Unlike the artist’s surname, his exhibit Critical Mass is anything but gloomy.
The bright colours of Shayne Dark’s natural-born sculptures are like erupting fireworks against the whitewashed walls of the gallery space at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (AEAC).
It was a welcome explosion of blue and red when I turned the corner, entering the exhibition for the first time.
I was at once captivated by the towering creatures called “Critical Mass #1” and “Critical Mass #2,” delighted by the anthropomorphic tree top, or “Force of Nature,” that seems to scuttle across the wall and fascinated by “Critical Mass #4,” which appears to be caught in an undertow.
The bursting colours in the Contemporary Feature Gallery drastically oppose the remainder of the AEAC’s artwork — it’s unlike anything else.
The inanimate sculptures take on a life of their own, owing both to their mid-motion stances and arresting colours.
However, after the initial intrigue, the truly alien nature of the sculptures dawned on me. What planet did these creatures come from?
Dark uses natural materials, such as ironwood or apple tree roots, to build his creations.
One sculpture, “Windfall,” is left mostly untouched by the fluorescent paint colours, except for a few dashes of blue.
Suspended from the ceiling by various wire cables, it’s left in its natural form just inches from the concrete floor. The seemingly hazardous positioning immediately demands attention.
Perhaps “Windfall’s” slightly more unrefined state is what brings nature-based images to mind. The knotted cluster of tree roots suggests aortic or even cerebral forms.
The artist’s choice of natural materials evokes the life-like character of the sculptures, yet somehow the vibrant paint morphs them into something otherworldly. It’s a transformation that is at once gripping and unsettling.
The odd location of “Force of Nature” on the wall can also be rather disturbing. Similarly, the tall stature of “Critical Mass #1” and “Critical Mass #2” isn’t exactly comforting.
What captured my imagination also had the ability to haunt it.
“Heroes” exudes the same disconcerting feeling. At first glance, I was reminded of futuristic totem poles. The six black pillars, arranged in a circular formation, are covered in grid-like lacerations.
Slowly, the pillars became tall, broken buildings from some kind of dystopian world. But this is precisely what I enjoyed most: Dark’s ability to captivate viewers’ attention and imagination.
Critical Mass is one exhibit that stays with you long after you’ve left.
Shayne Dark’s Critical Mass will be on exhibit until Nov. 3 at the AEAC. Several of Dark’s sculptures are scattered around Kingston. One can be spotted in a tree outside the Pump House Steam Museum, while another can be found outside the MacLachlan Woodworking Museum.
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