferer Henrietta Lacks, whose "immortal" cell line was used in research by generations of scientists without her or her family's knowledge or consent.
Kaktins-Gorsline's cryptic, conceptual "drunk-walk" might be hard to follow, and it pointedly diminishes the paintings' individual impact, but it builds to a fascinating exploration of painting as a living, generative process -- one that, like the growth of cancer cells, might be destructive if left unchecked.
In the rear gallery, Robert Taite (the first of our RBC finalists) moves in the opposite direction, reining things in for his show Ambient Bangs. Taite literally breaks paintings down to their component parts -- stretcher bars, canvas, framing materials and flat colour -- reconfiguring them to create hybrid sculptural arrangements. Where previously these became elements in larger installations, here the works have plenty of breathing room. The format highlights Taite's inventiveness and attention to detail, as well as his curious relationship to home decor: the work's pastel palette and reduced-fat formalism project an appealing, buyer-friendly blandness, one pleasurably at odds with Taite's unorthodox approach.
Just up the block at the C Space, Ufuk Gueray's Market paintings might seem more outwardly conventional, but they're no less rigorous, experimental, or strange on close inspection. The simplified still lifes of hanging sausages, thickly painted "expressionistic" abstractions and precisely copied found diagrams offer an astonishingly comprehensive and deliciously irreverent master class on Western painting's methods and mythologies, if you're prepared to unpack it all. The series contrasts flatness and texture, illusionism and abstraction, painting for pleasure and conceptual critique. Gueray's ludicrous, lovingly rendered sausages manage to invoke baroque realism and pop silliness in equal measure, encasing nearly 500 years of history and succinctly skewering its propensity for tired, macho posturing.
Gueray and Taite are both off to Montreal shortly, where winners of the RBC prize will be announced Oct. 1 at the Museum of Fine Arts. This Saturday is your last chance to take in Market before it closes. Ambient Bangs and fruit on black close Oct. 4.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.