Swimming too deep

Union Gallery exhibit contrasts two BFA artists’ styles

Brynn Higgins-Stirrup’s pieces in Union Gallery exhibited overt sexual themes.
Image by: Tiffany Lam
Brynn Higgins-Stirrup’s pieces in Union Gallery exhibited overt sexual themes.

Sometimes it’s better not to delve into the deep end.

The main space of Union Gallery has been flooded with Brynn Higgins-Stirrup and David Woodward’s exhibition, entitled The Last Swim.

The show combines the contrasting styles of two artists with collages, drawings and sculptures.

Woodward says in his artist statement that he bases his work on one’s response to psychological and emotional stimuli — and in this exhibit, he attempts to challenge what is judged as naturally belonging in a piece.

This was a theme I found in the first piece I saw called “The Diver.”

The drawing depicts a naked man curled into a ball, resting on a blank eggshell canvas. It consists of mostly light colours, one of the larger focal points being the woman’s flowing hair. However, the figure’s hands separated themselves from the rest of her body, as they’re drenched in blood.

The blood-soaked hands, although shocking to the eye, force themselves into the painting, barely tying to the otherwise frail and angelic woman.

The next piece I saw was “The Swamp Diaries,” an oil painting by Higgins-Stirrup. According to her artist statement, she enjoys exploring sexuality and the politics of youth.

The painting, much darker in colouring than Woodward’s work, is an up-close portrait of a woman’s genitalia with her hand draped over the inside of her thigh. Higgins-Stirrup uses bruise-like colours, including a mustard yellow, blood red and deep purple. Shadows cradle the body and distort its characteristics, creating a sickly aesthetic.

Although the painting displayed sexual ideas through graphic nudity, I failed to find a message that reflected the suggested theme.

The sexual references within Higgins-Stirrup’s piece are blunt, but themes among her other pieces, like what it means to be young, seemed to be absent.

Each of the artists’ styles of light and dark are uniquely admirable, but some of their themes were lost in translation.

For me, the emphasis on select themes was shrouded in vagueness and caused the message of the compilation to lose power. Some of the more profound analogies made, such as the man’s bloody hands challenging the intrinsic subject matter, were clear, but felt forced and didn’t complement the other pieces. Despite the murky messages portrayed in The Last Swim, Higgins-Stirrup and Woodward’s contrasting styles gave an equally contradictory look towards the human body: strange and sickly, rather than frail and faded.

David Woodward and Brynn Higgins-Stirrup’s The Last Swim is on exhibit in the Main Space of Union Gallery until Mar. 19.


Art Review, Brynn Higgins-Stirrup, David Woodward, The Last Swim, Union Gallery

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