David Blatherwick, David McClyment, Natalie Olanick, David Sylvestre
Curated by: Andy Fabo
28 June 1990 - 28 July 1990
Opening Reception 28 June 1990 8pm
East and West Galleries:
DISCORDIA CONCORS presents paintings and drawings by four emerging artists from Toronto and Montreal: David Blatherwick, David McClyment, Natalie Olanick and David Sylvestre.
Curated by Andy Fabo, this exhibition brings together these diverse works under the art historical term ‘discordia concors’. The term identifies a pictorial strategy of the 16th century Mannerist period; ‘discordia concors~ describes a particular phenomenon of this period which places disparate images within the unifying frame of a work. The term is also used in descriptions of early 20th century artists, such as El Greco, Pontormo and Bronzino. Degrees of ‘mannerism’ can also be seen in the varied works of the Surrealists, Picabia or Picasso. In presenting this heterogeneous group of contemporary artists, Andy Fabo illuminates how a heightened version of this strategy is being used, in current practice, to varying ends.
Using conventional media, such as oil and watercolour, Montreal artist David Blatherwick combines disparate elements of post modern novelties and media paraphernalia in his paintings and drawings. The resulting work presents the viewer with an unreal space that is, at once, jarring and seductive, symbolic and ambiguous.
Conditions of synchronicity and discontinuity provide the underlying formal framework for STUT/TER, a series of works by Toronto artist David McClyment. McClyment uses imagery based on the traditional shamanistic cycle of spiritual awakening. This cycle, which involves a process of initiation, ordeal and transformation, is applied by the artist to contemporary Western society.
Painting on a variety of materials such as linen, burlap, canvas and plywood, Toronto artist Natalie Olanick allows the intrinsic qualities of these surfaces to affect the way in which the paint is applied. The images themselves appear stylized, lacking detail and depth, but still recognizable as tools, games and religious symbols.
David Sylvestre is a native of Alberta now residing in Toronto. Creating works which combine a variety of images, Sylvestre offers the viewer an open interpretation of an event. There is no strictly defined reading; instead the images are arranged intuitively, drawing on the viewer’s ‘sly, selective and unaccountable’ memory.
A panel discussion, including the curator Andy Fabo and the participating artists, is scheduled to take place at Mercer Union Wednesday, June 27 at 7 pm. The panel will focus on the curatorial premise of the exhibition as it relates to the individual practices of the artists.
“You really would be sorry if your wishes came true and you were able to say that the whole world had become completely intelligible.”
– Friederich Schlegel, ‘Uber die Unverstandlichkeit’,
– Kritische Schristen, 1956.
DISCORDIA CONCORS is an art historical term that is often applied to art of the Mannerist Period (roughly from 1525 to 1600). It refers to the paradoxical strategy of assembling conflicting elements within the uniting frame of an artwork. Today, an exaggerated version of this device has become central to representational work, showing up in the work of artists as varied as Joanne Tod, Sigmar Polke, Julian Schnabel and Lynn Hughes. The significance of this strategy calls for a closer examination of its mechanics and nuances, which I have set out to do with this exhibition of four emerging painters.
Ours is a time of considerable doubt and alienation. As art historian Arnold Hauser stated in his seminal 1968 text on the period, Mannerism; The Crisis of the Renaissance and the Origin of Modern Art, the social conditions that created this art of uncertainty and skepticism took shape during the Renaissance and forged the mind-frame of Mannerism. Many of these conditions have been hyperbolised in our time: the emergence of modern bureaucracy, hand in hand with the beginnings of contemporary capitalism; incredible social upheaval, as seen with the birth of Protestantism and the Peasant Revolts; the undermining of belief brought about by astronomical discoveries that contradicted the divine truth of the Bible; the acute awareness of mortality brought about by successive epidemics, including the sexually-transmitted disease of syphilis; the rapid change brought about by technological developments and industrialisation. This intensification is reflected in the extreme dissonances of much recent representational work.
