Curated by Kelly McCray
August 10 to September 3, 2006.
Edward Day Gallery, Toronto.
Obsession is an intimate and delightfully eclectic international group exhibition, unusually more adventurous than the typical commercial gallery show. Thematically, the thirteen artists explore any number of obsessions; the foremost being the artistic or creative impulse and the need to convey something beyond the parameters of conventional human understanding. From the opaque and obscure into deeply personal territories and the highly public domain, obsession is expressed in a dynamic range of experiences, and suggests that art making and art viewing are perhaps equally obsessive activities.
Two French artists in the show, Jean-Pierre Nadau and Genvieve Seille each create large scale, highly detailed drawings that resemble hieroglyphics or some ancient script or language, in styles associated with that most problematic of categories – “outsider” art. In Nadau’s pen and ink on linen, Icontextase II, (1994), hundreds of obsessively detailed totemic figures, faces and masks emerging from circles, and interspersed throughout which appear to be cities, cram the pictorial surface.
Seille’s, Military Figure, (1994), is similarly detailed although in this case an abstracted figure can be distinguished amidst the hallucinogenic swirl.
While these drawings may speak to some archetypical aspect of human consciousness, wresting specific meaning from these sprawling narratives will be elusive and impossible – and perhaps not even necessary. These are beautiful, raw and visceral works capable of providing hours worth of viewing pleasure.
Mike Parsons’ heavy black ink drawings, of mostly buildings and urbanscapes, also evoke the “outsider” aesthetic, although the young artist was a highly regarded “star” upon graduating recently from art college. Since then, however, he can be seen almost any day of the week compulsively producing ink drawings, in all scales, from postage stamp to mural scale, on the sidewalk of Toronto’s busy Queen St. West - a studio setting not common to today’s breed of aspiring contemporary artists. His subject matter and unconventional approach to art making is at once highly compulsive, obsessive and personal, yet speaks of and takes place directly in the public realm.
Speaking of public space, British artist Alex Tews derives inspiration and material from that most modern and public of domains – the world wide web, for his series Million Dollar Website, (2005). The images in Tews’ digital prints, downloaded from his own website, are composed of hundreds of hyper-colorful website ad logos resulting in a saturated, crazy-quilt grid that requires as much obsession to view as it must have been to make. Of course, there are further implications and allusions here to our world of obsessive/compulsive consumerism, and the very interesting ambiguity that now exists between private and public space in the brave new age of information and technology.
And what would obsession be about in this day and age or perhaps any era at all, if not the penis? Toronto artist Catherine Heard’s Untitled, (2001), is an exquisitely illustrated image of said member, embroidered from thousands of strands of human hair onto a display mount – an obsession with an obsession?
The locus of Cuban Yoan Capote’s “obsession” also resides within the lower registers of the chakra, in this case a plaster cast of an original marble sculpture of a classical male torso with a brain grafted onto its groin. Initial reaction to and interpretation of the image is immediate, obvious and hilarious. Within the context of this exhibition, however, further questions arise as to the meanings and origins of obsessions – of which this piece, and this show, extends to the act of art making itself as an activity that requires some symbiosis between the physical and the intangible, between what is known and what is not.
By David Liss