A room with a point of view

Student perspectives focus on urban space, alternative lifestyles and other people’s garbage

Nathalie Lawrence, BFA ’07, stands with one of her paintings from the Saturnalia series.
Nathalie Lawrence, BFA ’07, stands with one of her paintings from the Saturnalia series.

Interview: SHIFT @ Union Gallery, until Feb. 13

Perspective is the buzzword at SHIFT, the current exhibit at the Union Gallery featuring BFA ’07 students Nathalie Lawrence, Jessica McCann and Talie Shalmon.

“We found that all of our works were based on perspectives. We’re shifting points of view, we’re changing perspectives,” Lawrence told the Journal, explaining the exhibit’s name. “[The title] is vague, but it still gives you an idea of how they all fit together,” Shalmon said. Incorporating a variety of media including paint, print, installation and video, SHIFT mingles the three artists’ work together throughout the gallery.

McCann’s work focuses on public space—she is particularly interested in “re-examination of urban space, where I grew up in Toronto.” Her paintings “Alley Rain” and “Scribbles and a Chevy” depict subdued and grey city scenes, complete with graffiti on building walls.

“I work from sketches and photos I take in the city [and] paint them in an urban expressionist style I sort of developed,” McCann said. The graffiti included in her art is a “homage to graphic artists in the city. I’m including their works in my art and raising their work to a higher status by including them.”

Her towering, dramatic woodcut print, “Fear in the Skies”, presents a more dystopic version of urban space, including red birds and domineering skyscrapers.

With a claustrophobic feeling inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, McCann said the work is a commentary on “9-11 as a spectacle [and] the media’s obsession with terrorism.” “It’s important that you enjoy the work, but you get something as well, you get the idea that it has political sentiment … and that it has some sort of feeling,” said McCann.

Shalmon’s highly original installation, “Photography of people I never met, found discarded in the street,” also probes issues of public space, particularly the divide between public and private. The first part of the installation is a collage of photographs on plexiglass, with the people in the photographs cut out. In the second part, the cutouts are pasted backingside out on a piece of plexiglass suspended in front of a mirror, reflecting their faces. Shalmon found the photographs thrown out on the street near the end of last school year and decided to pick them up.

“I thought it was funny because I didn’t know who they were; they were just weird photos, because they weren’t of anything,” Shalmon said.

“Usually you take photos of special events, but nothing was happening in those photos.
“[The installation is] playing with presence and absence … they’re mystery people because you don’t
know them, but you can still see a little bit of them in the mirror.”

Lawrence’s “Saturnalia” series of paintings illustrates domestic scenes in the life of a contemporary transvestite couple. Lawrence intended the paintings to address different levels of irony, as well as represent alternative lifestyles. “When you think of [the] lifestyle of people like that, you think crazy partying and stuff … but it’s domesticated,” Lawrence said.

Full of bright and jewel-toned colour, startling in their effect, the “Saturnalia” paintings capture and haunt the viewer with the dramatic foregrounding of their models. The exhibit also includes Lawrence’s “About Face” portrait series, which incorporates bizarre additions to traditional portraits, such as a girl with a pot on her head.

“The ‘About Face’ series are visual puns,” Lawrence said. “I didn’t label each one; I left it to the viewer to figure it out.”

While the artists said that organizing their works in a coherent way was a bit difficult, they were happy with the end result. “It’s important to show how diverse artists collaborate, and have our works complement one another,” McCann said.

SHIFT's opening reception takes place on Saturday, Jan. 20, from 6 to 8 p.m.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.