Today representational images are pitted against abstraction, spatial incoherence and disruptions proliferate and stylistic juxtapositions multiply incrementally as artists draw from various points on the trans-historical continuum. This is the revenge of the Age of Information as it delivers a glut of possibilities and reinforces notions of the arbitrary nature of cultural constructs. Mannerist painting was atectonic (lacking consistency from artist to artist) but now with the rise of an astonishingly decentred self in the twilight years of the fin de siecle, this inconsistency has been internalized to the extent that many artists now are making nomadic work that changes drastically from piece to piece or series to series. The four artists that I have chosen for this exhibition all manifest this discourse of incongruity and paradox.
In his collages, paintings and drawings, David Blatherwick floats disparate elements in a fabricated cerebral space. Chrome letters jostle for position with biomorphic forms, body fragments vie with high-tech tools in this theoretical arena.
David Sylvestre’s paintings and drawings mimic film, but it is a crippled cinema of randomly chosen stills reassembled within a white gesso frame. The characters are only metonymically presented and the plot is never divulged.
Stut/ter, the title of David McClyment’s series of painted triptychs on wood panel, reflects the artist’s will to expression and coherence and the self-conscious impediments that erupt in the field of his discourse. This cycle of creation and destruction speaks of the renewal and transformation of disaster and the impossibility of representation. Natalie Olanick most radically calls into question the orthodoxies of mastery and craft as she fabricates her uneasy paintings on eccentric materials. With all the allure of the aberrant her strongly willed paintings both fascinate and repel the viewer.
All four of these artists make a gesture towards meaning and simultaneously sabotage that gesture. This reluctance to create closure in relation to meaning is notable; what is created in its stead is a nagging ambiguity that we reflexively view as the “poetic” although it can just as easily be seen as uncertainty while crisis and disaster loom … ineffable … unrepresentable.
– Andy Fabo, May 1990
State of the arts summed up by Game Over
John Bentley Mays
The Globe and Mail, Saturday, July 21, 1990
If you drop by Mercer Union (333 Adelaide St. W.) today you’ll find a four-person painting show organized by Toronto artist Andy Fabo called Discordia Concors. And in this interesting exhibit, you’ll find a canvas, somewhat, on the large side, entitled ’25 Cents.’ It’s a 1989 work by a young Montreal artist named David Blatherwick unknown to me until now.
Against this picture’s blankly blue backdrop floats a schematic computer-generated blot, all bright colored shards and distintegrating clumps like a decaying memory of some heraldic emblem. Below this high-tech image Blatherwick has reproduced two plates from some Renaissance book about people born vith their legs and arms attached oddly. Two words have been inscribed in the middle zone of this canvas: Game Over. 25 Cents is not David Blatherwick’s best painting here. but it could easily serve as a kind or visual caption for everything else in Andy Fabo’s interesting show.
As the guest curator tells us in a brochure, the purpose of the exercise is to spotlight a “paradoxical strategy” now being pursued by some contemporary painters: assembling conflicting elements within the unifying frame of an artwork. This strategy, in turn. is a response to the “spatial incoherence and disruptions” or advanced informational culture, and the astonishingly decentred self” being produced by present-day mass communications.
Take 25 Cents, for instance. The whole canvas is as dysfunctional as the disabled men illustrated in it are, and just as unsteady on its pins. The images Blatberwick bas pastisched here allude to modes of mechanized visual representation — computer graphics, the Renaissance popular engraving, the mass production of royal portraits on 25-cent pieces. But these images don’t add up to anything, or sort themselves out into any recognizable hierarchy. There’s nothing avant-garde here, by the way–the various elements don’t collide vividly, and there’s no element of surprise or shock. Indeed, the artist’s position appears to be one of alert questioning but complete acquiesence to a destiny in what Fabo calls “the glut of possibilities” and the “arbitrary nature of cultural constructs. ”
In the art of Blatherwick and the other Canadian painters gathered here — David Sylvestre, David McClyment and Natalie Olanick– Fabo finds a twentieth-century version of the sixteenth-century Italian artistic phenomenon known as Mannerism, and characterized by pastische, experiment, novelty and appeal to a narrow intelleclual elite. It’s a suggestive observation and I’ll come back to it presently. But first, some words about who and what is here. All four artists are around 30, all but Blatherwick live in Toronto, and all arc painters of recognizable things in the world–or, rather painters of the representations of things vectored down to us on the bright slide of mass-reproductive media, and ones who’ve accepted the consequences or working in the game-over culture created by the media’s dissolving of art.
