11 January 1996 - 17 February 1996
Opening Reception 11 January 1996 8pm
Mercer Union is pleased to present a solo exhibition of new paintings by Nestor Kruger. Krugers’ work investigates socially constructed subjects associated with environments related to leisure, escape and natural perfections such as the ideal of the suburban community. Working from generic snapshots of suburban architecture from real estate tabloids , the style of the paintings is evocative of colouring books and paint-by-numbers sets with their softly rounded, outlined shapes. The paint-by-number technique has a recreational reference commonly associated with childhood and the suburban setting. Kruger’s paintings rephrase the visual vocabulary of signs and posters,drawing on the seductive nature of current image production technologies and the viral process that installs them in a collective consciousness.
Nestor Kruger graduated from Ontario College of Art in 1989. He is a member of the Toronto artists collective “Painting Disorders” and recently exhibited his work in the collective’s second Toronto exhibition Surface Matters(1995). In 1993, he participated in the Williamsburg Festival (Brooklyn N.Y) with the artists collective “You Are Here.” This is his first solo exhibition.
Brochure essay by Kevin Connolly:
The German philosopher Martin Heidegger, in his post-war writings, repeatedly returned to the image of the house as a metaphor for being. In doing so, he made a distinction between “dwelling” – creating a place where you feel at home, spiritually and physically – and taking shelter or occupying space, which he saw as merely “inhabiting” a house. The house should be a place for withdrawing from the violence of the public world. Heidegger regularly invoked the image of a temple, or of his own mountain retreat, as something which both stands against, and shields one from, the storm outside.
For Heidegger, this distinction between the public and the private was always less spatial than it was ontological. Modern architecture, he wrote, substituted technology, a “machine for living,” for what was primarily a state of being. As a result, modern man found himself in a state of displacement or “homelessness,” his private life assailed and violated by constant public chatter and information.
It’s not hard to connect this line of thinking to the rise of the post-war subdivision. While its initial appeal involved an ideal of privacy, safety, and material comfort (all highly desirable after a five-year war), in Heidegger’s terms the modern housing development could also be seen as the institutionalized triumph of the public over the private. Designed to provide predictable variations on the same basic floorplan, these mass-produced, market-driven structures have been transformed, over the years, from “dream homes” into icons of estrangement.
Nestor Kruger’s graphic depictions of subdivisions and tract housing do more than bring out the strangeness of the familiar. In fact, they are preoccupied with exploring that strangeness, with asking why it’s no longer possible to look at these idealized, modular houses without ambivalence, without thinking of them as the site of rampant materialism and bourgeois intolerance, of domestic violence, of Bernardo and Homolka. Far from being humanized dwellings framing the landscape, these houses slowly emerge as disruptions – landscaping supplanting landscape. Not Heidegger’s shelter from the storm, but the storm itself, imposed upon the landscape.
Kruger’s paintings recall some of the formal characteristics of poster and pop art at the same time as they explicitly depart from them. The artist has used a computer to reproduce and organize his source images, but he has deliberately avoided silk-screen and other mechanical forms of reproduction in favour of a painterly approach. Kruger’s technique is very close to paint-by-numbers, light and dark roughly framed in soft, organic shapes, then traced out on canvas and filled in one shade at a time. However appropriate the approach (with references to hobby art, middle-class rec-rooms, and filling in leisure time) seems to the subject matter, initially, the choice was purely practical – Kruger’s day job made finding large blocks of uninterrupted time impossible. By sketching and numbering the spaces in advance, he was able to complete the paintings gradually, one colour – sometimes one square foot – at a time.
Kruger’s early work in this style concentrated on representations of the idealized landscapes and natural beauty taken from tour brochures (an alpine scene, a tropical island beach), bisected, and repeated in reflection over half the canvas, creating areas reminiscent of ink blots at the points where the images converged. The painting Belvedere emerges most directly from this previous work. Reminiscent of an architect’s schematic, the bifurcated image, the use of greens and greys and earthtones, the hint of Rorschach interference in the clouds above the housing project, and the title itself (which literally means a building designed to look out upon a “pleasant view”) all strike the balance between fascination and irony which, as Kruger presents it, seems latent in the image itself.
Left-Right offers a mirrored portrait of an ideal suburban bungalow which Kruger goes on to distort in the anamorphic Drift. This large-scale, elongated painting first implies and then complicates the role of a viewer. With its associations to film technique and the “subjective lens”, Drift suggests a temporal as well as a spatial distortion. Like the quick turning of a hand-held camera, the painting takes on the visual speed of a subconscious glimpse – the house as seen through the filter of memory.
That sense of ontological drifting in time and space is taken up in the 18 paintings of Candy Drive. The images were adapted from the amateur snapshots found in real estate tabloids, and viewing this piece is like a quick drive down a suburban street. There is the suggestion of a narrative, at least of a narrative of consciousness – a mathematical progression from panel to panel, each image somewhat different, not unlike a sequence of animation cells. You’re left with a sensation of both movement and stasis. The images change but the figure remains – the celluloid stutter of a film clip stuck in a projector.
It is in Candy Drive that Kruger’s paint-by-number reduction of light and shadow to sticky, rounded shapes is most pronounced. The slate and chocolate brown houses seem to strain under the weight of their associations, the illusion of depth so unconvincing at this point that it foregrounds the paintings’ surfaces – thick brush strokes at odds with the hard edges that confine them. Despite the cars in the driveway and other outward signs of habitation, they seem vacant – the public intruding so much on the private that privacy seems impossible.
Wrung out and obsolete, these model homes have the poignancy of an empty gesture. You can’t help but recognize the historical dilemma which hovers over them. The negative connotations of a discredited middle-class lifestyle are difficult to evade, but so too is a sense of regret, a nostalgia for the reassuring confidence that was the hallmark of the post-war dream of a classless society.
In this light, Kruger’s images seem both provisional and strangely anachronistic. They linger in the consciousness with a programmed futility – the terminus of modernism proving to be, finally, not a dead end, but a cul-de-sac.
– Kevin Connolly