Jim Anderson, Andy Fabo, and Oliver Girling
14 August 1982 - 28 August 1982
Collaborations: Mythologies; Aesthetics in the Modern World
“Myth is a type of speech chosen by history. It cannot possibly evolve from the ‘nature’ of things.”
– Roland Barthes
The Collaboration: Through the effluvium of history the Trans – avant guarde travels trans – Canada to find St. Paul Kane the Indomitable wielding his palette against the Algonkians. Twenty years later the tides of change wash up pieces of Tahiti on the beach where Paul “King of Cloisonne” Gauguin is seeking his own Nirvana in a fiction of Polynesia. Backtrack twenty years and Roy Lichtenstein takes a heroic leap over Abex into the deadpan dialogue of the urban western. Arrow shot to the present and the natives are on the rise, spraybombing speech onto the mute walls of the NeoBrutalist city.
Three painters have collaborated on two murals, and will each present a number of individual pieces. They are:
Jim Anderson, painter, filmmaker and member of The Funnel Film Theatre collective. He has been living and working in Toronto for the past ten years.
Andy Fabo, a native of Calgary, who has been making figurative paintings in Toronto for the past seven years. He is a founding member of the gallery collective ChromaZone/Chromatique.
Oliver Girling is a Toronto painter who has worked out of Toronto and New York for the past five years. He is a founding member of the ChromaZone gallery.
by Jeanne Randolf
There it was, Mercer Union, emblazoned with more pictures than the average subway car. Art fans, clutching their ideologies like overstuffed shopping bags, were flung from one pole to the next, from Andy Fabo’s priapic revision of 2000 year old stories to Jim Anderson’s fretful versions of ancient allegories to Oliver Girling’s flash on the myths implicit in late 20th century media. An expressed interest in structuralism and semiotics accounts for the collaboration between these three painters to produce the two largest paintings in this show Collaborations: Mythologies; Aesthetics in the Modern World; but when looking at the individual paintings they presented it isn’t necessary to keep track of this intellectual departure point. One of the collaborative paintings, splashed directly on the walls of the gallery, is a translation into graffltti of Gauguin’s “D’OU VENONS – NOUS ? QUE SOMMES – NOUS ? OU ALLONS NOUS ?” In their other painting, on canvas and retitled D’OU VENONS NOUS? QUE SOMMES – NOUS ? OU ALLONS – NOUS ?, this trio updates Paul Kane’s rendering of American Indian men wearing masks and little else. In this painting, if it weren’t for Girling and Fabo, there would be no sign of Indians, for Anderson’s aesthetic pink males in their sticky fauve masks reveal only that bewilderment is a universal posture. For Girling, Indians have long since been by the idea of Indians as 2-D motifs. Girling incites the lingo of the beaded souvenir into an expressionist rampage. Meanwhile in Fabo’s territory there are brown and blue natives whose every muscle is cramped in cartoon cloisonism. The collaborative paintings, especially the redone Kane, look like experiments in Skinnerian Cubism: the subject is shown not from different vantage points in space but from three different vantage points of painterly method, as if the dead painters’ work were the stimulus and the living painters’ style the response.
These collaborative works are after all a rather relaxed way of experimenting with ideas. The individual painting however, must be considered as deliberate and finalized manifestations of each of these artists’ own vision, and as such one would expect that style embodies or at least illuminates the content each individual painter has chosen. Nevertheless, in this exhibit we are faced with Toronto’s latest, presumably post-modern, incarnation of representational painting, and these paintings are bounded by the conundrum of whether post modernism is a vivid insight into history or an opportunistic exploitation of it.