Natalie Olanick’s sullen, tough little paintings done on tatters of wood veneer, squares of unprimed burlap and such, fitfully depict a rake, a heart, a human skeleton’s knee-joint, but those things (like most of the things depicted in this show) seem to have been chosen randomly from the image flow. The point (if that’s the right word) is to demonstrate that there is no point: authoritative image-making and assertive craftsmanship are as dead as God, the Male Master-Painter, and other notions that have informed art-making in the past.
The approach adopted by David Sylvestre in his small drawings, collages and oil paintings is less extreme than Olanickc’s– he occasionally lets himself lay down paint handsomely–but the artist seems finally no less skeptical than Olanick about the worth of artistic image-making. In thc 1989 canvas entitlcd ‘Call/Blood Oranges,’ for instance, Sylvestre merely stacks three slices of painting one atop the other: cars on a bridge, someone talking on the telephone, some post-squeeze orange halves. They don’t rhyme, they don’t rub against each other, creating interesting visual electricity, they just sit there, signifying nothing — which is, I take it, what Sylvestre sincerely wants them to signify.
The disbelief in Sylvestre’s work is delivered crisply and rather coldly. In the paintings of David McClyment, it is served up with a sense or morning after tristesse, and with much sad painterly loveliness. McClyment’s usual practice here involves the fine rendering of simplified mass-media images (a gorilla in a top hat and other cartoon stuff. kitsch shopping-mall landscapes and so on) on a pair of small panels of ordinary plywood, then setting them on either side of a middle panel decorated with mere color or some general abstract marks. So bald a description, however, hardly captures the ambiguous, faintly suspect beauty of McClyment’s work, or its sense of philosophical brooding.
Most of what Fabo bas brought together is young work, in every sense — still busy with image appropnatiorn and the death of originality, which were in vogue during the artists’ school days in the 1980s, and still heavily indebted to such exemplars of post-modern painting as David Salle, Julian Schnabel and Ross Bleckner. This should certainly not be taken as a criticisrn. All artists start out working in the period style and period spirit of the day. If they’re any good, they will eventually move on –which is exactly what we can expect from these four painters, who seem to be brighter and more ambitious than most.
As we have it, this body of artwork is a body of evidence for a sensibilty now ending, and which Fabo has designated Mannerist. He is definitely on to something.
Mannerism was, above all elsc, a game over style. As early as the 1530’s in Rome–the time and place the Mannerist period is considered to have begun–contemporary observers knew the great days of Michdangelo and Raphael were over and that younger artists were merely recycling and recombining the madonnas and putti and other elements (often brilliantly) as they found them in high Renaissance painting. It was, then, an art of often disparate elements pushed together into a unifying picture-frame -an art of discordia concors–though devoid of the energies which had once made these elements compelling. This sophisticated, fanciful way of worrking remained in fashion in Rome until the 1590s, when it fell before the resurgent realism of Caravaggio and his circle.
The artists at Marcer Union are not big on putti, but that fact alone doesn’t dull the point of Fabo’s terming-them Mannerist. For Italian Mannerism was merely the first modern instance of a cultural malaise that, mutatis muntandis, has been recurring ever since. The old Mannerists came after the Higlh Renaissance, our own neo-Mannerist painters come after the climax of High Modernism in U.S. post-war painting–but both old and new share a sense that there’s really nothing Ieft to do. Whether they’re right, or whether this is merely thc down-timc before the rebirth of artistic vision, remains to be seen.