Spring is when this, ahem, young man’s fancy turns to ladies – and their paintings, of course. Perhaps it’s due to the Dreaming Painting panel, that featured several artists I’ve mentioned before whose paintings I hope you saw (Janet Werner, Mélanie Rocan) and another still currently on display in the city (Tammy Salzl, Into the Woods, at AKA). Maybe the words of Kim Gordon, late of Sonic Youth, are rattling around in my head too, as to how women make natural rebels as they’re still treated as second-class citizens. Narrative is a major touchstone for all three of the artists I mentioned already, and they’ll tell their own stories, thanks very much.
Salzl’s works at AKA are – like Rocan’s – about her place in the world (both are mothers) and how we position ourselves within it. Some of her points from Dreaming Painting (brought to you by AKA, College / Kenderdine galleries and the Mendel) speak to how she “mediates alienation through beauty and narration” in an “operatic tableaux”, that are almost like Grimm Bros. fairy tale illustrations.” “The uncanny, the grotesque, the monstrous skewed forms [are] set in a darker space”, though still a kind of “familiar storybook setting”, that “slows the viewer down”, or “disconcerts the viewer”. Yet she makes them as “aesthetically beautiful as possible”. Salzl framed her work in Into the Woods as a response to “our current psychosis as owners, not gatekeepers, or stewards, of our planet”.
I also enjoyed Tammy’s talk for the simplicity of her statement that she “says things that are important to me through paint.”
AKA is dominated by several large works, with female figures either fearsome (The Chorus, with her multiple breasts, birthing of animals, and a retinue that would make any Maenad proud), or superficially quiet (Familial Ties, with a girl reclining on a couch – until you see the anatomically correct heart she holds like a lover’s token, as though it bores her, now. Or Etiäinen, where the flowing, voluminous dress seems to shift from pretty, girly pink to raw and juicy entrails…). Salzl’s people are fleshy: their joints, knees, knuckles all seem inflamed, reminding me of the late, and much lamented, Lucien Freud.
My insistence upon narrative and contempt for (most) abstraction is well known (though I’ve been accused of mellowing, since my “departure” from that leprous house known as the U of S Art dept, and the Day-Glo fish paintings of the “head of painting”). But I’d also assert that I spend a lot of time with work that fails, to me, as it’s often just as important to gauge why and how it fails, as it’s all part of the narrative of contemporary art in this city. You can’t understand the importance of the work of Salzl, unless you understand the prophylactic that is SK karaoke modernism – and my mind is more open than it’s acolytes, as I found with Penny Leach’s exhibition Edgy.
This is at the new space occupied by Darrell Bell Gallery, in downtown Saskatoon. It’s a schizophrenic show. There’s works that breach my certainty about the failure of abstraction and other works that should be ignored. There are small works of horses that illustrate how, in Dreaming Painting, the question of the freedom to (quoting the American painter Susan Rothenberg) paint a horse if needed, free of accusations of abandoning the “genuine” painting of abstraction, is vital.
The large abstracts are bold: the titles are mostly from rock songs, and god, don’t read the statement (Creed, Nickelback, my lord), but the strong slashes and globs and dabs that manifest the hand of the painter here are lovely. The rough whites and deep blues of Edgy, the strong and audaciously yellowy composition of she lives her life like a bird in flight and who will be her, the grey / green industrial dirty wasteland air of you’re dirty, sweet and you’re my girl (I SAID don’t read the titles, but hey, you’ll know the ones to look at…), the delicate, almost pin prick like white dabs on strong at the broken places – these are works that are better than anything you saw in the Optimism of Colour, that manufactured myth of Perehudoff at the Mendel.
Pay no mind to the still lifes: there are some scabby, painterly marks there, but they pale next to the aforementioned abstracts. Yes, I said that.
Both Edgy and Into the Woods are up for awhile: they are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and act and speak in different ways. Go see both.