Are Andy Fabo’s paintings, for that matter, a vivid insight into certain Greek and Hebrew myths or are they a brutish exploitation of them? Are they an impassioned exploitation of these myths or a rudimentary insight into the politics of being gay? Two of his paintings in particular present the best and the worst of these alternatives, yet neither confirms that Fabo definitely intends the effect he achieves. In his Trans – Rembrandt Express, a lithe, lightly – tanned nude swain with aquamarine eyes and just – so hair, is depicted striding jauntily several hundred feet in the air above cottage country. He is being attended and enfolded by a monumentally large eagle whose feathers gleam in burnished resplendence. From this blythe lad’s penis a graceful flow of urine pours, into an expanse of bright lake whose blue itself is straight from the tube. The manner in which this Ganymede is painted is rigid and controlled, seeming to be an approximation of the draftsmanship of the funnies, like Mary Worth or Rex Morgan M.D.
This style rebelliously secularizes the sacred myth to make accessible its erotic potential. But in so doing the style also makes the male figure silly. In the painting Salome Refigured, in contrast, the surface of the work is elaborated with foil candy wrappers, newspaper and spray paint. Salome as a nude male presents the severed head of John the Baptist. The disintegration of the traditional meaning of this myth is enacted on the canvas itself as the orderly decorative style at the top of the painting decomposes into the sketchy, gestural dash of images that litter the bottom half of the painting. Something alarmingly valid results when this myth has been put in the vernacular and honoured at the same time. In the other paintings, however, Fabo’s stridently illustrative style is energetically brash and profane, yes, but there is a dogmatism about it that chokes off the very eroticism and power politics he has rediscovered in these myths.
Oliver Girling’s paintings allude to a process through which contemporary mythologies are perpetually forming. In three of the paintings, in acrylic and plaster on canvas, human figures have been abstracted and reshaped so extremely that the colours and texture of the painting have completely absorbed whatever personal identity these figures may have had. As abstractions of people, or part people, the human figures have become emblematic in a single, enigmatic moment, without any context except the canvas itself. In Nigerian Soccer Sweater an ashen – faced male partially materializes in his murky white jersey and blue – black slacks, but his two teammates remain smudges and gashes of paint and plaster, as much a pattern as a head or collar or torso. In Tanya’s Latest Paintings a female’s dark eyes and dark lips are petrified into an oval hunk of glaring paint. She exists as a leggy apparition; her costume does not seem to be hers but the painter’s invention from acrylic and plaster, part starburst, part parabola. In another painting, a frenzied face is formed from long orange and black brushstrokes. According to the title, Biting the Mirror, this is Adrienne’s face at the instant she gnashed the looking glass. Adrienne has a gap tooth gaping mouth, but the mirror’s reflection has given her a neatly aligned row of dainty perfect teeth. This mirror is a metaphor of the Media myth that Girling recreates: for a one minute spot, for that one frame, for one snapshot, one punting, a person can be perfected. If you can just become a two-dimensional symbol of yourself, your perfection will be visible for all to see.
Girling’s paintings are very accomplished, without the slightest hesitancy in hand or thought. There is no sign of struggle in how the images came to be. One approaches them as if they were crystals whose fire and high pressure are implicit, but in whose presence there is nothing else to do but marvel that they are so certain and so cool.
Jim Anderson produced two series of paintings especially for the mythology theme. In both of these a horizontal narrative unfolds based not on actions taken but on shapes and figures changing in a changing landscape. Georgina and the Dragon, includes ten small paintings and Expulsion into the World includes twelve. In contrast to the work of the other two artists, Anderson’s appropriation of images, from the past or the present, is quite idiosyncratic in a very private, almost domestic way. There are traces of the process by which ideas, figures, objects are meddled with, picked at, almost digested until they conform to his aesthetic. In the Expulsion scenes, carefully detailed personages in modern dress worry in their comfortless landscapes. These canvases are rather poignant as physical objects whose surface has been prepared to receive the images in pastel, acrylic, oil and photographic paper.
ln Girling’s and Fabo’s work we see an heroic attempt to comprehend myth, Fabo through confrontation, Girling through mastery; in Anderson’s work we see the enclosure of myth within the imagination of a single, vulnerable human.