Here’s another review from Victoria-based contributor Catherine Toews. Catherine is an artist, graphic designer, writer, and cultural sector worker. TRACES is on view at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria until April 21, 2013.
When I was an art student in Winnipeg, I saw a lot of Daniel Barrow’s work around town, and it left a lasting impact. Since those formative days in my life as an artist, I have followed his career with a keen eye. I was thrilled when he won the Sobey Art Award and was pleased to hear that he was recently awarded the Glenfiddich Residency. I have always been inspired and enthralled by his twisted humour, raw talent as a draftsman, and fearless tendency toward smart sentimentality. When I heard he was one of three artists featured in TRACES, a drawing show at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV) in my new home on Vancouver Island, I knew it was a show I couldn’t miss. Alongside Barrow, TRACES also features the work of Ed Pien and Alison Norlen. The exhibition cleverly examines the ways in which all three artists are pushing the conventional boundaries of what drawing is and how we as viewers perceive and interact with the medium.
The exhibition opens with a bang with Pien’s vibrant Play rope drawing and the chaotic, nightmarish Grand Thieves. The direct pairing of an intricate 2D drawing and a sculptural drawing in space is a deft curatorial move that reinforces the exhibition’s intent. Pien’s art practice incorporates installation, paper-cuts, drawing and video, and his most impressive contribution to the show is Revel, an eerie installation constructed from mylar, projection monofilament, building blocks (or rocks) and video. I was struck by the installation initially, drawn in by the ingenious use of materials and shadow plays, and then its impact grew much stronger when a haunting shadow of a woman appeared on the wall. Her shadow alongside my shadow created a disconcerting reminder of my role as both a viewer and a participant in the artist’s narrative.
As expected, Barrow’s contributions to the show do not disappoint. Ample gallery space is devoted to his fantastical installation The Thief of Mirrors. Stacked black utility tables at the back of the room hold a seemingly haphazard collection of new and old technology, including multiple fans, and digital and overhead projectors. All of these small machines in the background work alongside a second set of overhead projectors which the viewer is encouraged to manipulate by choosing from a series of slides of film stills and hand-drawn masks provided by the artist. The result is a dazzling, unsettling theatrical scene on the opposite wall; it is a dramatic, multi-layered narrative populated with haunting figures rendered in Barrow’s trademark mix of masterful original drawings and found imagery. A series of framed figurative chalk, pastel, and pencil crayon works on paper are adjacent to the installation and provide an opportunity to appreciate Barrow’s drawings more intimately.
Barrow’s work lends considerable drama to the show, and anchors the contributions of Pien and Norlen. In her curatorial statement Nicole Stanbridge notes that Barrow, Norlen, and Pien “captivate the viewer with their imagined worlds informed by eerily familiar narratives… they push the parameters and possibilities of what drawing can be by testing its material, spatial, and thematic considerations.” The exhibition encourages the viewer “to read these works with the same curious impulse as the maker… to seek out and participate in the narratives as active agents, investigating the traces left and lines made.” Stanbridge’s curatorial vision is sound, and her handling of the work is infused with a whimsy that is a perfect complement to the “fantasy worlds” created by the artists. Ample space is devoted to the exhibition, and to each artist within the exhibition, but the space feels cozy and meandering rather than cold and vast. Larger installations are smartly balanced with smaller works that are tucked away for viewers to discover. Stanbridge has pulled together a thoughtful and cohesive mix of sculpture, installation, and works on paper. The result is a dynamic interplay between light, line, and shadow that remains faithful to the essence of drawing while expanding its impact outside the frame.
Norlen’s work is stunningly intricate, and is set apart from that of Barrow and Pien by her concentration on objects and structures rather than the figure. In her work, Norlen constructs imaginary industrial landscapes which hint at sites of spectacle such as carnivals and amusement parks. Her large scale works on paper coexist alongside complex wire sculptural “drawings.” Though the 2D and 3D works are obviously thematically linked they are independently strong – the drawings do not read as studies for the sculptures, or vice versa.
Alison Norlen, Glimmer (Parachute Drop), 2009. Chalk, charcoal, spray paint. Photo courtesy of the artist
TRACES marks a fresh and exciting celebration of contemporary Canadian drawing. The AGGV has also found smart ways to feature local artists exploring similar mediums and/or subject matter alongside Barrow, Norlen and Pien. Tucked away in a corner adjacent to the main gallery rooms is a charming interactive work called Drawing with the Body by local artist Scott Amos. During my visit the Art Rental and Sales Gallery was also featuring Watercolour & Ink, a very strong exhibition of watercolour and/or ink renderings of the natural world by local artists Renee Nault, Aimee van Drimmelen, and Caitlin McDonagh.