Comfort in tears

Andrew McPhail’s new exhibit reflects the solace in grief

Andrew McPhail sewed hundreds of Kleenexes together to create clouds beneath a plane. The Kleenexes represent the overwhelming grief McPhail experienced on a flight.
Andrew McPhail sewed hundreds of Kleenexes together to create clouds beneath a plane. The Kleenexes represent the overwhelming grief McPhail experienced on a flight.
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A blanket of hand-stitched Kleenexes float beneath an airplane in Andrew McPhail’s new exhibit at Union Gallery. CRYBABY tells of McPhail’s experience on a transatlantic flight when a fellow passenger died of a heart attack.

Although McPhail’s work is a product of personal experience, it speaks of a relatable emotion: sadness.

In his artist statement found in the exhibit’s brochure, McPhail said the mass of Kleenex represents clouds and his overwhelming grief. The statement highlights how the artist draws upon personal experience in his work and begs the question, is McPhail the crybaby?

As is the case with most installation art, the work itself occupies the space in unconventional ways and demands audience experience.

The high ceiling and neutral colours of the gallery allow CRYBABY to draw the viewer into reflection.

McPhail’s control of the light in the space seeks to emulate the view from a plane, looking out over stretches of clouds. The miniature Kleenex airplane, held together by artificial tears, is emphasized by a spotlight. Two small floodlights create the illusion of a sunset.

It’s almost an out-of-body perspective.

The contrast between tragedy and the visual softness of the work suggests a certain comfort in sadness.

“The pathos of grief, the frailty of the body and the terrible humour of our being alive are, I hope, comunicated through this work,” McPhail says in his statement.

Since 2009 McPhail has focused on solo exhibits including CRYBABY. The Canadian artist is based in Hamilton and most of his work reflects his HIV status.

In recent years, McPhail has focused the majority of his time creating a “large, lace-like veil” made of 60,000 Band-Aids, called “all my little failures.”

CRYBABY is on display in Union Gallery’s Main Space until Oct. 28.

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