Artists think inside the box

Exhibit limited only by canvas size yields diverse local perspectives

Local artist and musician Paul Saulnier in front of his painting “FantasyBand.”
Local artist and musician Paul Saulnier in front of his painting “FantasyBand.”
Credit: 
Andrew Flowers

Interview: 40x30 @ The Artel, until March 18

40x30 is the name, theme and the only request curator Jeremy Mulder had of the artists in The Artel’s current gallery show. An open-ended and open-minded concept, the show brings together the diverse voices of 10 mostly emerging Kingston artists in one room to be expressed in the allotted frame of 40 inches by 30 inches.

The result is a chorus of nine pieces almost shouting at each other from their stationary spots on the wall. “It worked out. Aesthetically, it’s all very different—that’s what I was hoping for. … When the size is the same, you can get away with doing many different things,” Mulder said. The overall visual incongruity of the show emphasizes each artist’s technique and direction.

Blacksmith Stefan Duerst’s clean and severe strips of iron in his piece, “Nic Did it Again,” seem to
glare across the room at Sharon Muilwky’s self-portrait, “Going in Circles,” about her time adopting Kingston as a hometown. Her oil painting is rich in colour and balances geometric shapes with a
human figure.

“I feel like [my piece] is pretty conservative and more traditional maybe in terms of materials and
subject matter,” Muilwky said. “But I like the kind of juxtaposition of the pieces with it. It gives me an idea of what others are creating and might inspire me to expand my own style and try new things,” she said. “That’s what an art community is about: playing off each other’s ideas and keeping the dialogue going.”

“It’s interesting to see everyone’s contentions of what art is too,” Mulder said. “… It’s kind of like one of those things where people get something like this [project] and automatically fall into their own stylistic tendencies.” Mulder’s own piece in the show, “Looking at Rockets with Bats in My Hair,” is a colourful, textured collage of copper tar paper, wedding invitations, soiled playing cards and oil paint.

The piece plays with material and spontaneously pops off the wall. It stands well beside Irina Skvortsova’s beautifully stark and coherently stylized lithograph, “The Desert.”

The only other constraints the artists faced were the deadline and an unexpected art store closure, but they managed to pull together their pieces regardless.

“Benjamin Nelson is usually a screen printer, but those are his transparencies,” said Mulder, referring to the two ink transparencies of the cityscapes of Toronto and Montreal in Nelson’s piece, “Kingston.”
“They were supposed to be screenprinted, but the art store was closed and he couldn’t get the ink. So he used the transparencies themselves and it turned out really well, and it works conceptually.”

The transparencies seem to add another dimension to the piece, as if the cities extend deeply behind
the white paper background. While Nelson’s references to place remind the viewer that these are local artists, creating within the community, Mulder kept the exhibit free of any stipulations beyond size with the hope of communicating a strong sense of personal expression. Local comic-book artist Paul Saulnier made the transition from small black ink drawings to the large frame with “FantasyBand,” his neon-inspired acrylic painting on masonite. His piece adds a lighter vibe to the show.

“I just basically took a drawing, blew it up and added colours. FantasyBand is a band that exists only in people’s dreams and every member of the band is a different version of me,” Saulnier said. “… I like to make things that are silly.” The strength of the group showis not only the large scope of art displayed, but also the ensured quality, as each artist needs only to concentrate on producing one work. “I like open shows … because I’ve done two kind of frantic solo shows in the last five or six months, and doing a group show is so much nicer,” Mulder said.

“You just get such a different balance of stuff, as opposed to trying to balance your own work; it’s everybody else’s aesthetic. It’s easier to work with. You don’t have emotional ties hanging,” he said.

Cameron Tomsett is probably one of the better-known artists in the exhibit—he’s designed album art for The Tragically Hip. His piece, “Out of the Woods,” is polished, but his acrylic and digital print still lends to the show’s art-for-the-sake-of-art mood. “[The show is] quite different from a lot of the stuff you’re going to see in other galleries in Kingston from more well-established artists,” Mulder said. “You get kind of a not-so-established artist sense; it’s a little closer to everybody I think. “I’m kind of happy nobody took any real stern kind of journalistic view in their art. No one started preaching or going off on a biased stance on something. “It’s more about personal expression than referencing something in the news, which is always refreshing.” 40x30 provides a show-and-tell introduction to a handful of Kingston’s young artists, allowing them to express themselves in one concise piece. With just a taste of each artist, you may leave feeling you want to see more, but the experience isn’t too overwhelming or weighed down by its own volume.

While the pieces stand alone, they also contextualize each other as a group of emerging, conflicting ideas.

“I think of it as a way of communicating visually, to see how people are thinking, getting to see inside people’s minds a little bit,” Muilwky said.

-------------------------
A reception for 40x30 will be held at The Artel, 205 Sydenham St., on Thursday March 15 at 7 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.