Tuesday, November 2, 2021

in the headlights . . . artist statement

for virtual viewings of my current exhibit see link below - for live visits to the gallery at 276 Dundas Street East DM me here on Facebook and we can setup a viewing - gallery hours will be thursday to sunday, two to six - please message first to set up an appointment

IN THE HEADLIGHTS - perhaps not


In a recent series of paintings entitled Abstract Impersonations I attempted to give abstraction a specific narrative. In some of the works I added text from various poems I have written over the past several years. The presence of textual language, painted into a field of often vertical strips of vibrant colour, suggested mood and tone. For example - “alone in the half light of my kitchen / i am haunted by dishwater” from my 1990's solo performance piece Salad Days, embodies the simultaneously haunting yet lyrical discontentment felt by the speaker in the performance and intimated by sharp intense oranges streaked with narrow black, pink, turquoise and yellow strips in the painting.

for images of the paintings from ABSTRACT IMPERSONATIONS go to;


In another painting a similar mood and tone are suggested, through a similar technique, but the absence of text leaves any supposed narrative up to the viewer. Viewing all of the works together in a single exhibit may lend this somewhat conflicted domestic narrative the ability to bleed into other paintings, suggesting an over-arching sense of the seemingly mundane yet haunted kitchen task that only a dishwasher can help to assuage.


Perhaps not.


Nevertheless, I am constantly drawn in and out of this play between narration and abstraction, and my current exhibit. In the Headlights continues my quest for meaning and collaboration between words, fields of colour, and images. As i suggested in the artist statement for Abstract Impersonations, any given viewer, any number of viewers, may stand in front of any given abstraction and find a multitude of images within the same space in the same field, like gazing into clouds and finding poodles, snakes, and wind gods blowing cumulus bursts into the stratosphere. The absence of text however opens up the field - the sky - and allows for individual and varied perceptions to roam and to fly.


As i began the canvasses for the current showing of eleven new paintings and four older pieces I had no idea where I was going, beyond the over-riding urge to apply paint to the canvas in abstract strips of colour using painters tape and acrylic substance. A few years ago an exhibit entitled Just Paint began my pre-occupation with flinging paint around in a sometimes measured, sometimes splatter-like Pollock'esque manner. I just love paint and its ability to be flung into a variety of positions. Pollock on the other hand, I both love and grow tired of his dominant position, like dishwater – perhaps.


Once I finished the mixture of measured splattering and random taping I was feeling discontented, like I do when I wash dishes by hand. It begins as a welcome chore and ends in exhaustion and a sense of necessary yet somewhat hollow achievement. Alas, the existential plight of the unhappy home maker. I am not an especially unhappy homemaker, but there are moments of weariness around my continuing efforts to stay afloat in a sea of murky intention and an increasingly self aware world frightened by its own reflection and inner workings. I could begin with an exploration of the sustainability of acrylic matter on a floundering planet, but will save that for another artist's statement.


Well, that was a bit heavy handed.


So I give you In the Headlights, abstract fields of colour marked, in over half the paintings, by a visual image of a saying I was haunted by for years, and in middle age, before I moved into old age, haunted further by a now deceased loved one who described himself to me as “a courtesan caught in the headlights.” [1]


At his celebration of life in New Orleans three years ago, amongst a bevy of his ex-lovers, all eager to tell stories of his life, with them, I
was tempted to read a very sexual poem about him where the courtesan metaphor appears. But I was uncharacteristically bashful, and ultimately thought better of my brazen disclosure on that very warm, sunny, funereal afternoon in the Faubourg Marigny among tears, laughter, friends, boyfriends, and grieving blood relatives who may not have appreciated the imagery.  Perhaps they would have loved to hear about his perfectly formed penis and his sex life, with me.


Perhaps not.


But as I finished these paintings I felt discontent again, and wanted something in the middle of those fields of colour to speak to my life, and possibly the lives of others in an open ended, interpretive fashion - like memory and past emotion. For some reason the image of a deer came into my consciousness, and then a few days later, coincidentally, I was watching HBO, and during an episode of the recent series American Rust, there was a scene of a deer caught in the headlights of a vehicle that came to a sudden stop just in time to avoid tragedy. I photographed the screen image and then created a hand drawn replica of the image, constructed a cardboard silhouette, and applied the image to each canvas. And at some point during the process I thought of my beautiful friend, his self-professed courtesan status, and his tragically shortened life, in middle age, in a beautiful home, in a beautiful and conflicted city ravaged by history and weather, graced by art and culture.


But what of Venice and her people when the kissing had to stop[2]


Currently we all live in a global culture intensely aware of so many troubling issues - being caught in the headlights or our own disarray. In my life gender and sexual identity have been sharply focussed

upon in oppressive - gradually moving into liberating - ways of seeing and believing. Various identities in this country, and the ways in which they have been marginalized, even destroyed, and then revisited and regained by degree - revitalized in the midst of a pandemic that brings us all together in conflicted and collaborative - but not always cooperative - ways.


We are not all in the same boat, as some have tried to argue, but we may all be in the headlights, by degree, in various ways, being asked to examine the positions we have held – and held onto - and continue to hold within this vast abstraction we call a country.


The metonymic ways in which a single image can attempt to shed light upon...


Perhaps not.






[1]From the poem Stella – Invisible Foreground, David Bateman, Frontenac Press Calgary, 2005

[2] Paraphrased wildly from the 14th stanza in  'A Toccata at Galuppi's – from Robert Browning's 1855 collection 'Men and Women'


1 comment:

  1. I get a great sense of enjoyment gazing upon the colours and images presented in these pieces and the perspective given in your blog brings it full circle for me. Thank you David.